Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Best All Around In Sports Texas Ranger C.J. Wilsons high school days were forgettable, but his performance on the mound is anything but. By Richie Whitt PHOTO BY MARK GRAHAM
At Fountain Valley High School in Southern California, it wasnt apparent that Christopher John Wilson was going to succeed.
If anything, hed have been voted Most Likely to Secede.
I was a total wallflower, he says of his forgettable high school days. I didnt exist. I was invisible. I actually hated it. I didnt want to study. I didnt want to socialize. All I wanted to do was make good enough grades, play baseball and get the hell out of there.
These days, C.J. Wilson is a little more extroverted. And a lot more successful.
Evidenced by his Taoist beliefs, color-coordinated gloves and willingness to talk about everything from pop culture to politics, he certainly hasnt conformed. What Wilson has done is matured into a solid teammate and a spectacular pitcher for the first-place Texas Rangers.
In a season that began with him in the bullpen and is ending with Cliff Lee in the rotation, Wilson is simply the Rangers best pitcher on what could be the franchises best team.
Hes been amazing. Consistent all year, said veteran teammate Michael Young. Hes come a long way for us. His stuff has always been top notch. Now hes learned how to pitch, how to channel his emotions. Hes become a legitimate star pitcher.
While Leethe supposed hired-gun ace acquired in a mid-season trade with the Seattle Marinershas struggled and every starter from Rich Harden to Tommy Hunter to Derek Holland has been inconsistent, Wilson has been Texas unlikeliest of anchors. After shutting out the Kansas City Royals in a late-August victory, Wilson lowered his ERA to a sparkling 2.88 and improved his record to 7-0 after the All-Star break.
For us, said manager Ron Washington, hes been the man. After he graduated from high school, Wilson went to Santa Ana Junior College and eventually finished college at Loyola Marymount. The Rangers selected him in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2001 Major League Baseball Draft. His road to the big leagues was detoured by season-ending elbow surgery in 2003 and, after sitting out a season rehabbing his elbow, he made his debut with the Rangers in 2005 by going 1-7 with a 6.94 ERA.
Wilsons quality was always tempered by his quirkiness. In 2008, for example, he ultimately became Texas closer and converted 24 of 28 chances. Earlier in the season, however, he amassed a gaudy 6.06 ERA during often disastrous stretches as a middle reliever. Late in that season, he drew the ire of fans and teammates whenafter being pulled from a game by Washingtonhe disrespectfully flipped the ball to the manager as he defiantly strode toward the dugout.
Its fair to say C.J. has done a lot of growing up, said general manager Jon Daniels. This whole team has, in fact. Its been fun to watch. After a solid season as Frank Franciscos setup man in 2009, Wilson lobbied for a spot in the Rangers rotation. And in spring training he earned it, nailing down the No. 3 spot after supplementing his pitches with a calmer persona. In his first 27 starts, the Rangers were a dazzling 21-6. Im a better pitcher than I used to be, he said. But Im still not your typical pitcher.
Wilson, 29, doesnt mind brushing back batters or ruffling feathers. He is the teams most direct link to the younger, hip generation. Wilsons interviews and blog posts have ripped everyone from his own teammates to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
He also, refreshingly, isnt afraid to turn his wit inward. After a late-August home victory over the Minnesota Twins, Wilson was asked about trying to snatch a line-drive single that sailed over his head, with his bare left pitching hand. Wilsons explanation?
Because Im a moron, he said, only half-joking. The reason I reached for it is the same reason I dove headfirst to get Derek Jeter out. Because I hate to give up hits, to let runners on. I hate to give up hits more than I love to be smart. Thats it. And because Im a moron. Did I already say that?
Wilson loves to Tweet. He has a Porsche fetish, and someday after baseball might pursue a career as a professional driver. He uses a blue glove when the Rangers wear blue and red when they wear red. He throws a gyroball, a slower pitch normally confined to the Japanese leagues. He adheres to what he calls a Straight Edge way of life, devoid of alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex. His tattoos include Straight Edge and the Japanese characters for Poison Free. Recently he began a post-game press conference by telling the media ReadySetSwarm! and ended the session with a catchy salutation: Spring Break party time. Gotta bounce. Wilson didnt fit in at Fountain Valley High.
Thankfully, his personality-enhanced performance makes him the best fit in the Rangers rotation to get them into the playoffs.
Randy Galloway has a prominent radio show and Tim Cowlishaw a gig on ESPN's Around the Horn, but nobody in this market spins an ink-stained tale like Gil. Case in point: Who else could piss off not just a fan base, but an entire country? LeBreton's February 28 column was 1,235 words, not a one of which was "Nazi" or "Hitler" or "effyouhosers." Why, then, did seemingly all of Canada show up with fire and pitchforks, demanding an apology? Because Gil made a clever, daring—albeit controversial—analogy comparing the superfluous spirit and unbridled jingoism of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to those held in Berlin in 1936. While LeBreton compared and contrasted a spirit, he reminded us all that the whole world has grown oversensitive, wholly oblivious to common sense yet simultaneously in detailed tune with the smallest speck of political incorrectness. Kudos.
Can we retire this trophy already? The giant German is pushing our policy on term limits with his unprecedented streak of consistent greatness. Again last season he was good; his surrounding cast not quite good enough. His critics call him soft and a playoff choker, but we call him the best player in Mavs franchise history. And it ain't even close. Last year he surpassed 20,000 points, set a franchise record with a dazzling 29-point fourth quarter in a memorable win over Utah, made his ninth NBA All-Star team and led the Mavericks to the playoffs. But the moment we all finally appreciated Dirk was in July when—if only for a day—we pondered life in the lottery without him after he opted out of his contract via free agency. Typical Nowitzki, however, he re-upped in Dallas. For less money.
The Mavericks traded for Caron Butler and the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant, but no local athlete made an immediate and lasting impact like Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee. Acquired in a July trade with the Seattle Mariners for a handful of prospects, Lee's first four starts were the stuff of legend. He came within two outs of pitching four consecutive complete games while striking out 25 and walking only one. Lee's command of the fastball is dazzling, as if he is placing marshmallows atop a cake. His emergence provided the Rangers with the pitching ace they coveted for, oh, 40 years and prompted them to bury their American League West foes. With Lee on the mound, for the first time in a long time the Rangers felt like a real, live Major League Baseball team.
Love him or loathe him, you watch him. Whether he's unplugged in the Channel 8 studios or underdressed in a funky Hawaiian shirt down at Dallas Cowboys training camp, what Hansen says matters. The other local sports talking heads deliver the highlights and insights, but Hansen shapes opinions by voicing his. He's got the ego to chastise Jerry Jones and the balls to ask this question of Cowboys' offensive coordinator Jason Garrett: "What does it say about a coaching staff that it had no idea what it had in Miles Austin? There's this talented guy right under your nose, but if it weren't for an injury you would have never given him his chance." That, my friends, is Hansen-style.