November 2010

Post Season Hardware Version 2.0

In a not unexpected development, Josh Hamilton was named American League MVP today. He’s the 5th Ranger to win MVP honors, the last being A-Rod back in the Dark Ages of Rangers history.

When you hit .359 and win the batting title by over 10 percentage points, you know you’ve had a special season. Hambone even had a three-month span where he hit around .400.

Even as a Rangers fan, though, I’m not sure I would have given my vote to Josh if I had a vote in the matter. That’s just because I make a distinction between someone being named Most Valuable Player and Player of the Year. Hamilton is Player of the Year in my book for sure. He had a storybook season and only Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano came close in my opinion.

To me, though, the MVP is someone who was so instrumental in his team’s success that it’s doubtful they would be where they finished had it not been for them. As good as Hambone’s year was, he was also on a team with the likes of Vlad Guerrero, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz. When Hamilton missed most of the last month of the season, the Rangers still managed to find ways to win without him.

For me, Jose Bautista would be the guy that fit the true description of Most Valuable Player. Where would the Blue Jays be without Bautista coming out of nowhere to put up the numbers he did? The Blue Jays put together a respectable 85 win season in the always tough AL East and even came close to sending the Red Sox down to 4th place in the division.

I won’t quibble, though. Hamilton is deserving of the award and I couldn’t be happier for him (well, I could be happier for him, but that would have required the Rangers winning the World Series too!). Way to go, Josh. Let’s hope for a full injury-free season encore in 2011!

And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Post-Season Hardware Version 1.0

Feliz Nefti-dad

Feliz Nefti-dad

Feliz Nefti-dad

Prospero ano por Feliz, egad!

 Rookie of the Year for Neftali Feliz! Awesome achievement! Only the second Ranger to be so honored (Mike Hargrove was the first in 1974). And they say his future may very well be as a starter.

One big honor down, another one expected to come. And does Ron Washington have a chance at Manager of the Year? I don’t think so, but anything’s possible.

 

 

A Hurdle The Rangers Wish They Still Had

What is the worth of a major league hitting coach? Are hitting coaches interchangeable?

A good hitting coach is actually worth his weight in gold. That’s why the Rangers kept giving Rudy Jaramillo raises over the 13 years he served as Rangers hitting coach. Managers came and managers went, but Jaramillo was the one constant in the Rangers coaching ranks.

Sadly, Jaramillo’s last Texas contract expired at the end of the 2009 season, when previous owner Tom Hicks was suffering major money troubles. Thanks to belt-tightening, the Rangers were unable to give Jaramillo the increase he felt he deserved (and probably did). Jaramillo is now the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs.

Enter Clint Hurdle. The former Rockies manager had always had a solid reputation as a hitting coach. After the Rockies cut Hurdle loose, Texas took advantage and got him as the replacement for Jaramillo.

So does one hitting coach make that big a difference? Yes and no. Just like any boss or manager in any walk of life, his charges take listen to his directions, but many may choose to ignore those directions and still do their own thing. The ones willing to listen, though, can see dramatic results.

In the case of Hurdle, all one has to do is look at Josh Hamilton. Hambone has always been blessed with natural talent, but one thing his hitting coaches had tried to get him to do was get rid of his toe tap timing mechanism. Jaramillo tried to get him to do it in 2009 and Josh got mentally tied up in knots over it and eventually went back to the tap. For some reason, Hurdle managed to explain it in a way that not only got Hamilton to stop it, but to not even think about it anymore. The result? A .359 average and a probable MVP award.

Ian Kinsler is another Hurdle success story. Kinsler’s uppercut swing was really wearing on Rangers fans. In 2009, Kinsler hit 30 home runs, but his average also dipped down below .250. Hurdle got Kinsler to be more patient at the plate. His homers went down, but his average, walks and OBP went up.

On the down side, Hurdle was not able to do anything with Chris Davis. In fact, Davis may have regressed under the new hitting coach. Some players just don’t mesh well with a coach. Maybe Hurdle just couldn’t explain himself in a way Davis would understand. It happens sometimes.

As a team, though, in one year under Hurdle’s tutelage, the Rangers saw an increase in walks, a decrease in strikeouts and they led the American League in productive at bats and batting average.

After only one year in a Rangers uniform, Clint Hurdle has gotten the managerial call once again, becoming the new manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He will be sorely missed by the American League champions.

He has his work cut out for him. The Pirates haven’t had a winning record in 20 years, but there does seem to be some talent coming up the pipeline for him to work with. Pirates fans, win or lose, know you have a good one in Clint Hurdle. He’s not only a good baseball man, he’s a good man as well. He fit in well with the Rangers family. I’m sure you’ll embrace him as much as we Rangers fans did, even for the short period of time he was with us.

The search is on for Texas’ third hitting coach in as many years. Whoever follows Jaramillo and Hurdle has a tough two acts to follow.

One Incredible Year

I became a fan of the Texas Rangers before they were the Texas Rangers:

 

Senators Jersey.jpgMy very first post outlined my allegiance to the Rangers from the time we both resided on the Eastern Seaboard. My first baseball game ever was a Washington Senators game and, as of this moment, my most recent baseball experience was a Texas Rangers game, Game 4 of the World Series.

I have seen a lot of miserable seasons in 40 years and a few good ones. But I have never encountered what 2010 brought to me as a fan.

When I began this blog just before the start of the 2010 season, I’m not going to claim I didn’t expect all of this. Actually, I had a pretty strong feeling the Rangers could win the West, which is truly why I started it. I wanted to chronicle not only the games, but the feelings I had leading up to winning a Division Championship for the first time in 11 years. Beyond that, I certainly had hopes that the futility of first round playoff losses would also come to an end. Again, that came to fruition.

If you had told me at the start of the season that my Rangers would not only accomplish those two things, but they would go beyond and get into the World Series? Well, I probably would have said, “Thanks for thinking so highly of my team, I hope you’re right.” And while I was saying it, I would have been thinking, “Golly, wouldn’t that be amazing if they did? Nah, this is the Rangers we’re talking about!”

As I look back on the season, I can’t imagine a scenario like the one that played out. The team’s two catchers at the start of the season were nowhere to be found at the end of the season. The same could be said about the Rangers’ two first basemen who started the season and two other first basemen who took over in the middle third.The same could be said again of the team’s top two starting pitchers.

Meanwhile, the Texas closer lost his job a mere two weeks into the season and was the set-up man on the DL at the end of it (Frank Francisco sure could have helped in the World Series, that’s for sure!).

If that wasn’t enough, the Rangers qualified as one of the last two teams alive with a team that featured an All-Star second baseman who had two separate trips to the DL costing almost two months of playing time, an All-Star right fielder who had three DL trips while still managing to knock in almost 80 runs, and an All-Star Left fielder/center fielder who missed most of the last month of the season and still will probably be the league MVP.

A magical season indeed. Even if they come back next year and win the whole thing, I’m not sure it would top what every Rangers fan got to experience this year because, as much as every one of the faithful has dreamt of seeing the Rangers in the World Series, I think very few of us ever really expected it to happen. Now that we see it can happen, will we as fans become jaded and expect it every year?

For that matter, will this experience change the players on this Rangers team? Several are coming up on their first arbitration year and will be getting a hefty pay increase in the off-season. Will success and more money spoil them and soften the edge they played with in 2010? So far, they seem to be answering correctly and indicating this year only makes them hungry for more in 2011. But success affects people in different ways. This will be Ron Washington’s challenge next year, to keep his team hungry and playing just as hard as they did this season.

Washington’s been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The Rangers have already cut ties with Rich Harden, Cristian Guzman, Brandon McCarthy (who never appeared with the big club in 2010) and Esteban German. They have declined the mutual option on Vlad Guerrero’s contract, making it a 50/50 proposition the Rangers’ leading RBI man will be back next year. Bengie Molina is contemplating retirement. Cliff Lee is a free agent. As is Jorge Cantu, although there is virtually no chance he will be back. It is also doubtful Jeff Francoeur will be offered arbitration, so he is probably gone as well.

Still, a healthy core remains and if the Rangers succeed in resigning Lee, there’s a good chance Texas goes into the 2011 season as the favorites to win the West once again.

As for this blog? One of my early readers pointed out it will be tough to come up with a new name as catchy as the original of “World Series 40, Rangers Fan 0″. But change it must should I decide to continue on. I’m open to suggestions for a new name so send them my way! Until I make my final decision, I will do some off-season postings on signings, trades and the like.

I do know, if I continue to expose the world to my mostly inconsequential thoughts, that recapping every game may be difficult to accomplish two years in a row. It took incredible discipline to post day in and day out when juggling it with a demanding real-life job and giving quality time to the family while watching or listening to games almost every day and/or night. So that part of the blog may change a bit. What won’t change is my love of Texas Rangers baseball and it will continue to be the focal point of every post made in this space.

To my family, I thank you for not only supporting me in my fandom over the years, but for supporting me and even encouraging me in putting those words down for the world to see. To 17-Year Ranger Fan and Ranger Fan-In-Law, I thank you for posting during days when I was indisposed or you got to attend the game. To my eldest, a lifelong Mariners fan, I thank you for not only tolerating me over the years but actually joining the bandwagon at the end of the season. And to Mrs. Mariner Fan/Ranger Fan, your support and love is what keeps me going every day. I couldn’t have done this blog without you.

To my loyal readers and those who discovered my musings late in the regular season, I thank each and every one of you for the moments of your time you have given me. Whether you have commented or not, I appreciate each and every one of you.

I actually thought when I started this blog that I would mostly hear from fellow Rangers fans and we would commiserate back and forth over the course of the season. What was so surprising was discovering the majority of you are fans of other teams! Truly unexpected. That’s what a love for the game of baseball can do. To you, I hope you have come to appreciate the players, their attitude and the way they play the game as much as you appreciate your own teams. Who knows? Maybe I converted a couple of you along the way.

Last but not least, I thank the Texas Rangers for giving me a season worth talking about. Hardly a day went by that I couldn’t find something new to talk about with this team. I am proud to call myself a Texas Rangers fan and I will be a Texas Rangers fan until I take my last breath.

But note to family: When that last breath is taken, a Rangers casket (or urn) will not be required. We can draw the line there. 

And In The End: Giants 3, Rangers 1

And in the end,

The love you take

Is equal to the love you make.

-The Beatles

 

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, World Series Champions of 2010.

If there’s one thing that I can continue to be happy about for the rest of my life, it is that the deciding game of the World Series occured at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Congratulations to the Texas Rangers for going further in 2010 than any of us expected. A division title? We thought it was within reach. The World Series? Don’t think it was on the radar for most of us.

I’ve shared my love of the Rangers all season long. They returned that love to me in spades!

More later after I decompress.

Dreams Do Come True: Giants 4, Rangers 0

I hate the result of Sunday’s Game 4. Hate it, hate it, hate it!

Still, the dream came true on Sunday, October 31st, 2010. After 40 years of fandom, I saw my team, the Texas Rangers, in person playing in the World Series!

Whether the Rangers come back and win the last three games to win it all or they’re eliminated Monday night, my bucket list now has one less item on it.

The whole experience was great! We arrived at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington a full five hours before game time. Shopping for World Series mementos among a throng of several hundred in astore designed probably for only 100 or so was difficult but oh so fun. It was tough finding items in “Large” but we perservered nonetheless.

Observing dejected Cowboys fans heading for their cars while we anxiously awaited the gates to open at 4 PM. Visiting the Rangers Hall of Fame for the first time. Seeing people in Halloween costumes interspersed with kids with painted “T’s” on their faces and grown men with red and blue beards- all a sight to behold!

Our seats high on the right center field Home Run Porch- actually a pretty good vantage point to see the game. And the game itself- not the result I wanted, obviously, but it was good to see that, even in defeat, most Rangers fans stayed until the last out, hoping against hope for a better result in the end.

I’m sure the talking heads will be going at it today on the following topics: 1) Pitching Tommy Hunter in Game 4 and 2) The Rangers relief pitching. Hunter, indeed, struggled mightily, expending over 80 pitches in just four innings of work. Still, his only blemish was the 2-run home run to Aubrey Huff. And the Rangers relief corps indeed gave up two runs, albeit it in five innings of work.

For the naysayers who said the Rangers should have gone with Cliff Lee on 3 days rest instead of Hunter (and there were many- most of the national media as well as a substantial number of Rangers fans), I say this. The way Madison Bumgarner pitched, it wouldn’t have mattered who the Rangers had pitching. Bumgarner was that good.

Three hits for Texas. Three measly hits for the team of Hamilton, Guerrero, Cruz, Young and Kinsler. A pitcher is really doing his job when they can hold this team to just three hits and only one time allowing a runner past first base.

At one point, I told Mrs. Mariner Fan-Ranger Fan that I was a jinx on my own team. The Rangers have now been shut out only six times in the entire 2010 season. I have been in attendance at two of them. And I’ve only been to three games all year! She, on the other hand, literally stayed cheering to the end. When even I had lost the will to shout encouragement to my lifelong team, she was there high up in the next to the top row cheering like the game had just started!

I head home for the last time this season dejected over a loss but still optimistic that my boys can eke out another win to send it back to San Francisco for a 6th and, hopefully, a 7th game as well. The odds aren’t in our favor but, as Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over!

Dreams still can come true.

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