By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The Rangers accomplished more last fall over 30 days than in their previous 39 seasons of baseball in Arlington combined. The reward: Ratcheted anticipation that the Rangers will use 2010's success and, armed with invaluable experience as well as reigning AL Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton, trampoline to even greater heights in 2011. The expectations require the Rangers to get better.
"Last year was great," Hamilton says. "We'll always treasure it. But we can't forget we came up short of our goal. I don't think anyone in this organization is satisfied by how last season ended. I know I'm not. We've got to build on what we did and get better."
History has taught us—through literature and movies and music and, yes, sports—that it's easier to have one shining moment than sustained excellence. One-hit wonders litter every corner, but few elite dynasties exist.
After he shockingly knocked out undefeated and feared boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in 1990 in Tokyo, Douglas lost his next fight to Evander Holyfield and never again held a title belt. Margaret Mitchell's first novel—Gone With the Wind—was also her last. Same for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Viewers—red-blooded males of a certain age, anyway—vividly remember Cates' iconic and erotic exit from the swimming pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but likely forgot her lesser, more clothed roles in Drop Dead Fred, Shag and Gremlins. And after his debut smash "Ice Ice Baby," rapper Vanilla Ice—aka Robert Van Winkle of Carrollton's R.L. Turner High School—never again had a Top 40 hit.
OK, so the one-hit curse has some redeeming qualities too.
The Rangers boast arguably the best player in baseball in Hamilton, a pitching ace in C.J. Wilson, who last year ranked among the AL's Top 10 in almost every major statistical category, a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop in Andrus and a golden arm in Neftali Feliz, whose 100-mph fastballs saved 40 games out of the bullpen in 2010. Ryan again predicts his team will make the playoffs and most prognosticators pick the Rangers to hold off the Anaheim Angels and Oakland A's to win the American League West in 2011. But just in case, keep handy the It's Time! highlight DVD featuring the claw, antlers and October euphoria.
In baseball the only thing more difficult than getting there is staying there.
No team has gone back-to-back in the AL in almost a decade. The Yankees were the last team to accomplish the feat, winning the last of four consecutive AL pennants in 2001. Of the last nine AL champs before the Rangers—Yankees ('01), Angels ('02), Yankees ('03), Red Sox ('04), Chicago White Sox ('05), Detroit Tigers ('06), Red Sox ('07), Tampa Bay Rays ('08) and Yankees ('09)—in the year following their pennants all but one had a winning record but only five made the playoffs and just two returned to the ALCS. There have been sustainable AL powers such as the '60s Baltimore Orioles (led by Jim Palmer and Boog Powell), the '70s Yankees (featuring Reggie Jackson and Ron Guidry), the '80s A's (powered by Mark McGwire and Dennis Eckersley) and '90s Toronto Blue Jays (led by Joe Carter and Juan Guzman), but this millennium has sprouted nothing more than a bunch of "Duh...winning!" fads here today and gone tomorrow faster and more forgettable than Charlie Sheen.
Parity. Economics. Chemistry. Injuries. Luck. They all play a part in determining the fine line between consistency and shooting star. While the Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, the metroplex's other professional sports teams have struggled to maintain. Though they regularly win 50-plus regular-season games and will next month make their 11th consecutive playoff appearance, the Dallas Mavericks haven't sniffed a return to the NBA Finals since their epic collapse in 2006. The Dallas Stars won the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup in 1999 and returned to the finals the next season, but have since meandered between mediocre and morose.
Starting with Wilson's first pitch Friday against Boston, the Rangers seemed positioned and primed for a long, healthy run among the best teams in baseball. But...
"I'm very excited about the future," Greenberg said in a December interview. "Remember, we had this success this season running around with a lot of uncertainty. We were scrambling, but still found a way to make it work. Next season we'll have more stability and hopefully that will translate into even more success. We've got great players, a great fan base, and I think we've got a great management team in place. There's no reason to think the Rangers can't win for years to come. We're in great shape."
Or so it seemed.
Your Texas Rangers?
Everywhere in Surprise there were reminders of the Rangers' unprecedented success, but there was also one screaming void which served as a warning that it might not happen again for another 40 years.
In right field of Surprise Stadium there flew a red American League championship flag, across the complex from the white one that whipped in the breeze at the epicenter of the Rangers' cluster of smaller fields. Walk into the team's office and clubhouse and you were immediately greeted by an official logo plastered on the wall, commemorating last year's World Series appearance. Rest assured that, win or lose in 2011 and beyond, the Rangers' 15 minutes of fame has been duly memorialized.