In the few days after the Texas Rangers won their first ever American League Championship, I took the time to reflect on all the adversities this team went through in its history. Being one of the locals that has followed this club since they came to Texas in 1972, I can tell you the emotion of the fans here is "euphoric awe-shock."
One could say that the foundation for this years Rangers team was laid in the middle of the 2008 season. Then-owner Tom Hicks did his first good deed for the ball club and all of baseball, for that matter. He hired legendary Hall of Fame pitcher and former Ranger player Nolan Ryan to be the team's president.
With the season well under way, Ryan could do little but sit back and watch as he saw the Rangers go through their usual season routine of bad habits. The first part of the season would always be a strong showing by the Rangers—they would slay all that came their way—but after the All-Star game, they would find themselves quickly fading away into oblivion.
Being a former Ranger player, Ryan had the advantage of living through the lows of this struggling ball club, having seen the mismanagement by the team's front office and witnessing firsthand the sufferings of the devoted Rangers fans. Through it all, he still was able to achieve his own individual greatness.
Ryan knew what was broke with this team and had a pretty good idea what it was going to take to fix it.
First on Ryan's to-do list was to change the Rangers' way of thinking on pitching in Texas summer heat. The team had demonized themselves to death by believing in a curse: No one can pitch in Texas in August heat! Ryan knew that was a truckload of manure because he did it himself with great success. We didn't call him the "Heat" for nothing!
After the 2008 season, Ryan announced that he was implementing a new offseason routine for all pitchers. This included all pitchers in the Rangers program, too, from the farm prospects through all levels of the minors league to the top pros.
In short, Ryan's program was designed to increase strength and stamina. This special conditioning program was designed to help our pitchers last longer in the games, instead of wilting away in the heat of the night.
Next, Ryan had to put the right staff in place, men who shared his ideas on how to make this team right and people he could trust to get the job done. After all, the players would not buy into these changes unless the people doing the selling believed in them too.
All the extra hard work started paying big dividends in the 2009 season, as we saw our Rangers come so close, but fall short of making the Wild Card spot for a postseason berth. Quite a visible turn-around for just one season of changes.
At last Rangers fans, we could look forward to the next season, as it was announced in January 2010 that Tom Hicks was selling the team to Nolan Ryan and his business partner Chuck Greenberg. Hicks was finally doing the right thing for the Rangers by handing them over to much more capable hands.
Spring training came and went, and still no official word that the transfer of ownership had taken place. "What's taking so long?" was in the minds of all the Rangers fans. "We want Ryan!"
Bit by bit, the local media released startling information about our Rangers. They were bankrupt by the mismanagement of Tom Hicks (like the fans needed more reason to hate Hicks). The Rangers organization was over $500 million in the hole, and the debt collectors were demanding full retribution in court of law.
Meanwhile on the field of play, the Rangers "boys of summer" were making magic happen, with feats of play unmatched by any Ranger squad of the past.
Early into the season, we saw our Rangers sitting quite solid in first place in the AL West and only a handful of games behind the league's first place New York Yankees.
Secretly, we held our breaths. We knew the Rangers could play like this before the mid-season break—we've seen it before—but would they be able to sustain their drive till the end of the season? And would they have anything left in the tank for any postseason play?
While Ryan was busy in the court of law fighting for ownership of the ball club, his front office geniuses were out shopping for some much needed postseason insurance. One of the trades made would be known as the steal of the season and, to this day, has all the sports gurus scratching their heads as to how in the heck the Rangers pulled off the Cliff Lee trade.
The Seattle Mariners were the AL West cellar dweller for this season, with over 20 games behind the Rangers and no chance of seeing the light of day. In a move to get some value before their ace pitcher Cliff Lee turned free agent, the Mariners put him up for trade to any contending team.
The whole sports world just knew Lee was going to the Yankees, since they have unlimited resources, but Lee wouldn't be donning a Yank uniform this season. Yankees offered the Mariners cash and a cluster of top prospect to boot, but the Mariners wouldn't bite.
Pitchers weren't what the Mariners were looking for. They wanted a good first baseman, and this was Texas's chance to steal away Lee.
The Rangers' starting first baseman was a hot young prospect by the name of Justin Smoak. Knowing they had depth at that position, the Rangers proposed Lee for Smoak with a couple of minor farm kids to sweeten the deal. The Mariners were pleased to accept the player swap with no cash involved. Good thing, since the Rangers payroll was still being held hostage in the courts.
Finally, before the season had ended, all the court mess was settled and done with as Ryan and company won the rights to the Rangers and were given the blessing of the MLB to control the team.
All is well in the Lone Star State, as a new reign of ownership lead by Ryan has begun.
So, what makes Nolan Ryan so special as an owner? Maybe it's because Texas is where he chose to hang his hat after five years of playing here, ending his long major league career as a Texas Ranger. Big Tex will always be remembered and loved in the hearts and minds of the true Rangers fans as standing tall and proud on the pitching mound.
If this is a dream, please don't wake me yet, because my Rangers are about to play in the World Series.