Congratulations, Texas Rangers

I remember back in 2008, when the Rays were first making a name for themselves. The Mariners dropped out of the race with astonishing speed, and I needed a reason to keep giving a shit. I needed a bandwagon. So I picked one. I picked a plucky, cheap, young team from Tampa Bay, and I dove in head-first. I had a t-shirt and everything.

I supported them throughout the regular season, but things didn't really amp up until the playoffs. During the year, as much as I was rooting for the Rays, I was still consumed by the Mariners. I was still watching them and writing about them nearly every day, and that didn't afford me a lot of time to pay close attention to somebody else.

The playoffs did. The playoffs were when the emotions really came out. I don't even know if I bandwagoned properly, because I felt too invested. I cared too much for a casual short-timer. I clasped my hands together nervously as the Rays disposed of the White Sox, and then the ALCS against the Red Sox pushed things to another level entirely. I had trouble breathing during Game 7 as I watched on from my living room, in my t-shirt. And when David Price induced that final groundout, I roared, and I fell backwards where I was sitting. I felt nothing but things I wanted to be feeling. I felt like I'd been a die-hard fan through thick and thin, even though I knew that I wasn't. No matter. The feelings were real.

Then, nothing. After the ALCS, the Rays advanced to the World Series to take on the Phillies. And I couldn't believe how little I cared. The Series went five games, spanning six days (which is still so weird). I think I watched maybe two of them. Seemingly overnight, I'd become indifferent to the team I'd been bandwagoning so hard. Maybe the ALCS had just taken everything out of me. Or maybe I subconsciously realized that I wasn't allowed to be that invested in a World Series without the Mariners. That would be kind of like cheating.

Game 7 of the ALCS - that was the turning point, for me. I was all about the Rays up to it and through it. Soon thereafter, I stopped caring. And soon after that, the Rays started to annoy me. We get it. You're young, and quirky, and you figured out a way to beat the system. Objectively it doesn't make much sense, but I grew sick of the Rays pretty fast.

Watching the game tonight, and reflecting on my prior experience, I'm thinking the same thing's going to happen with the Rangers. Now, granted, the situation's a little different. I haven't bandwagoned the Rangers the way I bandwagoned the Rays, because the Rangers are a direct division rival, and they've pissed me off on countless occasions in the past. I could never love the Rangers, or even lie to myself and think I did for a week or three of the year.

But I've supported them in the playoffs. I've supported them against the beasts of the East because I'm tired of the East, and I like when these things play out differently. Objectively, the Rangers are a rival. Objectively, the Rangers are fun. They've played fun, entertaining baseball. Their play has been good. Their crowds have been good. For three weeks, they've been a kick.

I was pulling hard for them against the Yankees. Even though I knew that a Yankees win ultimately wouldn't make a difference, while a Rangers win totally could, I still wanted to see Texas prevail. All that Yankee hatred I thought I'd thrown away years ago came out, as did my desire to see fresh faces under the brightest lights. In life, I hate change. In sports, I love it. Change implies unpredictability, and we need our sports to be unpredictable. If it weren't for the unpredictability, why the hell would I give a shit about next year's Mariners?

I had more fun watching the Rangers win tonight than I've had watching a baseball game in some time. The bottom of the fifth gave me chills. The Vladimir Guerrero double, and the Nelson Cruz home run, back-to-back - those were perfect. In the situation, they were perfect, and they lifted me up from my seat as the Arlington crowd went into a frenzy. When Cruz took David Robertson deep, you kind of felt like that was it. That the Rangers had taken complete command, and that it was only a matter of time.

It was. The Yankees did nothing, and Alex Rodriguez watched a slider, and the Rangers won the game, and I hooted. It was a good hoot, too. Not one of them flat, scratchy hoots when you try to go too high. It was pleasing, and thick.

Today went exactly how I wanted it to go. I'm glad the Rangers won, and I'm glad they got to do it on their own field. As sweet as it always is to watch teams beat New York in New York, it's no substitute for fifty thousand people just losing their minds. Home celebrations are the best part of sports, unless they happen in Anaheim.

Now what?

I can't predict how the future's going to play out. I am terribly bad at predicting my own rootability. Even though I had an inkling, I didn't know I'd be rooting for the Rangers over the Rays until the series got started. So it's possible that, hey, maybe I'll keep pulling for Texas all the way through this thing.

But the more I think about it, the more I think this goes like it did back in 2008. A few years down the road, I think I'm going to reflect on tonight as a turning point, the same way I look at Game 7 between the Rays and the Red Sox. The Rangers have been fun. They've been a lot of fun. They eliminated the Yankees! But now it's the World Series. Now we're talking about a championship, and we're talking about a tight division rival. That's not something I want. Why would that ever be something I want?

We know the Rangers are probably going to be good for a long time. They're really talented, and really young, and they have a good farm system, and suddenly they have money on top of everything else, too. The Rangers are likely to be a thorn in our sides for several years. They project to be annoying for as far into the future as any projections ever ought to go. This is a team that's going to try to beat us. This is a team that probably is going to beat us, a lot, at least in the short-term.

Soon, I will grow to hate the Rangers all over again. Or maybe not hate - I think I'm too old for hate - but certainly dislike. There's every reason to. Nobody likes their rivals. That's the whole point of rivals.

And I figure tonight represents the peak of my Ranger fondness. I doubt it's going to get any higher than this. It's going to slip. Maybe gradually at first - who knows - but it's inevitable. My feelings regarding the Rangers, I have to imagine, are all down from here. I'll be bitter soon. It hasn't hit me yet, but I know that it will. Thanks a lot for leaving us alone with the Nationals, Texas. The Nationals smell.

For now, while I'm still feeling friendly, I'd like to issue my sincerest congratulations to the Rangers and all of their fans. The players played like hell, and I was impressed by the atmosphere in Arlington, as those fans wouldn't let up. I've watched a lot of Mariners/Rangers games during the summer that took place in front of 25,000 teenagers and one Jim Knox, and those were always torture. These have been exciting. The stadium has come alive; more alive than I've ever seen it.

I've had a lot of fun watching the Rangers these last three weeks. They've reminded me of what good baseball is like. They've reminded me of what playoff baseball is like, and they have in part reminded me why this game that we watch is so God damn awesome. The Rangers, this October, have helped to make me a happier person during a very stressful period of time, and for that I can't thank them enough.

In closing: thank you, Rangers, for what you have done. You've brought a smile to my face during a month in which I'm not used to smiling. That was really nice of you to do.

Go Giants.

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