Own Bonus Time

Own October

This isn’t the game for which we acquired Cole Hamels. Make no mistake. Those games don’t start until 2016. Anything he gets this team, this season – is a bonus.

Well, it’s bonus time. This is the time for which the Rangers signed Yovani Gallardo, too – because there might come a time, in an unforeseeable future, where we needed hearts ahead of arms. Where brains and experience might weather the slings and arrows of the late season’s toll on the human arm. There might come a must-win stretch, a 7-game series. A need to win now, and win often, to stay alive.

And Cole Hamels, Yovani Gallardo, the Rangers, and all of us, are living in it. From now, until season’s end – in a week or a month – we are living in it. Time to make the most of it.

I was born premature, at 28 weeks, in November 1979; basically, I was about 30% short of first base. I was 1 pound, 14oz at a time when, to paraphrase my doctor at the time, the odds of surviving in that shape were definitely somewhere south of 50/50.

I once asked my developmental sciences professor about the odds of someone that small, at that time, coming out the other side without major problems. Her response was that stats conservatively said 5%, but in her entire career, she’d have put it under 1%. Her curiosity piqued, she asked me if I knew someone who had survived that small.

I told her it was the grad student asking her the question. Then she said something that gave words to the undercurrent of my life:

“Then every day is a day that beats the odds, and thus you’re living on bonus time. You got it by surviving; you earn it by how you use it. And I would not forget that if I were you.”

I never had, and never have. I’ve been raised to know life was a blessing, day in and day out – never promised. Every day ahead is a bonus to be earned and appreciated.

Like me on this beautiful autumn evening, now and forever forward this season, we – players and fans alike – are living in bonus time. We must remember what earned this team such an unforeseeable dream: surviving against all odds … to thrive.

This team overcame injuries and teams with more talent and more momentum. We never ever quit. We savored September.

But we are on the verge of something truly rare in the history of Arlington – October baseball with meaning.

We are living each day in bonus time. So how does this Rangers team make the most of what might be, regardless of how tenuous the hold?

By playing within their game and yet outside their limits, this Rangers team can use an improbable assemblage of talent and chemistry to carry on the momentum. Beyond today, beyond tomorrow, into the inevitable end, win or lose, we may, in this autumn, be remembered.

From this day, until the end of this season and forevermore, may these be the 2015 Rangers you see, in your mind and on that field.

Delino Deshields works the pitcher like a connoisseur of fine strikes, and runs the bases with something either side of controlled abandon. Shin Soo Choo continues to kill the ball by being patient and playing within himself. Prince Fielder lines singles to left, doubles to center, and moonshots to right. Mitch Moreland goes from quietly primed to Southern smooth on the ball and crushes it to the opposite field. Elvis Andrus sprays singles and ranges to the edges of both his Zone Rating and what joy will allow. Adrian Beltre crushes right through both, makes a throw only he can make, or tomahawks a homer on a line to either gap.

Rougned Odor continues to plays six inches and 30 pounds over his head. Josh Hamilton plays at just his size, and up to his talent. Mike Napoli remembers that being Mike Napoli means something different this time of year. Will Venable appreciates just how far from a San Diego he really is, and brings his steady glove and patient bat to the park every day. Chris Gimenez continues to have fast hands at the plate and a reliable-enough glove for a veteran staff. Bobby Wilson plays like a veteran backup QB – smart and well enough not to lose.

Meanwhile, guys like Stubbs, Strausborger, Rua and Martin bring great speed and gloves in the outfield and discipline to their at bats; Hanser Alberto continues to play a super-utility role, above anything he ought to do, but right in line with this team. Joey Gallo fills the role of “most powerful bench bat in baseball’, but tones it down enough to close the hole up in the zone and settles for 400-foot wallscrapers.

The starters do exactly what they’re best at – stay within themselves to play over their heads. Hamels owns the stretch and October like its 2008, pitching to a level worthy of his ace billing and price in prospects, with a repertoire full of groundball-inducing fastballs and strikeout-worthy curves. Derek Holland lives the haircut, pitching like the last-20-minutes Ricky Vaughn in every Major League movie, and brings that attitude to the mound, along with the early-AB efficiency to go deep into games. Martin Perez forms the middle piece of the lefty triumvirate. The Rangers don’t need him to dominate. They simply need him to be their Good-Enough Guy from the south side, keeping the Rangers in games and saving the bullpen in the mid-to-late parts of best-of-seven pushes.

Yovani Gallardo embraces his title as possibly the best five-plus-inning starter in the AL, mixing in a handful of strikeouts with no walks and trading fly balls for popups – taking full advantage of the extra October life those few fewer July innings have gotten his arm.

And regardless of one night, or one damnable start against Detroit, Colby Lewis continues to pitch above his head and from his bulldog heart, and makes himself into the “feel good story” of the post season “featurettes”: from Japanese journeyman to 17-game winner living on perpetual one-year deals.

The cooler-than-usual Fall air eats into the inherent danger of a fly-ball staff and saves the bullpen. And that bullpen, when it arrives, remembers it is greater than the sum of its parts. Nameless faces – specifically the ground-ball machine Sam Dyson and the throw-in-turned-lefty-anchor Jake Deikman – become icons of icy consistency from the 6th inning onward.  To cap it off, Shawn Tolleson breaks the Curse of Neftali Feliz and becomes a Rangers closer with a happy postseason story to his name.

And Jeff Banister does what he’s done all year: provide a quiet fire and steady hand to a bunch of professionals – letting them play the only game they have and having their backs from the helm.

To do all that, the Rangers have to keep playing as they have: as a team that damns the numbers and gives no heed to history. They have to own the moments that make history, down the stretch and in October. These are their bonus time.

Baseball’s best teams win by moments born of a season’s marathon struggle … played out in 200-meter sprints. They break out of the blocks, own the turn and the stretch – and win by owning the moments that matter.

They win one way: they own bonus time.

So, God willing, they will savor the moment, running to their own rhythm, knowing even the most ungainly strides can carry incredible speed, regardless of the graceful gait of baseball’s postseason power players.

Now, they need us most, we true Rangers fans. Loud, proud, willing to swell from the corners of the Metroplex and show ourselves worthy a metropolis.

And when the moments come – because they WILL come – we will be ready.

We will own bonus time.

Chris Connor
As a lifelong DFW resident, Chris Connor is a diehard Rangers fan, and worships at the altar of Arlington.
He pitched - typically backing up third after doing so - and eventually settled into catching in leagues throughout Richardson and Plano in his youth, graduating from and lettering in baseball at Richardson Berkner High School in 1998. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Management and an MBA, both from UT-Dallas.
As a writer, he acknowledges that he’s never had a brilliance for brevity, but tries to meander to a meaningful point as he channels Faulkner and buys bits by the megabyte. He believes the only things more beautiful than Ted Williams’ swing are Yosemite Valley at sunrise and his wife.
He lives with the latter, along with their beloved dog and quite tolerable cat, in Allen, Texas.

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