After years of heartbreak, two teams finally deliver pure joy
I was a naïve 15-year-old living in the Dallas area when the Texas Rangers arrived from Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1972. Save for a respectable season here and there, the baseball was pretty bad. O.K., really bad at times. Over the first couple of decades, the Rangers were mostly an after-thought, a big-league franchise playing in a minor-league stadium.
As luck would have it, Texas started winning about the same time that the Yankees reemerged. When the Bronx Bombers won three championships in four seasons starting in 1996, the Rangers were New York's Division Series victim each time. I liked to point out that my team held a lead in all four games of the '96 series, even if they did drop the last three. Hey, it was something.
Naturally, as this year's playoffs approached, I grew tired of the non-stop reminders that the Rangers were only the franchise in Major League Baseball without a postseason series win. I finally exhaled after
This Rangers team, however, was different from the homer-happy outfits of the 1990s. Weren't they? Sure, they could beat you with the long ball, but they could also beat you with pitching and defense and speed and base-running. And for the first seven innings of the first game of the ALCS, they played textbook baseball. Then came a meltdown of epic proportions. It started when usually reliable set-up man
I was an emotional wreck, so I took a drastic step: I refused to watch Game 2. College football could keep me occupied, and my mood brightened considerably as I watched my undefeated but underdog Missouri Tigers walk into College Station and thump Texas A&M. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was spent flipping from game to game, all the while trying to avoid the ESPN Bottom Line. Texas won 7-2. Maybe these weren't the same old Rangers.
Even though Lee was pitching, I didn't watch Game 3 either. What can I say? I'm superstitious. My 15-year old son,
I flew to Missouri on the day of Game 4, and my change of venue along with knowing the Rangers were guaranteed of bringing the series back to Arlington emboldened me to watch. Texas rallied for a 10-3 victory. Were these really the Yankees? Were these really the Rangers?
I dismissed New York's victory in Game 5, deciding that it was only fair that the Rangers wrap up the series at home. Game 6 would be viewed from the basement of my college friend's house in Columbia.
The trip to Columbia had been planned in the summer. We hadn't been back for a game in a couple of years, and the homecoming opponent was ... Oklahoma? Who in their right mind schedules the Sooners for homecoming? If nothing else, it would be a great time to catch up with old friends. I never imagined that the No. 1 and No. 11 teams in the BCS would be playing, in primetime on national TV, that ESPN
Teased if not tortured over the years, Missouri fans are among the most loyal in college football. The Fifth Down game of 1991 and the Flea-Kicker in 1997 only begin to tell the story of a program and a following whose hearts have been broken time and again. Yet the fans keep showing up. Oklahoma had been one of the biggest culprits. Heading into Saturday the Sooners had won seven straight and 18 of 19 in the series. Two of those losses came in 2007. The first cost the Tigers a perfect regular season; the second a spot in the BCS Championship Game.
Nevertheless, from the time I hit town last week I felt a buzz that suggested things would be different this time. On Saturday morning Steven and I were among the estimated 18,000 who descended on Francis Quadrangle for
If only we could have looked into the eyes of the Missouri players. This was one opportunity they weren't going to let slip away. Quite simply, the Tigers made more plays than their opponent, dominated on both lines, showed a balance on offense that kept the OU defense on its heels. The Tigers turned the tables on the Sooners, not unlike what the Rangers had done to the Yankees. When Oklahoma coach
The Rangers' dream season may end against the Giants in the World Series, and for the third consecutive week the Tigers are underdogs, against Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln. Whatever happens, I know this much: I'll be watching. On Sunday night, I chuckled as critics questioned how good the Tigers really are. Suddenly the teams Mizzou is beating up on aren't as good as they were before Mizzou beat them. But nothing can diminish what I experienced last weekend. The Rangers are going to the World Series. Mizzou is 7-0 for the first time since 1960. Every long-suffering fan deserves a moment (or two!) like I had.
As we waited for the rental car shuttle bus in St. Louis on Sunday morning, a middle-aged couple asked if we had attended the game. (In his gold Mizzou hoodie, Steven was a dead giveaway.) "I've been waiting to experience something like that for 35 years," I said with what little voice I had left. The woman mentioned that as Oregon fans, she and her traveling companion couldn't have been happier with the result. The Ducks have a fine team and are sitting second in the BCS standings, four spots ahead of the Tigers. As we got off the bus and said our farewells, I told the couple, "Good luck the rest of the way." I paused, then added, "Maybe we'll see you in Glendale."