Home | Sports | MLB | Baseball Time in Texas: Fans of the Texas Rangers should forgive, celebrate and cherish in 2024
Texas Ranger manager Bruce Bochy holds up the Commissioner's Trophy following the Game 5 World Series-clinching win against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Baseball Time in Texas: Fans of the Texas Rangers should forgive, celebrate and cherish in 2024

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports

A 2-ball, 2-strike elevated curveball in game 5 of the 2023 World Series exercised the demons swirling inside every Texas Rangers fan. No, not in a biblical sense — but not far off, either.

Sports are the ultimate unifier. They connect communities, cities, regions, states and countries. Unlike politics or religion, the recipe in sports is simple. You cheer for your team during a particular season and bond with others who do the same.

We hope. We break. We cry. We celebrate. We rinse and repeat. 

OK, I get it. As much as we’d all like for those three to be unlike, they are closely tied together — only we don’t have to cuss because of anything Jesus has done. We all win with Jesus.

Sports and politics are the unfortunate oil and water within “fanbases.” We rarely agree. We always lose (eventually). And y’all cuss. I’ve heard it.

For 52 seasons, the Texas Rangers and the Man above have heard that cursing, too. The Lord’s name was finally used by fans of the Rangers ballclub in a different vein on Nov. 1, 2023.

****

My father, Dale, scooted up toward the front of his recliner when Texas Rangers reliever Josh Sborz danced a curveball in for a 1-2 count on Ketel Marte in the bottom of the 9th inning in game 5 of the World Series. There were two outs at the time, and the Rangers were one strike away from immortality for a third time in franchise history. 

Not that any of you care, but that recliner sits in the same exact spot as a recliner three-recliners ago sat when I watched my first-ever Rangers game. 

It was there in that living room that I would be responsible for pulling down the tabs on the front of the TV for channels 21, 27, 33 or 39 just before the almost-nightly first pitch. It was the same living room where I opened countless birthday and Christmas presents ranging from catcher’s gear to baseball posters to a Nokona glove that I still own today. 

The same living space where I spent countless hours memorizing the stats on the back of baseball cards. This baseball safe place was now the stage for baseball history.

Nine more Dad claps from that recliner. Ball two. 

“If he had swung at it, it’d have been over,” Dad excitedly and accurately assessed of the 97mph heater down and in. 

There was an almost zero percent chance of Marte putting that pitch in play. But we, as Rangers fans, had been one strike away twice before. The biggest downside of baseball is that jinxes are real — very, very real.

Do not talk about a no-hitter. Don’t wash your jersey after a big win. Do not change your pregame meal or how you put on your stirrups. And for goodness sake, do not trade Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. 

Seven more Dad claps. 

Sborz delivers that elevated curveball. 

Four arms raised in celebration. 

“It’s all over but the parade now,” said my 78-year-old father as we both stood soaking in a scene that didn’t, and still doesn’t, feel real. “Lord, I waited a long time for this.”

As we watched the on-field celebrations, he added, “And it happened in my lifetime! …I was beginning to wonder.”

The Texas Rangers defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 5-0, in game 5 of the World Series. After 51 seasons in Texas and 62 seasons as a franchise — it was over. We did it. And I, like so many other Rangers fans, watched that final strike in a place and mindset we’ll never forget. 

We hoped. We broke. We cried. And we finally celebrated.

Sports. Do we now rinse and repeat? 

****

It should come as very little coincidence that Nelson Curz announced his retirement from Major League Baseball after 19 seasons and just mere hours after the first cork launched from a champagne bottle in Arizona. 

In fact, his announcement should’ve provided the final closure to make us, as fans of the Texas Rangers, whole.

Nelson Cruz is free.

Cruz played 12 seasons following Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. He ended his career with 464 home runs, 1,325 RBIs and a career .272 batting average.

According to BaseballReference.com, Cruz has a career that most closely aligns with Jose Canseco, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Teixeria, Jason Giambi, Andruw Jones and Willie Stargell. He’s a borderline MLB hall-of-fame candidate based on several metrics. 

Yet, it took the final strike on Nov. 1, 2023, to remind us of the essential life and spiritual lesson of forgiveness.

Because manager Bruce Bochy hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy above his shoulders in Arizona, we should no longer feel obligated to whisper Nelson’s last name around the ballpark or at bartops. We do not even need to mention the unfortunately misplayed deep flyball to right field in Game 6 of the 2011 series. 

In fact, someone, literally anyone, go ahead and get the measurements for Nelson Cruz’s Texas Rangers Hall of Fame jacket.

Cruz is a Rangers legend and nothing less once again. There’s honestly no debating that fact. Cruz should forever go down in Texas playoff lore for his majestic almost-half swing and always clutch home runs — not the “that one play.”

Cruz paved the road for the antics and theatre of Adolis “El Bombi” Garcia. His talents gave grace to the passion displayed by the seemingly stoic Corey Seager and Marcus Semien after their monumental World Series blasts in games 4 and 5. 

The Cruz gaff hardened us as a fanbase. It showed us precisely how special a season must be for that 30-pennant trophy to make its way home — to our home and into our forever lore. 

The first time we truly celebrated as a fan base was when Neftali Feliz spun an elevated outside curveball to Alex Rodriguez on a 1-and-2 count in the top of the ninth inning in game 6 of the 2010 American League Championship Series. The former and disgruntled Ranger whiffed, and a statue of Benjie Molina embracing Feliz, signifying the 6-1 victory and first-ever trip to the World Series, was born outside of The Ballpark in Arlington. It will likely soon have a neighbor.

But what is often forgotten is that Cruz hit a 5th-inning 2-run home run off David Robertson in that same game. It was his 5th of the postseason and gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead they’d never relinquish.

Those heroics are unfortunately forgotten because Bochy and the San Francisco Giants went on to defeat the Rangers in 5 games in the 2010 World Series.

Cruz had 6 HR during the 2010 World Series run. He later launched 8 in 2011, including a franchise-best 6 against the Tigers in the ALCS. 

But in all honesty, there is no guarantee that 2011 would’ve even happened had the Ranger pulled off the improbable against the Bochy-led Giants in 2010.

Would we have ever signed soon-to-be-MLB Hall-of-Fame inductee Adrian Beltre ahead of that season? 

*Shoulder shrug*

In the same vein, had that deep drive to right field off the bat of David Freese never occurred or had Joe Buck never excitedly exclaimed to Rangers fans he’d see us the next day in October of 2011…

…Nelson Cruz would’ve never had the opportunity to provide us with the blessing we ultimately received and celebrated on Nov. 1, 2023. 

There would’ve been no Rangers skipper Bruce Bochy, nor Evan Carter, Mitch Garver or Garcia. We would’ve never met Texas Ranger Jordan Montgomery, Max Scherzer or “Big Game” Nate Eovaldi. 

Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz would’ve never had the opportunity to remind us that second chances could lead to exemplary results, so long as a calming voice like Mike Maddux returns for a magical touch of the shoulder. Jonah Heim would’ve never thrown out a would-be base stealer in the postseason or proven what it takes to be an everyday catcher for a gold-standard ball club.

Without those heartbreaks, we would’ve never known to rally behind Wendy Lowe as she battled brain cancer while her son Nathaniel continued his Gold Glove play at first base. Dane Dunning’s goggles, Austin Hedges’ antics and Josh Jung’s historic rookie campaign…wouldn’t have happened. 

The same could be said without objection about that exhale-led embrace with your dad, mom, uncle, aunt, cousin, child, best friend or new friend across the bar that magical Wednesday night in Arizona. 

Without the World Series loss in 2010 and absolute gut wrench in 2011, we — as a fan base — would’ve never learned to appreciate the specialness of this past season. We would’ve never been reminded to forgive, even though that’s all we all ever really needed.

Over the past 5-plus decades, we’ve learned what it takes to become a baseball town. We all have a story of $10 bleacher seats, wiffle ball home runs and Game 6 heartbreaks. 

From Johnny Oates and Mark Holtz to Michael Young and Adrian Beltre, and those prior and post — this upcoming season-long celebration is for them and us. To those who passed before this franchise made you whole, we celebrate you just as much as the Garcias, Jungs, Seagers and Semiens. 

Pitchers and catchers report today to Surprise, Arizona. This time, however, the Texas Rangers will do so as World Champions. There is no taking that away.

And in the words of the greatest to ever do it, Eric Nadel, let us all remember and revel in that 2-2 count in Arizona on Nov. 1, 2023, when “Sborz kicks and fires…He struck him out looking! It’s over! It’s over! The Rangers have won the World Series.

“Rangers fans, you are not dreaming.” 

_____

Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

tsmith@elliscosports.com

About Travis M. Smith

Travis M. Smith is the owner and content director of Ellis County Sports and has over a decade of award-winning sports coverage. He most recently served as the digital sports director for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. He is the former managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, Midlothian Mirror and Glen Rose Reporter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *