Thursday, October 28, 2010

Part 12.5: Claws and Antlers

Part 12.5: Claws and Antlers

Hell Has Frozen Over

On Sunday night my dad left me a voice mail, exclaiming, “Hell has officially frozen over!” Of course, he was referring to the Texas Rangers’ historic trip to the World Series. As I sit and write this on the commuter train I still can't believe it myself. The only thing more surprising in baseball would be the Cubs winning the pennant, but we all know that is pure fantasy. (Never fear, Cubbies, I still love you...there's always next year, again...)

As a Dallas kid in the late-1970s and early-1980s I believed there were several certainties in life: death; taxes; inflation; 100 degree heat in August (especially when the lawn needs mowing); the Cowboys will always make the playoffs (and the Oilers won't); disco sucks, heavy metal rocks; Elvis is still the King; I will always dine on Fletcher’s corny dogs at the State Fair of Texas every October; I will always dress like Gene Simmons (of Kiss) for Halloween; the lines at the gas station sure are long; when E. F. Hutton talks, apparently people listen; All My Children’s Susan Lucci will always lose the daytime Emmy award; Scooby Doo is on at 9:00 AM every Saturday after The Super Friends; and the Texas Rangers are losers and always will be.

Or so I thought...

Seasons In Hell

The Dallas Cowboys have always been our family's first sports team—especially since my dad worked for them from the early-1970s until the late-1990s—but we always enjoyed attending Rangers games, too. They were fun, inexpensive entertainment, and the ball and bat nights provided cheap, functional treasures replete with Rangers logos to thousands of kids like me several times each summer. The Rangers of the 1970s and 1980s were truly bad, but we loved 'em anyway. I have many fond memories from the old Stadium in Arlington watching sluggers Mike Hargrove, Jim Sundberg, Toby Harrah, and Buddy Bell belt the long ball while I watched from the cheap seats as they tried to help one pathetic Rangers team after another win a few games despite consistently terrible pitching. These years were chronicled in a great book called Seasons in Hell, by Mike Shropshire. Shropshire describes a franchise where no one could play ball, but everybody could drink, chase women and use so-called “ability pills”—amphetamines.

Then, in 1989 baseball's tectonic plates shifted just slightly when Nolan Ryan joined the Rangers. Ryan was already guaranteed a spot at Cooperstown, but when he joined the Rangers he continued to put up huge numbers (Ks, no-hitters, etc) and folks in the Metroplex began to pay attention. In the summer of 1990 I was lucky enough to witness Ryan pitch a complete game from a seat just a few rows behind home plate a couple weeks after his first no-hitter in a Ranger uniform, and I was mesmerized by his fastball the entire game. He became not only my favorite Texas Ranger that day, but my all-time favorite ballplayer.

To this day, my favorite image in MLB history is the 1993 photo of 46-year-old Nolan Ryan with 26-year-old Robin Ventura of the White Sox in a headlock after Ventura took a fastball in the back and stormed the plate. Ryan manhandled him with a few solid uppercuts, then Ventura got ejected along with the Sox manager. It was beautiful. Now that I'm in Chicago, I love that photo even more—especially since I follow the Cubs versus the White Sox. (see Part Two: Transcendent Rivalries)

In the early 1990s we had the Three Amigos—Julia Franco, Rubin Sierra, and Juan Gonzalez—who brought slugging power to Arlington, while Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, the best catcher around, prevented more stolen bases than anyone else in MLB. And of course, it was around this time that a guy named George (a.k.a. “W”) bought the team and built a new stadium before moving to Austin and then D.C. where he managed to help us forget how much we liked him as the affable, fun-loving owner of the Rangers.

Elvis + Rangers = Nirvana

From an utterly self-centered, narcissistic perspective, which I believe pretty much sums up the fundamental concept of sports fandom, (e.g. my team is great because: they're from my city, they’re from my alma mater, I like their red and blue uniforms, they're not the freakin' Yankees, etc.), this year’s World Series seems tailor-made for this Texpatriate. Let’s consider the basic facts: the 2010 World Series for the Rangers was 39 years in the making, much like me (disclosure: I turn 40 in January); and they have a shortstop named Elvis (Elvis Presley and I share a birthday and are thus cosmic soul brothers; I even composed a master’s thesis on the King just to prove my fealty…if you think I’m bullshitting you, check out the Colorado State University online card catalog: Seriously, how can one root against Elvis? Also, the Cowboys are pitiful this year, which means folks in DFW are less distracted by games at Jerryworld, which is just a few feet away from The Ballpark. And Nolan Ryan, a true Texas hero—and the only player in the Hall of Fame in a Rangers uniform—is the team’s president and co-owner. I mean, seriously, how can this 2010 team not be destined for greatness? (Knock wood. I may believe my own hype but that doesn't mean I'm not superstitious. This is baseball, after all.)

Now the Rangers—destiny’s team, at least in my humble opinion—even have a ridiculous hand-signal gimmick, which I fully support. And why not? If the Angels can have “Rally Monkey” and the Giants' fans can intimidate opponents with “Fear the Beard” —which I think should be more aptly called “Fear the Just For Men" ‘cause that beard color on closer Brian Wilson ain’t real—it’s only natural that a Texas team should have its own gimmick.

Of course, being a team from Texas requires hand-signals. After all, in a state with UT's “Hook ‘em Horns,” A&M's “Gig ‘em Aggies,” Texas Tech's “Guns Up” —not to mention SMU’s sublime (okay, so I’m biased) “Pony Ears” —the Rangers are only following a Lone Star tradition.

According to Ranger Julio Bourbon, in an interview with the Fort Worth Star Telegram, when a Texas player does something positive offensively he'll “acknowledge his feat with a ‘claw,’ fingers slightly curled with his arm extended in a rising swoop. The ‘antlers’—hold both hands open above the ears to imitate a deer—come about after something speed-related…because when a deer gets going that's what you look like when you run all the way from first to third and then beat out a throw at the plate.”

As far as I'm concerned, the stars have aligned. Hell, even Susan Lucci eventually won a daytime Emmy—surely the Rangers deserve their time in the spotlight!

…all This Texpat can say is “Claws and Antlers.” Go Rangers!!

(Okay…so as I post this we’re down 0-2 and headed back to Texas…it ain’t over as 11 teams have come back from such a deficit to win the Series. Don’t lose hope!)

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