foul line

A Father, A Son, & A Long-Awaited Championship

Introduction

The Texas Rangers overcoming the final hurdle after 52 years in Arlington to bring the city a World Series title is a memory few fans will soon forget. As I watched the final curveball leave the hand of Josh Sborz and hang for what felt like an eternity before crashing its way back into the strike zone to end the game, I found myself overwhelmed with the waves of emotions rushing back from years of joy, anxiety, heartache, and pride. I rushed to call my father, as I had done after each postseason win this year. Yet as we celebrated together over the phone, in that moment I found myself happier for my father than anything else. That the man who helped teach me to love the game was able to experience this joy after decades of heartbreak.

As I scrolled through social media that night, I was struck by the outpouring of videos of other fans of my generation celebrating with the people who had first introduced them to the team. It seemed that the pain of the long wait had in itself shown a beauty in this moment, with us younger fans being able to celebrate the first title with the loved ones who had been waiting for this moment long before we were born. In honor of such a special moment shared by so many fellow Ranger fans, I’d like to tell you the story of a father, a son, and a long-awaited championship.

The Early Years

While it is a common saying for fans to joke that they were “born into being a Rangers fan”, in my family that saying was taken to heart. On one sunny August day, my parents parked across from the Ballpark in Arlington before making their way to the third base entrance. Once there, my father waved down another person on the sidewalk to help them take a picture. In the photo, my parents can be seen holding me as a newborn, my mother’s hospital wristband still visible, as they had driven there rather than going home following my birth. This would be a tradition repeated for my younger brother, and one we would recreate years later on my 18th birthday.

For my father, the ballpark, and the baseball team it played host to, had come to represent much more than a sports team. Like the Rangers, he was a transplant to Arlington, having been born in rural Georgia before relocating several times in his early years due to his father’s work. As he finally settled in the city during his final high school years, it would be the teams led by manager Bobby Valentine that would steal his heart and lead to a lifelong love affair. Yet in those early years hope was hard to come by as the team struggled to push for playoff contention despite a pitching staff including the likes of Nolan Ryan, Kenny Rodgers, and Charlie Hough along with the power bats of Juan González and Rafael Palmeiro. When the Rangers finally found their first taste of postseason baseball, they would run into the buzzsaw that was the 1990s Yankees.

Yet it would be the foundation laid by the AL West winning 1998 and 1999 squads that would set the stage for a new generation of Ranger fans to emerge. It would be during the early 2000s that my own love for the game would blossom. As a young child I became fascinated with high flying outfielder Rusty Greer and eventually with a young Ian Kinsler. It was also during these years that I got my first taste of playing baseball myself, with both of my parents being active in coaching and running me and my brother’s teams throughout our lives. Yet, as much as I loved playing the game, the Ballpark in Arlington would be where we still formed lasting memories. It was on its field where I got to play catch with my father before falling asleep in the outfield while The Rookie was played for the fans at the Sleepover at the Ballpark events. It was behind center field where I would run to try and get the chance to hit off the miniature field and keep the plastic yellow bat they gave us. It was in the ballpark that a young generation of Ranger fans fell in love with the team, with no inclination to the wild ride we were in for.

The Heartbreak

As the Rangers team began to round the corner under the management of Ron Washington, something was noticeably different about this influx of talent. In 2010 the team captured its first division title since 1999, but after dispatching the Rays to win their first ever ALDS series, a familiar foe stood in their way of reaching the franchise’s first World Series: the defending champion New York Yankees. Despite losing the first game, the team would battle back and claim a 4-2 series win finished off by a Neftali Feliz strikeout against former Ranger Alex Rodriguez. To overcome the team that had been our roadblock throughout the 1990s felt like a world series win in itself for many fans, including my father, and the team showed fatigue as the offense ground to a halt in the subsequent series against the Giants as the Rangers came up short.

While the 2010 season stung, it showed the franchise was headed in the right direction. The team rallied to defend its AL West title and fought its way back to the World Series dispatching the Detroit Tigers in six games on the back of six Nelson Cruz home runs. However, it would be Game 6 against the Cardinals that left a traumatic wound on the heart of many Ranger fans. Finding themselves within a strike of winning the World Series, a missed fly ball by ALCS standout Nelson Cruz would help see the Cardinals complete one of the most dramatic comeback wins in sports history. Like many fans, this moment ripped the heart out of my father, who had watched the team be built from the ground up over decades, to twice come within a single pitch of that final goal, only for it to be shattered. Not an outwardly emotional man at the time, it was one of the few times I remember seeing him so visibly crushed.

As the team floundered over the subsequent years, it felt as if that night had left a curse on Ranger fans, who were now subject to increasing toil that culminated in another humiliating loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS, having squandered a 2-0 series lead in stunning fashion. With little direction, an aging core, and the baseball gods seeming hellbent on torturing the franchise, many fans accepted that the long sought-after title may remain elusive.

Turning the Corner

The 2020s marked an era of transition for the ballclub. The stadium in which so many memories had been made was deemed out of date, as the need for a roof to attract fans during the hot Texas summer took precedent. It would be during that final series against the Yankees where so many fans, including my family, would make that last trip to the ballpark, sit in the same section as our old season tickets, and enjoy our last game in the place that had hosted so many of my early memories. Yet, unknown to us at the time, the move would be merely a single sign of the coming changes.

The onset of the 2023 season was marked by cautious optimism. Ownership had made splashes in the free agency market in two consecutive years, leading to a roster filled with playoff veterans like Seager, Semien, and DeGrom paired with the homegrown talent of Jung and Taveras, and afterthought turned All-Star Adolis Garcia. As the season progressed, it felt as if fans finally were letting hope fill the new stadium once again. An explosive offense and rockstar pitching had the Rangers jump out as one of the best teams in the league, with the swagger and confidence to carry it all the way.

Then the injuries came. The bullpen reverted to preseason expectations as the Rangers struggled to find a consistent closer leading to blown save after blown save. As the lead in the division began to slip into August, it felt as if the baseball gods were once again toying with the fanbase. Top prospects were sent out to bring in emergency relief, some of whom themselves would quickly find their way onto the growing IL. However, despite the obstacles, Bruce Bochy stuck to his guns and the team kept fighting. They rounded into form just in time to head to Seattle with a chance to clinch the division for the first time since 2016, only for the lauded offense to disappear and the rival Astros once again reigned atop the division. In that moment, having lost the division we led all season on the last gameday felt like a gut punch the team wouldn’t recover from. How wrong that feeling would turn out to be.

The Redemption

The Wild Card and ALDS rounds felt like a dream, as the team, now bolstered by a healthy lineup and top prospect Evan Carter, dispatched both the Rays and Orioles in convincing fashion. This put the team on what felt like was an inevitable collision course with the Houston Astros, who had taken care of business against the Minnesota Twins. Having lost the regular season head-to-head 9-4, it seemed as if the baseball gods had set Ranger fans up for yet another painful postseason exit, this time to the dreaded instate rivals.

My parents had flown in to visit me that weekend, meaning I was fortunate to be able to watch Game 1 together with them at a local brewery. As the Rangers inched closer to securing a narrow 2-0 win, the tension and excitement began to build at our table. For the first time all postseason it felt as if we were finally allowing ourselves to believe that this might just be the year. Yet, that dream seemed all but dashed following the 9th inning collapse in Game 5; but instead, Ranger fans were about to experience one of the most impressive single-handed demolitions of a team ever seen.

As the ball left the bat of Adolis Garcia in the top of the 9th in Game 6, it set off a whirlwind of moments as the Rangers picked apart the Astros in front of their own home crowd to set up a return to the World Series. Over the phone, no matter how excited we both got, my father refused to believe we could actually finish the journey, still scarred by the memories of 2011.

The game tying and subsequent walk-off homeruns in Game 1 of the World Series will be a memory engrained in Ranger fans’ minds for years to come. In that moment, knowing on paper the Rangers were the better team, it seemed this was our time. As such, my father along with his lifelong friend picked the one game the team ended up losing to make the journey back to Arlington and experience his first-ever Rangers World Series Game. Despite the loss, it would prove to be a small price to pay for the emotions that came later.

“9 outs”

“6 outs”

“3 outs”

The countdown rang out from all of us in the group chat as the Rangers were on the verge of erasing the curse and banishing the ghosts of 2011. The Marcus Semien homerun in the 9th to make it 5-0 finally allowed Ranger fans to believe that it was happening. My father still stressing to us that we had another few outs to go as preemptive celebration began to ring out. Yet, there would be no collapse this time. As Josh Sborz spiked his glove into the ground and Jonah Heim scrambled to recover the game winning ball he had chucked in the air out of excitement, Ranger fans were finally able to celebrate. The next message in the group chat was one so simple yet something that had felt so elusive for decades for fans like my father: World Series Champions.

To the parents, guardians, and friends that helped us fall in love with this beautiful game, this one is for you!

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