I've been a Texas Rangers fan since forever. It isn't a team that I started liking at some point, it is a team that I can never remember not liking. All of my professional sports memories as a kid growing up happened at Arlington Stadium or later, the Ball Park in Arlington. That is the place and that is the team that all other sports fan experiences are benchmarked against. But, if the past three seasons are the only historical perspective you may have on the Texas Rangers, please allow me to clear something up: it has never been this easy to be a Texas Rangers baseball fan. Growing up with the team, they weren't the ones you cheer for with the post season in mind, they were the ones you cheered for with that day and that day's only win in mind because those seemed to come few and far between. The players were larger personalities and that sometimes covered up the sting of only hearing "Hello Win Column" a few times a few, but no Nolan Ryan fastball or Pudge Rodriguez take down at second could hide the perennial 3rd or 4th place finish in the division.
That is, until 1996. That was the year "made the playoffs" first were utter around my family's kitchen table over a bowl of Frosted Flakes. That was the year that I learned it was possible to play more than 162 games. That was the year that the Texas Rangers won their first post season game in the history of the franchise. That was the year that the New York Yankees became my most hated professional sports team when they beat my Texas Rangers the next three playoff games in a row and sent us home for the offseason.
But I knew what it was like to cheer for a team that could win a division. And they did two more times, in 1998 and 1999. And then, they proceed to loose every game in both of those post seasons to the hated New York Yankees. Yes, 9 out of the 10 playoff games that I saw as a young fan ended with the pinstriped evil empire from New York celebrating and my Texas Rangers faltering. My dislike of the Yankees is not unfounded.
But then, fast forward a decade of bad baseball, the Texas Rangers win their division again in 2010. They win their first playoff series, their first league championship, and they go their first world series ever. All of this coincides with me now living in New York and watching them beat New York at Yankee Stadium for my first playoff game experience. It was incredible for so many reasons. They eventually lose to the San Francisco Giants, but for some reason, that is okay. They gave it their all and it was their first time at that rodeo.
The 2011 season was the first season in the history of my fandom that I had expectations that were larger than the hope of a winning season. It was the first April that I thought there just might be a chance at playing more than 162 games and I didn't feel guilty about having that expectation. The season went as planned, the post season went as planned, we made it back to the World Series and that even went as planned, we were up 3-2 going into the 6th game. I rallied all the baseball fans and even a few fellow Texas Rangers fans to watch Game Six at the always hospitable Half Pint.
We made the mistake of counting down the outs until the Texas Rangers were World Champs. There is a photo that exists of me holding up one finger because that is how many outs were left between my long suffering fandom and permanent glory.
And it never came.
Game Six is the saddest sports moment in my history of sports moments. There was nothing that I could do as a fan. There was nothing to do. Nelson Cruz missing a pop fly that he would catch any other day and having that be the difference still flashes through my head whenever anyone says, about any sport, "Game Six."
Due to scheduling, Game Six was played a day later than it was supposed to be which means Game Seven was pushed back to the first day of Annie and my vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we were walking through DFW towards our connecting flights to ABQ, Annie asked if I wanted to skip the flight, take the first one out the next day, and watch Game Seven at my parents house with my Dad. And that is exactly what we did. (Isn't she amazing!?!)
It ended up being like going to a funeral. When the 27th out was recorded and the Texas Rangers season ended with another shot at the World Championship, the hope for next season began anew. Most of the team would come back and we'd give it a good shot in 2012.
And we did. And it was great this season. But it is not about starting well, playing well, or being the best team in the division for 157 out of 162 games. It is about being the best team in the division for game 162. And we weren't. And we couldn't play ourselves in against the Baltimore Orioles in Game 163. And now, as a fan, it is back to hoping and thinking about next season.
Being a lifelong fan is tough. It is not your bandwagon "I like the Yankees, the Red Wings, the Cowboys, and the Lakers" Wal-Mart fan. It is the fandom that you can't get rid of if you wanted to. It is the fandom that actually effects your schedule and your emotions. It is the helplessness of not being able to change a single thing about what happens to your team but never delaying or holding back your cheers because they are your team.
It is needing to write a 1,000 word blog the morning after your team ends its season in truly sad fashion because you can't believe it is over.
132 Days until pitchers and catchers report and we'll do it all over again.