At The Corner of Heartbreak Hotel and Ballpark Way

Seven months of fandom came down to seven seconds of heartbreak Sunday night in Toronto. That much is certain.

Matt Bush hit his spot. Elvis Andrus flipped, Rougned Odor slung, Mitch Moreland dug and Jonathan Lucroy inevitable plucked the last baseball thrown by a Texas Rangers’ pitcher for the 2016 season off of the turf at the Rogers Centre as Josh Donaldson slid safely into home well ahead of the throw from first base.

The Rangers were swept out of the American League Divisional Series that much is also, unfortunately, certain.

Sports and sports fandom can be a fickle beast. As fans, we live and die with each pitch, snap, shot, win, and loss. It’s what makes being a fan “enjoyable,” despite how crummy we feel after having our figurative hearts ripped out by yet another season cut short.

In 2016 the Texas Rangers filled nearly seven full months of our time with Gatorade-bath glory. It was a time we chose to spend away from the daily grind of the nine-to-five — or sometimes significantly more — in order to soak in the fun of a game that was being played by men acting like boys. Because, after all, baseball is still a game.

Despite the hatred you currently have for the baseball gods or game as a whole, it is nothing more than a game when all is said and done. We celebrated a hot start, gloated as we repeatedly found ways to thump the Houston Astros, felt uneasy about different aspects of the team during an abysmal July and sat on the edge of our seats in October.

“Baseball can rip your heart out one minute and fill it with elation the next,” wrote Karen Banister on Twitter Sunday night. “Tonight was definitely a heartbreaker for our Rangers, but as Jeff [Banister] said, it doesn’t define who we are nor does it negate what they were able to accomplish in an injury-laden season…on and off the field.
“From [Tony] Beasley’s battle with cancer to individual player stories of perseverance to breakout seasons and record-setting moments. I’m so proud of them all. They are the AL West Champs. They are our Texas Rangers.”

Mrs. Skipper is right, these are our Texas Rangers. Like it or not after the second-straight early exit issued by the Blue Jays. Rest assured. The newest installment begins in approximately 175 days and they will still be our Texas Rangers.

Don’t get me wrong this loss is heartbreaking in every sense of the word. While in 2015 we almost felt lucky to be dancing, this year’s team hailing from Arlington was the best in the AL throughout the season — yes, even during the awful stretch that sandwiched the All-Star break.

“They arguably have the best lineup, the best team in baseball. The AL is loaded, but they were right at the top,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons to the media following Sunday’s 7-6 win.

Gibbons is right. This year’s lineup constructed by Jon Daniels and company was the best, on paper, that the Rangers have had since 2010 when Josh Hamilton was on his MVP tear.

Elvis Andrus had a career year where he proved his contract was worth that of a .300-plus average at the plate. Adrian Beltre bounced back, like we expected, from a midseason injury to post one of his most productive seasons to date. Ian Desmond was exactly what we expected him to be at the plate while adding a new dimension we did not expect in centerfield.

Nomar Mazara raked as a rookie. Rougned Odor led the team in home runs, attitude, and swagger.

JD then added Lucroy, Beltran, and Gomez — all of who further improved an already potent lineup to that of jaw-dropping admiration.

“For all of JD’s moves, it was Matt Bush that stood tall as the best and brightest,” said SDI writer Matt Fisher, @NextWaveMLB. “At a time when ‘Made for October’ acquisitions Beltran, Lucroy, Gomez, Hamels and Darvish fell by the wayside, are there enough words to describe the Herculean baseball effort put forth by 30-year old rookie Matt Bush?”

No, Fisher, there aren’t, and that is the plain-and-simple answer. Bush was an experiment gone right, much in the same way as Desmond. Was the acquisition guaranteed to work? Absolutely not. Was it a shot in the dark based on a hope and prayer? Well, hell yes.

Despite what critics and sour-assed fans may say, Daniels positioned this team to win a division and compete for a World Series, which is exactly what happened.

A 95-win season and home-field advantage as the No. 1 seed in the AL throughout the playoffs is a feat that cannot be ignored. After all, as SDI President/Owner Billy Casey explained, the season ends in heartbreak for 29 of the 30 MLB teams.

“It happens every year to 29 teams. Their season ends in heartbreak. Only one team survives the gauntlet that is the unpredictable, unscripted, ruthless MLB postseason,” the SDI editor said. “From the middle of February until the end of October, teams fight their asses off to be the best. 20 days in a row and 37 games in 38 days. It’s more of a grind than any other sport. Even though it’s a game, life takes center stage for some. “Between Tony Beasley fighting for his life battling cancer, Prince Fielder’s career ending abruptly and prematurely or Matt Bush fighting off demons for his second chance at life. But at the end of the season, only one team survives this grueling eight to nine-month grind. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Rangers. Upward and onward.”

Finding positive thoughts after the tough loss was not easy, as most chose to let their angry thumbs tweet, text or flip off the first Toronto fan in sight.

Then there were fans like Billy above and Twitter user @RysteerRyan who chose the optimistic approach.

Sure, they, like I, might just be working backward through the five stages of grief from acceptance to depression then bargaining, anger and denial. Or maybe our fandom has reached a point where we know that it’s not every day a team provides us with as much joy on a day-to-day or game-to-game basis as our Texas Rangers.

See you all in February. Pitchers and catchers report in approximately four months.

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Travis M. Smith
Travis has been a baseball fanatic since birth, and, according to his parents and multiple other reports, at the sophisticated age of three had the near-superheroic ability to regurgitate the statistics of every member of the 1992-93 Texas Rangers. The 2015 Tarleton State graduate dabbled in baseball at the collegiate level before falling into journalism. He works full-time as the managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light while moonlighting as an "expert" in the fields of coffee, tacos and big-kid beverages.

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