It was the first trip to Arlington Stadium for me. I was six years old….my first Big League Game…the Texas Rangers against the New York Yankees. I sat there and watched Reggie Jackson for the Yankees take two pitches yard. The Rangers lost that game…but it was still magical…I was watching Major League Baseball. Growing up in small town West Texas, making it to a major league game was rare. Something to be cherished….something that only occurred every couple of years or so.
Hollywood has produced some of the best Baseball Movies…one of my favorites is Sandlot…about a bunch of boys living a summer on a sandlot baseball field and occasionally losing balls to a backyard with a big dog….guardian of all lost baseballs hit for a home run. I love that movie…not so much for the plot…although very good…no…I love that movie because that was how we lived. Every summer the Cherry Street posse of Teddy, Todd, Paxton, Jimmy, Jude, Me…and my kid brother Sam…played ball. In Teddy’s back yard…it was the biggest on the street. The summer sun would beat down…on a dusty and dry ground….it was a far cry from a perfect manicured diamond…the bases could not be evenly spaced due to oblique backyard geometry. Occasionally there would be disagreements…usually settled with the next pitch being a fastball thrown up and in...and lost balls….well we lost a bunch of them…the adjacent yard had a big German Sheppard named SHEP…and he always played finders keepers with anything knocked over the fence. Life when you are preteen in Levelland…at least on Cherry Street… was marked by sports seasons…and summer was sanctioned as BASEBALL season.
I liked all the sports…and played whatever was offered during the time…but baseball was held sacred. We all traded and collected baseball cards with each other. Jude would memorize the stats…and tell you who was batting 0.348 in June for the Royals. I remember when I had gotten Thurman Munson’s card…and I remember the day he was killed in a plane crash…he caught for the Yankees….and I caught for the Yankees…that would be the Levelland Little League Yankees.
Although I would play for the Reds, or the Astros…Yankees and the Giants…I would always keep up with the Texas Rangers…they were my favorite…and most summers there was not a whole lot to cheer for…they were usually out of Pennant contention by late July. One summer, I remember they were only 2 games out of first place to the Toronto Blue Jays and I talked my dad into shifting our vacation a couple of days so that we could watch the Rangers play the Jays…..soon after that my beloved Rangers began to drift where we were used to seeing them finish…at the back of the pack.
As life moved on…I continued to play ball…all the way through high school. Somewhere along the way the grave realization of playing in the big leagues wouldn’t be….and by the time I had graduated, I was more astute of keeping the pitch counts and determining how the hurler was pitching the batters than me being able to hit a change-up following a heater on the inside corner. But the love of Baseball never wavered.
In 1992 I was living in Dallas and working for a company as an intern. I scheduled my summer around when Nolan Ryan would pitch for the Rangers…and occasionally would buy a ticket on his scheduled day praying that the aging Ryan Express wouldn’t go onto the DL. Yep…I get to tell my kids that I saw Nolan pitch for the Rangers. They get a kick out of that when they see Nolan sitting with his wife Ruth during the televised Ranger Games. The day after Bren and I were married…we went to a Ranger Game before we left on a cruise. Yep…the Texas Rangers…moved to Texas from Washington DC in 1972…and I have to say that most of those years were kinda bleak…not Chicago Cubs bleak…but still bleak…I remember going to games in the early 00’s when they were 25 games out of First Place….and thinking…will we ever be good?
Tonight…in St. Louis…the Texas Rangers will take the field….in the World Series…the Fall Classic…for the second year in the row. Last night…with no baseball on the TV…I was pacing around…Bren looks over at me and says, “You would think you are scheduled to pitch tomorrow.” I grin…and say, "that would be cool"…I am like a kid….that same kid that played with his buds on that Sandlot field on Cherry Street….that same kid, watching Reggie Jackson from the Evil Empire take two yard. Yep…I am a kid again…made possible by a bunch of guys younger than me. PLAY BALL!