Friday, January 13, 2006


We were in the grocery store, and I saw them. A small package, the size of a deck of playing cards, only thinner. The wrapper was green, and on the front was a large baseball and the bold red words TOPPS on the front. I asked my dad if I could have them, and after hearing how his mother has thrown out his baseball cards when he was a kid, he let me get a pack.

We were driving back home, and those days, it took about 30 minutes to get home from the grocery store, as we lived far outside the convience line. I held the waxy paper package in my hand, turning it over and over. It was like a puppy or something. I am not sure why I had such a connection to that package of baseball cards, but it was something I cherished. I pulled the seam apart in the back, and looking up at me, surrounded by yellow and blue statistics was a pink piece of, well I wasn't sure what it was, it was slightly chalky looking, and was stiffer than the cards it was pressed against. The smell that hit me was one of my now favorites, right up there with leather glove oil, playdoh, and my sons shampooed head. It makes my stomach do little butterfly rolls. I took the gum stick from the center of the cards and tried to fold it into my mouth like I did with Juicy Fruit. It shattered like a piece of glass, but dammit, I was going to chew it anyway. I remember wondering if this was the same gum that the big leaguers were chewing in the dugouts.

That first pack of cards was like meeting new friends. As my life got tougher as I grew up, I would escape to my room, and organize my cards in ways that made sense to me. I know now this was the beginnings of my OCD training, as I had stacks organized by team, then broken down by year. I would not think of wrapping them in rubber bands, oh no, they had to be treated nicer than that, so I would wrap them in bits of saran wrap from my mom's kitchen.

The first 100 or so cards fit nicely in a red plastic pencil box. I did not have any friends that collected baseball cards, and did not understand the appeal to me. I did meet a man named Randal, who was really old to me at the time, but looking back was probably 20-22. He and I would go and pour over the baseball cards, and he would try to get me to trade him cards like my Darryl Strawberry allstar, or my Wade Boggs card that showed him walking across the field in such a way that I imagined he had a swagger like John Wayne.

This was long before we got cable, so the games I got to see were limited to what they showed on channel 11. We didn't really get the somewhat local channels very well, so my earliest memories are trying to listen to the game on radios. I did not know how the players depicted on the cards played, but they were my buddies. I did not collect them for the monetary value, only for the value that I found in having so many friends.

In highschool, I had a shop project to build a showbox for the 4H club to use when they showed cattle. I spent days working on that box, and it was perfect. Not for some damn cow, but for my cards.

I still have a lot of those cards, they are in my attic. Probably not in the best boxes, some of them might be a little airtight, and some of them are in plastic binders. Some of my cards were thrown out when I went to the Marines, and some have been bound with rubberbands, hairties, and other things they should not be, mainly because my mother thought it would help. But I still have them, and can point out several of my very first cards, because I spent so much time with them. This is how baseball was born to me

Thursday, January 12, 2006

True Devotion

I've realized something: It is damned hard to write something original about baseball in early January, especially when there has been virtually no new news, excluding the Hall of Fame voting. (And, frankly, I find that talk getting a little old.)

Then, miraculously, I received an email yesterday from someone who covers minor league baseball for a major publication with this little nugget in it:

I have found that for whatever reason, Rangers fans seem to be a very devoted breed (maybe that's only because I like to occasionally lurk at Jamey Newberg's site) ...

That made the light bulb in my head flicker for an instant. I thought about that. Even slept on it. Woke up thinking about it. Pondered the thought over a nice Whataburger breakfast. Finally, once it fully registered, my brain converted what was typed in the email to this:

Jamey Newberg, along with his cadre of contributors and followers, has made it ok (and borderline cool) to be an overt fan of the Texas Rangers.

We used to have to kind of slink in the shadows, playing the shrinking violet to the machismo of the over abundant football fans in this gridiron state. While they were boasting about Super Bowls, we were always pining for next year. To this day, to see all the Cowboys coverage at the website of the Dallas Morning News, payment is required. Rangers news? Free.

But the best Rangers coverage comes from a lawyer who played baseball at the University of Texas. A guy who built a niche for himself by focusing on the Texas farm system. A man who posts his thoughts with no thought of financial gain, but purely for the love of the game. Someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, whether he is talking about outfield prospects or the band Jellyfish.

The Newberg Report has become a daily staple for thousands of baseball fans in North Texas, not to mention those in the towns that host Rangers minor league teams.

Jamey is the perfect balance of optimism and reason. After the Kevin Millwood signing, the local papers and talk shows immediately focused on Roger Clemens. The implication was that, despite the completely overhauled starting rotation, the offseason will be a bust unless Jon Daniels (and Tom Hicks) somehow lands Big Rog. Even one of my favorite weekly reads, Jennifer Floyd Engel's 'Little Balls of Hate', ends virtually every column with the following words: Sign Roger Clemens.

Newberg, however, put his thoughts much more eloquently in his open letter to Roger Clemens. It was a true sales pitch, and a damned good one, that was devoid of the idea that a failure to get Rajah would make this offseason fruitless.

I have said many times that Bobby Valentine and Tom Grieve saved baseball in the D/FW metroplex. Tom Schieffer didn't do too bad, either, in his steadfast promotion of the game. The city of Arlington has also played a major role in keeping interest alive. And having such great radio play-by-play men through the years (the late Mark Holtz, Eric Nadel with his wealth of baseball and pop culture knowledge) has been a true blessing.

But it's funny how one email - or one little throwaway line in an email - can make a truth shine through.

So here's to you, Jamey Newberg, for doggedly giving us readers the news of the day. For spilling your guts to us. For the emotional highs and lows you have expressed. For being yourself. And, lastly, for making it ok to be a fan of the Texas Rangers.

One more thing...

Let me be the first to suggest (as far as I know of, anyway) that there will be a day in the future when we will have the pleasure to see Jamey Newberg inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

See? It always comes back to Hall of Fame talk...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In Which Rose Has Some Questions, Asked In The Form Of An Open Letter

Dear Mr. President,

Hi. Can I call you George? Well, really, it's my open letter, so I can call you anything I want. Hi, George!

It's no secret that you and I don't see eye-to-eye on most things. But if there's one thing we can agree on, it's baseball. I mean, you like it enough that you had part-ownership in a team for a while there, and I like it enough that I write for a blog. But if I had a few hundred million dollars in family oil money, I'd totally buy a team! And I wouldn't run it into the ground while I was at it!

Okay, cheap shot. I know. How were you to know that Sammy Sosa would turn out to be good?

So here we are, on the verge of the World Baseball Classic, and now it might not happen. Why? Because of Cuba. More specifically, because you and your administration don't like Fidel Castro. Oh, you can't remember why, exactly; something about forms of suppression and surveillance that you pretty much copied and elaborated in your interpretation of the PATRIOT Act. But that's an issue for another blog, and another cheap shot to boot. I'm really not doing myself any favors.

Anyway, you and your friends have decided that the Cuban national team shouldn't be given a permit to play in the U.S., and I think I know why. It's not because you have issues with the Cuban government.

It's because you're scared.

Yeah, that's right. You read me right. I'm calling you out. You're scared. You're scared of America getting its ass kicked fair and square. Hey, I can't say I blame you; I mean, the US couldn't even make the Olympics last time. That was pretty embarrassing. And who won that gold medal? Cuba. Who's going to win next time? Oh, wait, that's right -- there won't be any baseball in the 2008 Olympics. The WBC is a chance to show that baseball is at least as worthy of Olympic inclusion as, say, team handball, but this could shatter the international baseball community like... I don't know, like an over-used pitching elbow or something. I'm still working on the analogy.

Point is, for someone who claims to like baseball, you're not doing the sport any favors. Come on, dude. Everyone else can put the politics aside in their quest for world domination. Why not you?

Just wondering,

PS. Cuba has offered to donate any WBC proceeds to Hurricane Katrina victims. Wow, now you're screwing over a sport and your fellow Americans! How efficient!

PPS. Um, God bless America, o beautiful for purple skies, rah rah land of the free and home of the brave-ish. Can't wait to see the FBI file that's opened on me as a result of this. I'll get to work on that Freedom of Information Act request form right away. Smooches!

PPPS. Seriously, I'm working on that new design. Honest!

Monday, January 09, 2006

'It's That Smell... That Hot Dog Smell...'

"Are you as ready as I am?"

John asked that question at the end of his last entry, and I smiled at it.

For me, the calendar year begins on January 1st, but the new year doesn't officially start until that wonderful day in mid-February, when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. (For the Texas Rangers, that's February 15. Position players report five days later. Your nugget of knowledge for the day.)

It's a testament to my baseball-centric world, but the new season is the real harbringer of change, the sign that it's time to shake off everything that happened in the previous year,
and the signal to start revving your engines with overly anxious predictions that This Will Be Their Year.

For Rangers fans, the off season was a bit off-kilter. The team was out of it from a July stretch of 12 losses in 14 games. Then, a few moves made us raise our eyebrows. Chan Ho Park? Gone to San Diego (and not into the woodchipper I wanted him to fall into in 2004). Kenny Rogers? Check the undercard. John Hart? Relegated to the golf course.

Then, the Jon Daniels-driven wheeling and dealing sessions started. Gone were Chris Young, Alfonso Soriano, Adrian Gonzales and Ricardo Rodriguez, magically transformed into Kevin Millwood, Adam Eaton, Vincente Padilla, Akinori Otsuka, and Brad Wilkerson.

I simply cannot remember a pre-season period where I've felt this good about the Rangers' chances. Yes, I know -- World Series berths are not won in December. Bite me.

The mantra Jon Daniels recited during his press meetings after taking over the reigns was "aggressive and creative." The club has been exactly that in working the off-season bingo games. It's now time to see if the unspoken word in that credo works: "productive."

I love it. God help me, I do love it so.

As some good friends of mine would remind me, "37 days."