Favorite Rangers memories, as told by the SDI Staff

The Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz jumps on the crowd after winning baseball's American League championship series 15-5 at Game 6 against the Detroit Tigers, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

This is a critical time for the Texas Rangers.

With just under two weeks until the trade deadline and the team in first place looking to improve, there’s a propensity for writers and fans alike to focus on what’s ahead. Endless trade possibilities will be bandied about, all with the hopes of improving the future and bringing a title to Arlington.

That said, we often lose focus of the past and present in our constant strides towards the future. In our rush to create new happy memories, we ignore the ones already made. So ahead of the trade deadline, we decided to take a few moments to write and reminiscence about our favorite moments in Rangers history.

Note that these aren’t necessarily the most important ones, nor are they ranked in any way. They are moments that each writer holds as their favorite. Feel free to leave yours in the comments, or discuss what you like about ours.

For now though, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Samuel Hale: The A-Rod Strikeout, ALCS Game 6 2010

Admittedly, this isn’t some deep buried moment for which I had to rack my brain. October 15th, 2010 sits as the greatest moment in Rangers history to date. It represented reaching a new high in the franchise’s four decade history. It also meant slaying a pinstriped dragon that had stopped the team three previous times from advancing in the postseason.

We all know what happened. Colby Lewis presided over a masterful eight inning performance, while Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz scored all but one of the team’s six runs. Then Neftali Feliz took the mound, and froze Alex Rodriguez on a breaking ball that made time stop. Once it unfroze, the Rangers’ faithful erupted in a cheer that could be heard at Yankees Stadium.

That’s not what makes this night great for me.

I love this night because I got to spend it with my dad.

We weren’t at the game. We were at a Denton establishment with hundreds of other Rangers fans taking in the scene. The environment was rabid, a group of people coming together for a common event. All of us in that place wanted the same outcome, and the celebrating when A-Rod’s knees locked up on the best breaking ball Feliz ever threw as a Ranger was euphoric.

I didn’t know what to do. I was an 18 year old college kid who saw the team he grew up loving reach the World Series. It was a dream come true.

So I did the only thing I knew to do.

I hugged my dad in happiness.

There’s no way to know how many games we’ve watched together. No possible way to know how many Rangers discussions we’ve had. Both he and my mom brought me up in a baseball household, so to get to spend that moment with him is what makes that night special.

It makes it a night I will never forget.

Leddy Foster: The 1995 All Star Game

My dad was a cowboy.

A saddle maker and leather worker his whole life. He played very few sports ever so my love for them, particularly baseball, was somewhat “organic.” He would play catch anytime I asked. He couldn’t care less about baseball, but he cared about me and my passions. He lugged me to Arlington more than necessary. He always made sure we waited for the players to leave old Arlington Stadium, in the hopes we could get a few autographs. I have a Juan Gonzalez home run ball my dad got me. He didn’t catch it. He merely traded a kid ten bucks and a helmet sundae for it. Hell, given my families finances back then it might as well have been a one hundred dollar bill. I had to swear not to tell my mother anything about it. All of this, a love for me, led me to a love for this game. It culminated in my favorite Texas baseball moment ever: The 1995 MLB All Star Game.

My uncle, a restaurateur, had received a pair of tickets to the All Star Game through one of his beer vendors. My dad shut down the shop to take me that day. Our goal was to take it all in. Batting practice home runs. Star gazing. Maybe an autograph if we were lucky. To this very moment, the most impressionable moment of the entire game was the anticipation as we waited for the gates to open.

We were standing outside the home plate entrance. A handful of fans milled around us. The security guards started to stir, and we could all sense that the moment was upon us. It was almost quiet.

Then a static pop.

Crackle.

A voice.

The Wizard behind the curtain.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. Major League Baseball and the Texas Rangers invite you to the 1995 MLB All Star Game.”

Simultaneously, the gates at the entrance were unlocked and swung open. It sounded like metal dominoes echoing around the ball park. Cutachoo. Cutachoo. Cutachoo. One after another. Like a drummer tapping cymbals. The ushers took their positions.

Then, the voice boomed again,

“Welcome… To the show.”

The turnstiles spun, and the world was never so bright. And those four words would forever be a part of me.

My father ended up having a mild heat stroke that day. He was tended to by EMT once, but refused to leave so I may finish the game. He instead stayed in the concourse where there was adequate airflow, awaiting the last out. Honestly, 21 years later, the game is mostly a blur. The only two images I do remember are Jeff Conine hitting what would be the game winning home run, and then exiting the tunnel from my third deck seat. At a picnic table immediately to the left sat my dad. His chin on his hands, and a million empty bottles of water. His cowboy hat laying next to him. He looked up as I approached, half smiling and beaten by the heat and his own body, placing his hat on his head as he stood up. Then with his hand on my shoulder, he took a step and looked down.

“Well? How was the game?”

My father passed away in 2006. I’ve since witnessed an ALCS clinching game, and two World Series games in that stadium. Countless opening days. Watched my wife, then girlfriend, eat a hot dog as big as her on one of our first few dates. But to this day, there’s still nothing quite like the magic of that all star game twenty-one years ago. It says a lot about the game of baseball, when a PA man in sixty seconds, can outshine nine innings of MLB superstars. It says even more when a father tops them all.

And to this day when my ticket is scanned, I see my dad sitting at a table on the other sideline the gate. He just tips his cowboy hat, flares up, and says, “Welcome… To the show.”

Jeremy Stroop: Mike Napoli‘s Game Winning RBI, 2011 World Series Game 5

My favorite Texas Rangers moment comes from what might be the greatest game in Rangers history: Game 5 of the 2011 World Series against the Cardinals at the Ballpark in Arlington.

In 2011, my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer.  After her surgery, during the treatments and recovery that followed, our shared love for the Rangers was something for us to focus on. Games were a welcome distraction for her and all of us. It didn’t hurt that the Rangers were playing exceptionally entertaining baseball, dominating the AL West. We decided as a family to go to Game 5, getting seats in the last row of the lower home run porch.

It was a great family bonding moment at a time that we all needed it. Attending the game in and of itself was one of my life highlights, but doing so with my mother, father, and sister made it all the more sweet. I’d grown up a die hard baseball and Rangers fan; struggling through many tough years of futility, unrealized promise, and just barely sniffing the post-season with no success. During the Tom Hicks years, my frustrations grew to the point that I financially boycotted the team. I still cared about and loved the team. I followed their progress via the news, Baseball Tonight, and talk radio, but I didn’t watch games on TV, listen to any radio broadcast of the games or attend games from 2004 until Hicks announced that he was interested in selling the team early in the 2009 season. Hicks’ financial and operational mismanagement of the team infuriated me, and it was joyous for me to be watching Rangers baseball again. On top of that, they were playing in the World Series.

It was a tight but tense game. There wasn’t a lot of serious offense.  The Rangers had solo home runs from Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre, but a well pitched game by Chris Carpenter kept the potent Rangers offense in check. Once Carpenter left the game, things started falling apart for the Cardinals.  I don’t have any science to back me up, but I feel certain that the Ballpark has never been louder than it was at times during Game 5; especially during the 8th inning when the Rangers had an offensive rally and loaded the bases.  It was so loud that Tony LaRussa had trouble communicating to the bullpen to get the proper relievers warmed up and ready.  It started with Octavio Dotel giving up a double to Michael Young and per LaRussa’s orders, issuing an intentional walk to Nelson Cruz.  Then LaRussa sauntered out to the mound to replace Dotel with the left handed Marc Rzepczynski to face David Murphy. LaRussa claimed that his plan was to get Murphy out, then have Rzepczynski pitch around right handed Mike Napoli and get to lefty Moreland. Murphy had other plans, getting a clutch hit as he had so many times during his Rangers career. The bases were loaded for Napoli, who was crushing left-handed pitching. The flaw in LaRussa’s plan was not having Jason Motte warmed and ready to face Napoli. He claimed that he told the bullpen to get Motte warmed up, but the Rangers’ rally had the fans so amped up, the ambient sound level in the Ballpark was louder than Cape Canaveral during a Saturn V launch. The bullpen only heard Rzepczynski and nobody else was ready to come in to face Napoli. LaRussa couldn’t intentionally walk Napoli with the bases loaded and the score tied in the 8th inning, so Rzepczynski stayed in the game to face the most dangerous #8 hitter in the world.

Words can barely do justice to what happened next.

Everyone was on their feet. 50,000+ fans were chanting, “NA-PO-LI! NA-PO-LI! NA-PO-LI!” as loud as they could. It was the loudest moment of my life to that point, which includes sitting 10th row at a Rush concert in the mid-80s before good sound systems made sound quality more important than sound quantity. On a 1-1 count, Napoli crushed a high slider into the wall of center field driving in 2 runs, breaking the tie, and putting the Rangers ahead for good.

I didn’t know it was possible, but the volume level in the Ballpark increased even beyond the peak it reached earlier in the inning. It was quite literally deafening; I couldn’t hear anything for several minutes afterward. I happened to be taking video of the Napoli at bat on my little Sony Webbie video camera and it was so loud, it overwhelmed the microphone making the sound go in and out. Here is that video. Every time I watch it, I get chills. The video gets a little choppy because I was zoomed in and the crowd was jostling me around.

In my mind, this was the signature moment during the signature win for the Rangers franchise.  Perhaps Neftali Feliz’s strikeout of Alex Rodriguez in 2010 in the ALCS for the Rangers to make their first World Series was more emotional for me, but since I was in attendance for Game 5 this is my personal #1.

It’s unfortunate that the very next game was the biggest gut punch in the history of the franchise, but until the Rangers win the World Series, Game 5 will always be my favorite Rangers moment. Not just for the moment itself and the big win, but in no small part because I got to share it with my family. Not lost in the importance, directly due to my attendance at this game and my future wife’s attendance at game 4 that we got together and eventually got married.

But that story is for another time.

Robert Aycock: The Nolan RyanRobin Ventura Fight

August 4, 1993 was a warm Wednesday evening in North Texas for the Rangers match up with the White Sox that 46 year old Nolan Ryan was slated to start. Arlington Stadium held 32,312 fans who came to see Ryan face the White Sox’s second best pitcher that year, Alex Fernandez in a duel during Ryan’s final season of his 27 year career that spanned parts of four decades.

In the top of the first inning, Joey Cora scored on a Robin Ventura single to left field with one out. The next batter was Steve Sax, who drove in Matt Merullo to score on a ball hit to 3rd base that was mishandled by Dean Palmer. Fernandez proceeded to work the bottom of the first with no Rangers batter reaching base. Ryan then got out of the top of the 2nd inning only surrendering one base hit, but not giving up any runs.

The first batter of the bottom of the 2nd inning was Juan Gonzalez, who was promptly hit by a Fernandez pitch. Fernandez got out of the inning, and it was again Nolan Ryan’s turn to pitch. The second batter of the inning, following a lazy Merullo pop fly out, was Robin Ventura. Whether or not Ryan was intentionally retaliating for Juando having been hit in the previous half inning, the left handed hitting Ventura was hit in the side by a fastball. Ventura had been in the big leagues for close to four full seasons at the time, establishing himself as possibly the best defensive third baseman in the game at the time, having won a Gold Glove in both 1991 and 1992. He would go on to win the Gold Glove for that season also, as well as three more seasons down the road. The Oklahoma State product wasn’t prone to making errors on the field, but made one of the greatest errors of judgement of his entire career on that night.

I was just a kid, watching our beloved Rangers with my dad that night. The Rangers were 5.5 games back entering the game, and it looked like they still had a chance to make a run to the pennant so the game actually mattered. I remember the instant the pitch hit him, my dad casually said “Ouch!” About 1.5 seconds later, after a brief indication that Ventura was going to jog to first, he charged the mound instead. Dad stood from his chair, shouting “Whoa!” as the young star charged toward the living legend.

Ryan taught Ventura a very important lesson that night, and I think he taught us all a lesson about baseball. The lesson I learned was that if you get hit by a pitch, even if it was intentional, it probably wasn’t personal. Retaliation in baseball usually isn’t personal, unless you’re Rougned Odor. In fact, after the game Nolan told reporters he was just trying to pitch him inside, completely denying that it was retaliation for Gonzalez only a few minutes earlier.

That feeling was important, and it was a feeling Rangers fans weren’t given again until Odor delivered his right hook across Jose Bautista‘s jaw almost 23 full years later. The feeling reminded us that, although baseball is a game played by men who are paid millions of dollars, they’re also human beings. Sometimes things get personal. It’s the feeling that reminds us why we’re Rangers fans, and it’s the feeling that connects Rangers fans across generations.

My oldest son wouldn’t be born for another 10 years post the Ryan-Ventura fight, but he’ll never forget the night Odor demonstrated his displeasure with Bautista’s illegal slide into second base. I can’t remember exactly what I said or how I reacted the instant the Odor-Bautista brawl began, but I imagine Rusty does. That’s why we will always be connected as fans, not just as father and son. Now he and I share this generation’s Rangers memory.

Just like the one I share with my own dad.

Jeffrey Cooperstein: 2010 AL West clinching game vs. Oakland

On Saturday, September 25th 2010 in Oakland, the Rangers made me sports-cry for the first time.

It was the first time in my life I could remember the Rangers finally winning something.

Rangers utility man Jorge Cantu hit a huge home run in the top of the eighth inning. It was his first long ball as a Ranger, one of the few bright spots during his time in Texas. Neftali Feliz came in, getting the four out save. When the ball hit Nelson Cruz’s glove, securing the division, I jumped and ran around my house like I never had before. It was at that moment the tears flowed like they never had. The Rangers were my favorite sports team growing up despite all of their shortcomings, seeing them win the division knowing that they would be playing more than 162 games that year was something I said I would never take for granted again.

They’ve played more than 162 every year since then sans the injury riddled 2014, but you never know when it will end.

So enjoy it while you can.

Matt Fisher: July 9th, 2011: The first post Shannon Stone game

It was my birthday, 2011.

It had started off as a rough year for me personally. My job situation was up in the air, I was hoping that I could make the next month’s mortgage payment, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was raising this brand new puppy of mine correctly. All of that, of course, paled in comparison to the week that the Stone family had gone through.

Just two days earlier Shannon Stone, 39-year old Brownwood, Texas firefighter tried to catch a ball that left fielder Josh Hamilton had tossed up into the stands after an 2nd inning ending catch. Stone, who had attended the game with his son, reached out to grab it and tumbled over the edge falling near the Oakland Athletic’s bullpen. After learning Stone passed away in the hospital later Hamilton, understandably unnerved, said it was just a routine thing. That the firefighter had called out for the next ball he could dispatch to be tossed his way. It happens all the time. But as a Hamilton told the media the next day, “I understand there’s nothing you can do to change it now.” (Yahoo Sports)

Baseball went on, with the team donned black ribbons to honor Stone’s life. On Saturday, July 9 Oakland closer Andrew Bailey, having retired Endy Chavez and Ian Kinsler, but then surrendering a single to Elvis Andrus, settled in to deliver a 2-0 pitch to Josh Hamilton. It should be noted Hamilton was given the opportunity to sit out the game by manager Ron Washington after A) the understandable mindset following Stone’s death, and B) going 1-for-5 during the game prior.

Hamilton opted not to, going 4-for-5 in the Saturday game, and being a key cog in both Ranger comebacks.

It was his final at-bat that made this game memorable for me. Many know that I’m a huge radio guy. I’ll always opt to listen to the radio feeds of any game. In a magical year, for a magical player, during a time when magic was needed Eric Nadel cemented (for me, anyways) his Hall of Fame broadcasting career with a magical call.

“Hamilton swings AND HITS A BOMB! DEEP RIGHT FIELD! WAY, WAY BACK! IT IS HISTORY!”

It’s the call that for two years stood as the station ID call for ESPN Dallas while the team was still with KESN. Even after Hamilton left the Rangers after 2012, the station just edited out his name. The call stood, and forever reminded Texas baseball fans of that unforgettable moment in Rangers’ history.

Joe Stroop: David Clyde‘s major league debut

Since we are taking a look back, I’ll bet you a cookie no one is going to look farther back than I.

How about 1973?

Were you even born then?

If so, you may recall that those Rangers were terrible! In 1972, their first season here, fans stayed away in droves as the team lost 100 games. But finishing last gave them the first draft pick in 1973 and they chose a fireballer from Houston, high school senior David Clyde. One scout had dubbed him “the next Koufax.” Clyde signed the day he graduated and made his big-league debut 19 days later. The cash-starved owner, Bob Short, was desperate to drive attendance and turned Clyde’s debut into a circus.

The pre-game celebration featured on-field appearances by Clyde’s family and girlfriend, three hula-dancers, a cardboard giraffe on wheels, a mascot in a bird-fish costume, and two live lion cubs. The game was a sellout and traffic was so backed up they delayed the first pitch 15 minutes. The revenue from that game’s attendance, concessions and parking was enough to cover Clyde’s first-year salary and signing bonus.

In the first inning, the nervous teenager walked the first two batters, then struck out the side. He gave up one hit through five innings. The Rangers won, the fans went crazy and so did his teammates. Pitcher Bill Gogolewski sprinted up the tunnel to the Rangers clubhouse, screaming, “The Rangers win the pennant! The Rangers win the pennant.”

Obviously they didn’t and Clyde, poorly used by the team, eventually washed out. But he will always have the memory of when he was the central figure in, as Randy Galloway put it, “the most dramatic game I’ve seen.”

Grant Schiller: The Carlos Lee trade

Looking back on it, this is stupid.

The Rangers were 2.5 games behind the first place Anaheim Angels at 51-52 when the trade went down. They would finish the 2016 season at 80-82, 13 games back of the Oakland A’s. Carlos Lee hit well over his 59 games that year (.322/.369/.525) but would leave for Houston in the off-season. In fact, he wouldn’t be near the most important piece Jon Daniels received in the trade. Taking a gander at the stats, I notice that Lee was a good hitter but not the type of bat that could carry an offense. Certainly not the type of bat that could take a 51-52 team, whose other big additions were Matt Stairs and Kip Wells, and make them a World Series contender.

Try telling 10 year old me that.

10 year old me that, with the exception of a 2004 team that as I remember it was carried by David Dellucci (who sported a wRC+ under 100), had never experienced success. Born in 1996, I was too young to be aware of what happened in the 90s. The start of my baseball existence came in 2000, ushering in a new era of Rangers sadness. 10 year old me that was told by my friend Jake Plotkin’s dad during lunch break at basketball camp that his team in playoff contention just acquired Carlos Lee.

Try telling that kid that the season wouldn’t end in late October, wouldn’t even come close.

I was the happiest kid in the world that day eating my Sliced Frank SpaghettiOs, caring not that Nelson Cruz was a Ranger but ecstatic that Lee was. I was always optimistic growing up. Every year I would look at the roster and think that if things broke just right we could surprise some people. “If AJ Murray pans out and Nick Regilio can be a solid 7th inning guy and Kevin Mench stays hot all year and Chan Ho Park reverts to what he was five years ago we can be really good,” I’d think.

This was different.

This was the first time in my life that I knew with certainty the Texas Rangers were A Good Baseball Team. We were going to make the playoffs. We were going to make the World Series. We might even win the World Series.

Never mind that it didn’t happen.

SDI Staff

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