When I was about 5, my parents decided to divorce. But don’t worry. This isn’t really a sad story. There are some sad stories within it, but, at its core, it’s an everyday story about the power of sports. Specifically for me, baseball.
My mom, brother, and I became a little family of three. We bounced around a bit, but one thing was pretty consistent in my room: the radio. You see, my older brother got a TV, and I didn’t. It’s fine. Not bitter at all. I had to rely on a clock radio. It had AM and FM dials. That’s it. Not even a tape deck. My choices were limited, but I made the best of it.
The soundtrack to my summers became the dulcet tones of Eric Nadel telling me all about the Texas Rangers. Almost every evening from April to September, I would listen to his unmatched commentary. He would describe their uniforms and their expressions. His voice would rise when one of the sluggers got ahold of one. It would fall when that same slugger swung at one in the dirt for the third out. Throughout my childhood, I listened. He was like a long-lost friend who returned every summer to entertain me. It was just me and him; after all, I was usually up way after my bedtime.
As I got older and I got to stay up later, I started watching the Rangers on TV. The young men that I had spent countless hours picturing in my head were there in living color. Sluggers like Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, and Rafael Palmeiro. Some pretty good pitchers like Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, Darren Oliver, and the Express himself, Nolan Ryan. And, of course, my very favorite player: catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. I adored Pudge; he didn’t seem much older than me with the baby face, but he was an absolute assassin behind the plate. Try to run on Pudge at your peril. I know this is the steroid era, and many of my favorites are in the dustbin of a shameful part of baseball history. But 13-year-old me adored them. And they allowed my relationship with my brother, 7 years my senior, to improve.
I know it’s shocking to hear that my older brother and I didn’t have a lot in common. After all, I was a child while he was moving on into adulthood. The one thing that was a constant growing up was the Rangers. When life was hard, and we didn’t really know what to say to each other, we always had baseball. As adults, I think we may have even less in common than we did as kids. But even today, we text when something good is happening with our Rangers.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and so most of my experiences with baseball were through the AM radio and the television. But I had a remarkable experience early in high school: my first love. And he was a Rangers fan! Perfection. He took me to several games at the shiny new Ballpark in Arlington. There they were in the flesh. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed as loud as I did the first time Pudge was introduced. The Rangers were pretty good in the 90s, and I had fun watching them. There’s nothing like the Ballpark on a sweltering day. But they never made it too far in the playoffs. They simply didn’t have “it”. I wasn’t worried. There was plenty of time. I was enjoying the joy of baseball, even when they were bad.
My brother joined the Air Force and went all over the world while I got through high school. He would occasionally return home, and we would head to the Ballpark. It was our bonding activity. No matter what was going on between us, we were always game for baseball.
I moved on to college in Houston, and my friends tried desperately to get me on the Houston Astros bandwagon. Absolutely not. I halfheartedly cheered for them; they were fun to watch, and they were in the NL, so they never really played my Rangers. But they certainly weren’t my Rangers. I watched from afar as the Rangers made some absolute blunders including paying Alex Rodriguez the king’s ransom to be the only good player on the team. Whew. It was heartbreaking. But I stuck with them; I loved them. Then I met a boy. The boy. Houston born. Houston raised. Astros fan. Hmmm. Could this work?
Reader, it worked. The boy and I got married and moved back to my neck of the woods. The Astros fan became a Rangers fan, and we spent many nights in the early stages of our marriage at the Ballpark. We had two babies and dressed them in Rangers gear. We took them to the Ballpark every summer, even when the Rangers were terrible. After all, cheaper seats when no one wants to watch! My son is almost 18, and he has only recently stopped referring to the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as the “Rangers Song”.
Along the way, I made a wonderful friend at work, Danny; we immediately bonded over our love for the Rangers. He had a similar story; Nadel was the voice of his childhood as well. For several years, we would check in to lament about another 100-loss season, but we were about to go on a ride. The Rangers were on the rise.
In 2010, I had an almost 1-year-old and an almost 4-year-old; needless to say, we didn’t make it to any games that summer. But I listened to a quiet Nadel in a very dark nursery. I watched the Rangers on TV while I paced around my living room just begging my sobbing baby to sleep. I kept as quiet as I possibly could while watching Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus light up the Ballpark. Josh Hamilton and his many woes were forgotten as he slugged the Rangers into the playoffs. For the first time, the Rangers were going to the World Series.
Huge bummer, but, again, they had time! They had talent! It was coming. We could feel it.
In 2011, we picked up my all-time favorite Ranger: Adrian Beltre. This was going to be our year. I had long left my first adult job, but Danny and I were always texting back and forth about the potential of that 2011 season. They were going to do it.
It was a good year.
Until it wasn’t.
You know how Tom Hanks has that famous line in A League of Their Own? “There’s no crying in baseball”. I have bad news.
The best feeling in the world is when you get to go to the World Series in your home ballpark; my husband and I got that chance. It was glorious. My Rangers in the Ballpark in October? Fantastic. Unfortunately, we were witnesses to an absolute slaughter as Albert Pujols put on a home run clinic to beat the Rangers 16–7. Not great. But not out of it yet. The Cardinals were up 2–1, but the Rangers took the next two games. They were headed back to St. Louis with a 3–2 lead in the series. Danny texted me to say that he felt good about it. Surely we could take one game?
The Rangers were up 7–4 in the bottom of the 8th, and everyone was feeling good. Sure, Allen Craig hit a home run in the 8th to make it 7–5, but it was fine. Two-run lead in the 9th for the World Series Championship? Feeling good!
Then David Freese hit a triple over a leaping Nelson Cruz to tie the game. 7–7. That really takes the air out of the room. But the Rangers had been the slugging comeback kids all season. Sure enough, Josh Hamilton stepped up to bat in the 10th; for all his troubles, Hamilton really loved to put on a show. His two-run homer made it 9–7. Whew. This was it. We were going to win it.
You know where this is going right?
Of course. Lance Berkman drove in two in the 10th. David Freese, the Ranger-killer, walked it off with a home run in the 11th. I crumpled onto my living room floor in tears. I have never cried over sports in my life. That’s silly. Why would anyone do that? But Tom Hanks was wrong; there can be crying in baseball. Two outs. Two strikes. Twice. Baseball gives and it takes.
The Rangers were lifeless in Game 7, and there was no World Series win that year.
Danny and I texted back and forth lamenting about our suffering as Rangers fans. Of course, we still loved them, we said. But, man, it can be hard to love a team that is so devastating.
Over the next few years, the Rangers really returned to their mediocre form. We still watched, and we still attended those summer games. I still listened to Nadel tell me the color commentary before bed. I loved them at their best, and I loved them at their worst. But life moves on. It’s just baseball.
In 2019, my family and I moved to Massachusetts for a job; it made it a little tougher to follow the Rangers. My friend Danny moved to Virginia, and he had the same issue. I will admit that I turned on the Red Sox many times when there was nothing on TV. But I always came back. After all, Nadel’s broadcast was often on Sirius XM. Ahhh, technology. Those were some lean years. Back to the 100-loss seasons and the mediocrity.
During the pandemic, I got some horrible news. Danny had been diagnosed with brain cancer. In 2021, he died. Although we had not had a lot of contact in those lean years, I was gutted. We were both small-town kids from Texas who loved baseball. We had similar stories of listening to Eric Nadel tell us all about the Rangers. I looked forward to his messages in October when the Rangers were doing well (“Hope they win one for your birthday!”). He was such a light in this world for many reasons.
The Rangers spent money, got a new ballpark, and they rebuilt. I’m a seasoned fan now. I know better than to expect too much, so I tempered my expectations. Even during this improbable run, I knew luck would likely run out for the road warriors.
But it didn’t.
So, last night, my family and I watched as the Rangers pitcher stepped up in the bottom of the 9th. Two outs. “They’re gonna win it, Mom”.
Don’t say it.
Don’t say it yet. Just wait.
And then it was over. They did win it. All demons were exorcised, and they finally became World Series champs. I went back to listen to the call by Eric Nadel; after all, he had gotten me this far.
And once again, there was crying in baseball.