by Karin Wheat
Growing up in Irving, Texas, you learn to deal with droughts. The heat can be unbearable. But the rain eventually falls, bringing life with it once again.
When I close my eyes to reimagine my childhood, I mostly think of two things. The first is playing baseball in our backyard with my older brother, Ryan, using a nerf bat and wiffle ball. Occasionally neighborhood kids would join in on the fun. The second is playing baseball in our living room, where obviously the stair rail served as the home run fence, and the ‘baseball’ was a rolled up pair of, undoubtedly, mismatched socks. I distinctly remember the time Ryan swung the nerf bat so hard the socks hit the ceiling fan and cracked the fan blade. We argued about who was at fault for years, about the same amount of time it took for our father to replace the split blade.
We always had our unique roles to play too when it came to baseball. Ryan usually pitched as Nolan Ryan. Who else is he going to be since he grew up a Rangers’ fan and was named Ryan? I perfected the batting stances of all my favorite hitters, or at least the players with the most entertaining stances…Julio Franco, Jose Canseco, Mickey Tettleton. If I was catching I was Geno Petralli (in the early years or Pudge in the later years) and wore my brother’s mesh hats over my face as a catcher’s mask (everybody did this, right?). One of my favorite things to do was pretend to be Rusty Greer and dive for a fly ball by flopping onto my parents’ bed, glove outstretched. I was saving Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, in case you don’t remember.
If you were to ask me when I first became a Texas Rangers’ fan, I certainly couldn’t give you a day or time. Memories of watching games in person or on t.v. go back as far as I can remember. So, if you ask me when it started, all I can say is that it’s always been that way. It’s surprising, really, if you know my competitive nature. I loved (love) winning, yet I grew up a Texas Rangers’ fan. Not for the faint of heart. At least not in the 80’s. I can still see the standings from my childhood when I close my eyes–the Rangers usually in last, or if it was a better season, second to last.
It wasn’t until the Rangers won their first divisional title in ’96 that I remember feeling some semblance of being a winner. I loved so many of the players back in those glory days. Yes, glory days. I know that was only a divisional title, and the Rangers have since obtained two World Series appearances, but somehow in my mind those days seem just as good. I guess when you’re rock bottom your whole life it’s the first breath of fresh air that tastes the sweetest and not necessarily the biggest. Maybe that will change one day…sooner than later, because I have to believe my Rangers will eventually win it all. And then I’ll tell you that line about the first breath was all hogwash.
I don’t know if it was ingrained in me by repeated exposure (my dad was always watching baseball, my brother was always playing it), or just natural inclination, but I’ve always loved baseball. Aside from watching it all the time, my family was entrenched in the game through my brother. I can’t remember my childhood without thinking about all of his games I attended. And the practices. My dad was usually one of his team coaches, and I often tagged along, not because I had to but because I wanted to. Perhaps part of loving baseball was just a way to be close to my dad and brother, but really I think it was just the way the game made (makes) me feel. It’s a beautiful game, everything about it really–the sounds, the smells, the fundamentals and the intricacies. Maybe I didn’t feel as strongly about it when I was younger, but I love/hate the emotion that baseball evokes. None were more strongly felt than during Game Six of the 2011 World Series. Ugh. That Game Six. Those words still put a pit in my stomach.
But let’s back up. The Rangers’ first World Series appearance was in 2010. Not near the World Series that 2011 was, but I can’t express enough the emotion that comes with seeing your team make it to their first World Series. Hands down, the most memorable moment to date in Texas Rangers’ history is Neftali Feliz striking out A-Rod with that beautiful curve. It’s not just the pitch, and what the result meant (first pennant), but all the circumstances surrounding it. It was against the Yankees. And more importantly, A-Rod. All $252 million of him. What an amazing moment. You couldn’t have scripted it better. That was maybe the most sports-happy I’ve ever been (the most sports-sad? Game 6). Of course that moment would have been better if followed by a World Series win, but at the time it was perfect.
What made that moment even more exciting was that my brother had tickets to the World Series. He was living in Thailand at the time but had been on furlough that fall. He had purchased one of those deals at the end of the season where, if you bought a 20-game package, you got the rights to buy postseason tickets as well. The sad part (for him) was that his furlough was over before the World Series started. And my brother, being the amazing guy he is, opted to let his family use the tickets instead of selling them for a pretty reasonable profit. I’ll be forever thankful to him for that. I went to my first ever World Series game, and unfortunately I picked Game Five. You know the one…the one where the Giants clinched on our field. Talk about sports-sad. It’s still one of my favorite sports memories to date, even with the unfavorable outcome. To thank my brother for giving me the tickets I took him with me to the World Series, in the form of a life-sized cardboard cut-out, complete with Texas Rangers’ t-shirt and blown-up picture of my brother’s face, wearing his Texas Ranger’s hat. I even took him along for pregame activities – grilling out in the parking lot and playing cornhole.
Emotion is an incredible thing. A lot of people don’t understand feeling so strongly about a game. I suppose what they don’t understand is that it’s so much more than that. I think one of my favorite things about baseball is how it can cause you to care so deeply. The joys seem ultimate and the sorrows likewise. I don’t want to talk about specific plays, or about how we were one strike away – twice mind you – from winning it all, because it’s still, even seven years later, too raw. As painful as it was, Game Six was one of the most beautiful sports moments I’ve ever experienced. While I certainly hate how it ended, the whole series was incredible. There were so many memorable moments. I can still see Ian Kinsler’s steal, his hand barely sliding in before Rafael Furcal’s tag, in Game 2. Dutch’s perfectly timed shutout outing in Game 4. Josh Hamilton’s home run in the 10th inning of Game 6, to put us up 9-7.
Oddly enough though, watching a World Series in the moment, is almost miserable. The way your breath hangs on every pitch, your stomach churning as you wait to see what result each will yield. I think I was chewing on my nails and nervously tapping my legs for the majority of that series. I so wish it had ended differently. I remember I skipped out on a concert I had tickets for to watch Game 7. I was supposed to go with my two roommates at the time, one of them a Cardinals fan. After we lost I remember thinking I was going to just hide away in my room when my roommate returned home. Even though we had already made an agreement not to say anything to each other if our team won, I couldn’t bare to be around a Cards fan after that. The pain from that kind of sports loss is real. I don’t think I left the house for a least a couple of days.
Since then my Rangers have had a steady decline back into last place. We’re almost back to rock bottom and I’m sure it’ll be several years until we’re competitive again. But I have to believe we’ll get back to the World Series again and end up with a different result. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books, and today I’m choosing to believe Alexandre Dumas when he says, “Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live…the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.”
Growing up in Texas you learn to deal with droughts. But as I look upon the horizon, I can see the rain clouds rolling in, and I can only hope they’ll bring life with them once again.
Karin resides in Plano, Texas with her husband Ben, who is a Red Sox fan. They have two beautiful children, Amelia (3) and Theodore (17 months). Karin spends her days at home raising their kids to be Rangers’ fans, much to Ben’s chagrin. Outside of baseball, Karin enjoys traveling, spending time outdoors, and eating delicious food, whether it be at a hole-in-the-wall her and her husband have recently discovered or an incredible meal her chef of a husband has created.
One of Karin’s favorite baseball quotes is from Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby when he said, “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”