Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unforgettable Memories of the Texas Rangers

Rangers ticket

When the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez took a called third strike from the Rangers' Neftali Feliz, the first thing I tweeted was "The Rangers win the pennant! The Rangers win the pennant! The Rangers win the pennant!" That was in homage to the radio broadcast of Bobby Thompson's "shot heard round the world" that won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants. That home run came on October 3, 1951. I always thought it was poor timing that the most famous home run in baseball history came three weeks before I was born, robbing me of even the vicarious thrill of experiencing it. (My son John, on the other hand, had the good sense to be born just in time to experience another historic home run, one of the most famous in World Series history.)

The Texas Rangers have added little to baseball lore themselves. They didn't even exist as a team for a whole decade after Bobby Thompson's home run and didn't move to Texas for another decade after that. Still, I have two indelible memories of the Texas Rangers. Now that they are in their first World Series, it seems as good a time as any to recount them. Read on after the jump.

Since the franchise struggled for five decades with no World Series, it perhaps should be no surprise that one of my memories of the Rangers has nothing to do with the play on the field. It has to do with the bargain MLB is for the fan. For comparison, the average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game has been estimated to be as high as $412. Watch how MLB prices compare. When my two sons were young, our family would occasionally attend Rangers' baseball games and sit in the vast outfield bleachers of old Arlington Stadium. At the time, adult tickets cost $4, children's tickets $2. Pledge not to drink and drive and each adult would get a wristband and a free Coke. Go on a promotion night and each of your kids would get a free team jersey. Just happen to go on a night when the game is called on account of rain in the first inning, then use your rain checks to come back on another promotion night. Your kids each get a free bat and each adult gets another free Coke. Then sit back and enjoy the game. Two jerseys, two bats, four Cokes and a major league baseball game for a family of four ... all for $12 plus parking. And you could bring your own food into the park, so no need to buy hot dogs or nachos. MLB, the best bargain in pro sports. The play on the field may have been forgettable, but the affordable family experience was not.

As unlucky as the timing of Bobby Thompson's historic home run was for me personally, our family was lucky in the timing of one summer game that our family chose to attend. It was perhaps the most famous game in Rangers' history (at least up to this World Series and maybe even after - we'll see). I'm talking of the perfect game pitched by Kenny Rogers on July 28, 1994. There was a sellout crowd during that first season of the beautiful new Ballpark in Arlington. My first inclination that we were witness to something magical came after three innings, when I told my young sons, "9 up and 9 down." After four innings, I said, "12 up and 12 down." By the fifth, I had to teach them the old superstition that it's bad luck to talk openly about no-hitters, so from then on we just exchanged knowing looks. By the seventh, the whole sellout home crowd was aware of what was developing. Each out was cheered loudly. By the eighth, the crowd was on its feet, cheering every strike. By the ninth, the tension and excitement was electric. When Rusty Greer, in center field, made a diving catch on a fading line drive for the first out, the crowd first caught its breath and then erupted in cheers. When the final out came, all 46,581 fans celebrated deliriously. We could talk about it again. "27 up and 27 down." To experience such an event, especially in the midst of a sellout home crowd, is indescribably exciting.

On the walk out of the stadium, I told my sons of the historic significance of what they had just witnessed. In a century of play, over tens of thousands of games, this was only the fourteenth perfect game in major league history. I told them that, even if they had season tickets for the rest of their long lives, the odds were against them seeing another. But they could always say that they witnessed this one. Although I won't be in the stands this week, here's hoping that the Rangers' first World Series brings more indelible memories for baseball fans who are lucky enough to be there.

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