It's basketball season. It's hockey season. College football is finished, and so is pro football for most in these parts, although this was the ultimate weekend each year on the NFL schedule.
At halftime of Colts-Jets, I threw a red cap on backwards and drove to Tom Thumb to pick up a couple things.
As I got to the front of the checkout line, the checker - late teens, maybe early 20s - looked up and said, "Rangers cap?"
Checker: "All RIGHT. . . . You know, the Angels are tough to beat, but they had a rough winter. This could be our year."
I smiled, and said I thought he was right.
The thing that struck me was not so much the kid's optimism, but instead that he saw a the back of a red ballcap, assumed it had a "T" on the other side, and wanted to talk Rangers baseball with a complete stranger.
I'm not sure I remember that happening during the summer, let along conference championship weekend in January.
This is good. I've mentioned how there seem to be more Texas caps and T-shirts and bumper stickers around town over the last year, and while I get hit with plenty of Rangers small talk around the office and the kids' soccer games and dinner with friends, it's different when one stranger brings it up to another.
It feels like there's a difference these days, maybe subtle, but noticeable.
There are those phrases that seem to turn up whenever Chuck Greenberg is interviewed. This fan base is a "sleeping giant." It's time "to awaken the beast." And in the press release issued by the Rangers on Saturday night, his comment:
"We are fortunate to be assuming the stewardship of a franchise poised for greatness. The tremendous foundation of talent that has been assembled on both the major and minor league levels, combined with our passionate commitment to achieve excellence in every facet of the organization's operation, and the pent-up thirst for success we observe from our fans every day, creates the opportunity for the Rangers to become one of the great franchises in baseball."
The fans' pent-up thirst for success.
I think there's more of that, and less baseball cynicism, than there's been around here in a long time, no matter what your favorite columnist is telling you. Rangers Baseball Express, LLC isn't the reason for the growing buzz - this groundswell has been developing for a while - but the Chuck Greenberg/Nolan Ryan investment group, funded primarily by Co-Chairmen of the Board Ray Davis and Bob Simpson and a number of other local investors, comes in at a time when there's a barrage of arrows flying in the right direction, and the group seems motivated to push this thing forward, not derail the momentum by giving in to an urge to shake things up just because it can. Ryan's continued presence is key in that regard.
This is an exciting time.
There's really not a lot I can add about the latest hurdle cleared in the sale of the team - it's all been said by people closer to the situation than I am (and unlike the games played on the field, we don't get to see what the writers are privy to) - but I will refer back to something I wrote back in May:
Word broke yesterday that Tom Hicks is open to selling a majority stake in the Rangers. I don't have much to say about that other than (1) I hope Nolan Ryan chooses to be a big player in this (it's clear that Hicks wants him to be) and (2) it's crucial that, whatever transition takes place, the baseball operations crew is allowed to stay on the course that it laid out two years ago and has this franchise poised to be where we all want it be.
Hicks gets far too much criticism from the mainstream media, who choose not to recognize the guts and foresight it took to make Jon Daniels, who at the time had less than five years in baseball, his general manager, and the patience and lack of ego it took to authorize the plan that Daniels presented to him in May 2007 to trade Mark Teixeira and shift focus and resources to scouting and player development and a wholesale effort to load up on young talent through the draft and international market and trades, a philosophy that's a lot less flashy and far more gradual than many owners would have signed off on.
Baseball America's Jim Callis in an ESPN chat session yesterday:
Q: Bedard trade for Orioles . . . best trade in baseball in 10 years?
Callis: Check out the Mark Teixeira trade to the Braves.
The Herschel Walker trade wasn't the Herschel Walker Trade until the Cowboys turned the Minnesota draft picks into Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson and Russell Maryland and Kevin Smith and three Lombardi Trophies. The Teixeira trade is no Herschel Walker Trade - yet. But there's no question that without it, this franchise wouldn't be in nearly as good a position as everyone agrees that it is. Hicks should get some credit for believing in, and consenting to, the plan that Jon Daniels and his crew proposed and have now been executing for two very good years.
Don't count on the general columnists recognizing Hicks's role in that, however.
Or acknowledging in print the millions of Hicks dollars that may not have gone to player payroll (a favorite topic of the media, rarely mentioning Ben Sheets or Torii Hunter or Daisuke Matsuzaka or Barry Zito or Carlos Delgado as free agent acquisitions he has consistently greenlighted even though they'd have busted the budget) but did go to annual decisions to pay out of slot to pave the way for the drafting and signing of the right high school and college players (Teixeira, Derek Holland, Justin Smoak, Taylor Teagarden, Julio Borbon, Jake Brigham, Neil Ramirez, Marcus Lemon, Robbie Ross, Clark Murphy, Johnny Whittleman, Kyle Ocampo, Matt Thompson, and others), to outspend the competition in Latin America (examples: Martin Perez, Fabio Castillo, Cristian Santana, and Richard Alvarez, plus the aggregate of a Preller/Welke/Batista class like 2006's Wilmer Font/Wilfredo Boscan/Kennil Gomez/Carlos Pimentel/Geuris Grullon/Macumba haul), to pay top dollar to make sure we had the hitting coach and pitching coach we'd zeroed in on, and to hire Nolan Ryan.
The Ryan hiring was, of course, an inspired one that has paid off in many ways and will continue to do so, and though the media has been wholly supportive of Ryan's arrival and impact, rarely is Hicks credited for bringing him in at what had to be a significant financial investment.
Hicks wants to win, and though some with newspaper space will continue to disparage the team payroll (for a roster that today maintains the best record in the American League) and ignore all else, if Hicks wasn't interested in spending to win, would we have Holland and Smoak and Perez and Mike Maddux . . . and Ryan?
What I'm hoping for, if Hicks does indeed sell controlling interest in the Rangers, is continuity. I would have faith in a Ryan-led ownership to insist on that and to make it happen. So might someone coming in from the outside, but if that's where this is headed, I sure hope that stability is a priority for whoever that might be.
I guarantee you that the Angels and A's and Mariners would be thrilled to see someone come in here and push massive changes.
I get the sense that the Greenberg-Ryan group is all about continuity and stability, in building rather than rebuilding, and I'm confident that the progress of the last couple years is about to be boosted, that is, on the field, just like the checker at Tom Thumb sees it, and not only without the interference of a new ownership group dying to make widespread changes, but instead with that group's full support of what's happening here and the contributions it's positioned to make to help this team take the next step, and the one after that.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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