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Baseball

Opening Day and Your Rangers Are (Let It Sink In) Champions

This feeling is unfamiliar. Let's feel it together.
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This is what November 1, 2023, felt like. Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the great things about loving sports is you never know for sure what you’re going to get, and for most, the best case is far more rewarding than the worst case is problematic. Bad day for your guys on the field or the court or the ice: move on.

A good day? Oh, man.

Keep at this sports thing long enough, of course, and you start to develop muscle memory. Wins, losses, free-agent defections, blockbuster trade-deadline news—we’ve seen it all, and the reactions are multiple-choice options, new versions of old, familiar feelings.

But not this. I have no experience seeing a defending champion—my defending champion—line the chalk and take the field, not with curtains raised but with the Banner unfurled. And just as I never would have guessed right about how I’d react to watching the final out being recorded to win the World Series, I’m sure of one thing as Thursday night’s opener against the Cubs nears: I’m completely unsure how it will hit me.

There’s a forged identity, I believe, in being a lifelong Rangers fan. Growing up here in the ’70s introduced a bifocal sports temperament. Half the year made this, the home of the Cowboys, a winner’s town; the other half was a time to enjoy the outdoors and the largely hapless Rangers, whose arrival allowed us to see the greatest baseball players in the world, even if they were usually in the visitor’s dugout. The Cowboys were champions. They were innovative. They were a brand.

America’s Team vs. … the national pastime.

That was before the Mavericks came to town in the ’80s and the Stars in the ’90s. It was shortly after the hockey team made this a four-horse town that the football team entered its vibrantly reliable epoch of mediocrity, and the Rangers then threatened to take advantage. Just after the Cowboys last won a divisional round playoff game, the Rangers went on what for them was an absolute tear: three playoff appearances in four seasons, after none in their previous 24 years of existence in Arlington.

That the Rangers ran into the Yankees all three times, winning the first game before losing the next nine, was almost OK. They were at least getting us accustomed to the idea that our team was worthy of admission to baseball’s postseason.

Then the Stars skated the Stanley Cup in 1999, and the Mavs hoisted their own trophy in the summer of 2011—months after the Rangers had reached their first World Series and months before they would return to that stage, only to suffer the most gutting sports loss many of us will ever experience.

I’ll be grateful not to endure something like that again. That one’s familiar now, too.

But walking through the gates on Thursday and settling in for a ballgame, a home opener featuring the World Champions, is going to be wholly alien. That doesn’t count the three times the visiting team boasted that title—though I don’t include the 1974 opener against the A’s or the 1978 opener against the Yankees, anyway, because I was too young, or the 2018 opener against the Astros, because they’re the Astros.

Nathan Eovaldi, who started the last Rangers game that counted, will start this one as well. The lineup will be without Mitch Garver, now with the Mariners, and the injured Nathaniel Lowe but will have Evan Carter for a full year and, with even more anticipation, the majors’ spring training leader in total bases and RBI, Wyatt Langford.

The rotation, for now, is realistically six-deep (Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andew Heaney, Dane Dunning, and Cody Bradford or recent pickup Michael Lorenzen), charged with holding things together until reinforcements arrive in the form of Max Scherzer (late May or June is the hope), Tyler Mahle (July), and Jacob deGrom (August). Jack Leiter appears to have passed three or four prospects in camp and could be poised for a 2024 debut.

The bullpen, the club’s Achilles’ heel in 2023, remains a question, but there is optimism that Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz are the versions they finished last year as and not the ones who battled health and inconsistency earlier, and that newcomers including veterans David Robertson and Kirby Yates and rookies Marc Church and Yerry Rodriguez could help make the unit a much deeper one.

But the moment Eovaldi takes his place on the mound Thursday night, Ian Happ takes his in the batter’s box, and I take mine in the seat next to my son, none of that is any more than projection. There’s a new chapter to dive into. I know how November 1 felt and have come to learn what this new kind of offseason felt like. I don’t know what Thursday night will feel like, and that’s more than OK. Watching a World Series champion take the field—in the top of the first—is a new experience I can’t wait to bank. I’ve gotten used to just about everything else. 

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Jamey Newberg

Jamey Newberg

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Jamey Newberg covers the Rangers for StrongSide. He has lived in Dallas his entire life, with the exception of a…

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