I became a sportswriter because of the Texas Rangers.
Well, them and my creative imagination, general obsession for sports and refined knack for exaggerating the details of a game so much so that it grew larger than life.
Started something like this:
In the summer of 1972 in Duncanville, there wasn't much to do for an 8-year-old twerp. It was a time before video games. Way before the Internet. No texting. Cable TV had yet to hatch. Same for the Dallas Mavericks, Dallas Stars and remote-controlled TVs or garage doors or anything. The Dallas Cowboys had just won their first Super Bowl, but back then they actually had an off-season where every June hangnail wasn't top-of-the-blog news. Of course, there were no blogs either.
Life meandered at a slower, simpler pace. Between The Price is Right in the morning and Leave It To Beaver at night, we neighborhood kids spent our summers, well, bored. The rerouting of Interstate 20 through our town, the opening of a strip shopping center anchored by a Skillern's drug store and the day our four-person, 1,100-square-foot home advanced from a rotary-dial to push-button phone? All landmark moments that awoke my sleepy childhood into a temporary frenzy.
Thankfully, there was baseball.
Because my dad loved the sport and because my mom wanted me out of her hair, I began playing T-ball at age 6 before graduating to baseball at 7. When I smacked that ball into the air—all of probably 10 feet—it was love at first flight. No clock. No urgency. No way I wasn't hooked on baseball.
I'd been to Turnpike Stadium in Arlington to watch the minor-league Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, but in the spring of '72 I encountered big-boy baseball. This—on the night of April 21, 1972—was the Texas Rangers. I sat with Dad in right-center field of the newly christened Arlington Stadium and watched in awe as slugger Frank Howard whistled a homer to the green seats in center in the first inning of a 7-6 win over the California Angels.
Life. Changed. Forever.
The next night I tuned my bedroom's transistor radio to WBAP-AM 820 and drew up a homemade, rudimentary scoresheet. I got my glove, wooden bat and ball and laid a pillow on the floor for home plate. During Rangers games I played in the game. As announcers ranging from Dick Risenhoover to Jon Miller (yes, that one) called the action, I'd simulate—alone, in my room—the pitching motion of Dick Bosman and the at-bats of inaugural Rangers such as Tom Grieve, Toby Harrah and Elliott Maddux. After each play, I'd record the information.
And afterward—after almost every game—I'd write my version of a game story, then breathlessly wait the next afternoon's Dallas Times Herald so I could compare my tale to that of legendary writer Blackie Sherrod.
The Rangers sucked. They went 54-100 in '72 under a manager named Ted Williams (yes, that one) and other than brief pennant races in '74 and '77 were always inferior to the Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox in the AL West. It didn't matter. I was consumed.
I begged Dad to go to every home game, especially "Farm and Ranch Night" when players would milk cows on the field between games of a day/night doubleheader. When he came home from work I was sitting in the driveway with two gloves and a ball, ready to play catch until dark. Every morning I'd ask Mom for a quarter—sometimes even a dollar—so I could bike to 7-Eleven and buy a pack of baseball cards or one of those plastic Slurpee cups featuring a different player. I had thousands of cards, hundreds of cups and just one dream—to play baseball.
If it was a summer night I was practicing, playing or at the neighborhood field watching my friends play. One of my proudest moments in life was the day I hit a home run and received a free hamburger at Bonanza. And some of my lousiest memories are of sitting in the car at the park, watching it rain.
During the day we played Wiffle ball, or sometimes even cup ball featuring a "ball" fashioned out of those paper snow-cone cups. If my friends weren't available I'd take my scoresheets in the backyard, construct an imaginary opponent for the Rangers and then play a game founded upon me throwing a tennis ball off the walls and roof of our house. My skills didn't necessarily reflect my passion for the game—I peaked as a sort of Andres Blanco at Duncanville High School—but our worn-out grass certainly did.
Most nights before bed I'd pen a baseball story. Hand-written, on white notebook paper. In high school I often wrote a "Ranger Poem of the Day" and passed it around my class. And out of college my first apartment was The Enclave on Randol Mill, so I could be within walking distance of Arlington Stadium.
My relationship with baseball—with the Rangers—has ebbed and flowed through the years. The Mavericks arrived. The Cowboys won. Marriage. Divorce. Life.
But on October 12, 2010, at 10:08 p.m. the Rangers rekindled my love and rewarded my loyalty. They finally won a playoff series. Just like lifelong fans John "Zonk" Lanzillo and his drum, season-ticket-holding nuns Frances Evans and Maggie Hessions, Grieve, the player-turned-general-manager-turned-TV-broadcaster and 32-year iconic radio voice Eric Nadel, I was moved to tears when shortstop Elvis Andrus squeezed the final out of the Rangers' Game 5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.
In Florida the Rangers celebrated with ginger ale and Champagne. Those of us who grew up in Duncanville four decades ago toasted the better-great-than-never success with misty eyes and appropriately tugged heartstrings. Can't tell you how many texts, calls, e-mails and Facebook messages I've received from old friends choked up by this new team.
The Cowboys won a playoff game in their seventh season. The Mavericks' "Moody Madness" occurred in '84, just four years after they were born. The Stars swept a postseason series their first year in Dallas and, shoot, I even witnessed an indoor soccer championship by the Dallas Sidekicks.
There's no crying in baseball, unless you've been made to wait 39 years by the Texas Rangers.
Even with Josh Hamilton in the batter's box and Cliff Lee on the mound, this playoff run may not last much longer. The Rangers split Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS last weekend at Rangers Ballpark, but they've never been on a bigger stage with brighter lights than Yankee Stadium in late October. I picked the Rangers in 7, but admittedly it's fueled by heart over head.
Nonetheless, it's already an unprecedented autumn, already the greatest season in franchise history. The Rangers are two wins from the World Series. Though it's one of the reasons I got into this business, for all my life that scenario has lived only in my exaggerated scoresheets.
My first baseball glove—way back in T-ball—was a hand-me-down from Dad. I dug it out of the closet last week. Not good as new, but somehow better than ever.
Turns out baseball gloves endure.
So do baseball childhoods.