The Statue of Liberty, Washington Monument, apple pie, baseball—and the Texas Rangers?
We are a country divided. Not by politics, social values, or economic policy, but by the increasingly business-minded world of sports. Our national pastime is losing out to the likes of football and even basketball. Derek Jeter-style team loyalty has evaporated with free agency and record contracts, a lack of a salary cap, and huge disparities in team payroll.
But there is still hope.
Throughout the 2011 MLB Postseason, the Texas Rangers have shown America the value of redemption. Throughout the Rangers' incredible 2011 season, baseball's team from Arlington has truly become America's team.
In the past, the Rangers have struggled mightily, yet they have always stayed true to their fans. In 2009, Tom Hicks and others in the Rangers ownership group entered into severe financial distress. Hicks announced his intent to sell the team, and in January of 2010, sports lawyer Chuck Greenberg and Rangers team president Nolan Ryan—under a group called Rangers Baseball Express (RBE)—agreed to purchase the Rangers. More on Ryan later on.
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, sensing the importance of financial solvency in Texas, seized control of the sales process in order to expedite the sale to RBE. Objections to the sale were raised by several third party lenders such as Monarch Alternative Capital, worried that the team's sale would leave them in the lurch with significant debt yet to be repaid.
Regardless, Selig wanted his house of owners in order, and threatened to seize control of the team's entire operations if the sale was not completed by a deadline set by the New York office. Hicks filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, resulting in a 2010 public auction to determine a new owner. In August of 2010, RBE successfully purchased the Rangers and were unanimously approved by all 30 clubs at the owners' meeting on August 12.
Since RBE took over the Rangers, Texas has enjoyed great success, winning the AL Pennant twice. The Rangers lost the 2010 World Series to the San Francisco Giants, but again have a chance to win it all, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 Fall Classic.
The Rangers are truly America's team, and not just because they weathered a financial nightmare and came out the other end as MLB championship contenders.
The Rangers have retired two of their former players' numbers: Johnny Oates' No. 26 and Nolan Ryan's No. 34.
Yes, the same Nolan Ryan who is now CEO & President of the Texas Rangers.
Inducted to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Rangers' HOF in 2003, Ryan was an incredibly talented pitching star. With 324 wins, 5,714 strikeouts, seven no-hitters, and six 300-strikeout seasons, Ryan is, as his World Series plaque states, "A Texas legend whose widespread popularity extend[s] far beyond his native state."
Ryan is baseball and in only two years, has become one of the most celebrated MLB owners in history.
Sitting next to Ryan in his field-level seats right up against the Rangers on-deck circle is former President George W. Bush. When Bush comes to Rangers games, he is not a political figure. He is a baseball one.
In 1989, Bush bought the Rangers from oil tycoon Eddie Chiles. During the Bush years, the Rangers built The Ballpark in Arlington—now called Rangers Ballpark—where they currently play. The baseball loving Bush had to step aside in 1994 when he was elected Governor of Texas.
As President of the United States, Bush used his position to advance the baseball cause. When Bush visited the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, he did something no U.S. President has ever done.
Beijing had scheduled the baseball portion of the Olympics to take place during Week Two of the festivities. Bush, who came for the Olympics' opening ceremony, was slated to leave China midway through the first week. Baseball ultra-fan Bush would leave days before Olympic baseball was to begin.
Miraculously enough, Bush negotiated with the International Olympics Committee, resulting in the addition of an exhibition game to the first week of Olympic activities. That's right, Bush got them to play baseball at the Olympics a week early.
As it relates to the Rangers, Bush is not a political figure. He is a former owner and a huge fan, who just happens to have been a former President of the United States. He is a Texan who went to Washington, but he will always be a Texas Ranger.
On the field, Manager Ron Washington runs a fun ship. While you might expect Tony La Russa to sit back and contemplate the value of a Matt Holliday home run in the late innings of Game 2, you can also expect Washington to be jumping for joy when the Rangers collect their first hit in Game 1.
Whereas Tony La Russa will jump on TV to blast the umpires, Washington will praise his team, effortlessly conveying the enthusiasm, passion and excitement that helped launch the Rangers into the postseason. Washington will jump on TV to celebrate a homer, not to whine about a correctly ruled strike.
Washington jumps, he claps, he struts and waves his arms like a madman. Ron Washington is the most passionate and ostentatious manager in the game today.
The Rangers are nothing without Washington, and are everything with Ron. With Ryan and GM Jon Daniels' help, Washington has turned a last-place AL West laugher into a first-place, American League Champion contender.
As for Daniels, he became GM of the Rangers when he was only 28 years old. Even today, at the age of 34, he is still the youngest General Manager in baseball.
The young man who brought Texas the likes of Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz is still one of the most understated GMs in the sport.
Decked out in team colors red, white and blue, the Rangers are truly America's team, and we haven't even discussed catcher Mike Napoli's break-out season, Ian Kinsler's storied young career, nor the lights-out ace named C.J. Wilson, who coordinates his glove color based on the team uniform worn.
We haven't discussed the story of Hamilton's recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, his story of redemption and the great respect shown by a team that celebrates on the field with ginger ale as opposed to the customary champagne.
We haven't discussed the fans, who stuck around throughout the Rangers' 15-5 pounding of the Detroit Tigers to clinch the pennant, fans who just wanted to be there to celebrate with their team.
Indeed, deep in the heart of Texas lies America's team. Named for the legendary agency of Texas' Department of Public Safety, baseball's Texas Rangers are the real deal. They are a team that any baseball fan cannot help but admire, and now back in the World Series, are justifiably America's choice to win it all.