Opening Day Countdown: One More Week


It doesn’t get much better than this part of the year. It’s the beginning of spring- a time to close the book on college basketball- and rebirth into a new year of sports — starting with baseball. It’s heaven if your favorite college basketball team still alive in the tournament, with the prospect of a Final Four appearance overlapping into the start of the baseball season. Yep. I can almost taste it.

I’m not sure if I’m consumed more by relief (from Duke hanging on against Creighton) or excitement (at the now infant amount of time before Opening Day), but I do know that I’m generally always satisfied, at worst, when my teams are doing well. And from a comparative standpoint, I don’t think I’m stretching too far in saying I believe the Rangers’ season will unfold a lot like Duke’s has.

Before the year, the general consensus was that Duke would be a good team, which is how most pundits/fans view the Rangers. Preseason the Blue Devils were #7 in the country, and they ended up as a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament — so their preseason rank was technically accurate in that sense — but I think it’s the way the season transpired that told the real story. Now they are one of the Sweet 16 teams remaining in a field previously carrying 68.

And that’s where I’m getting with this. The perception of the Rangers is that they will be a good team, but I don’t think any of us — as their fans — will be surprised if they end up as one of the 2-3 best teams in baseball. Sure, a lot of things (if not every thing) will have to go in our favor, but we have that kind of potential.

On the surface, to justify being one of the 2-3 best, the Rangers would, in theory, have to make a World Series appearance, or at least make a legitimate competition of the ALCS. That’s how the media (and subsequently, the fans) judge everything — by what’s most obvious; results. We live in a very reactionary culture that is quick to define the historical significance of something that happened 10 minutes ago. Everything is in black and white, and the grey area exponentially lessens by the year like an attention span.

Down in reality, I don’t think I could do a better job in defining a “successful” 2013 than saying, if the Rangers make the postseason, it’s a success. If they happen to be one of the 5 teams in the American League field, I will be satisfied.

Should we win the American League West, which I predicted a few weeks ago, then I would consider it a very successful season. With the new 5-team playoff format, it places a near-imperative emphasis on winning your division — to save yourself from a one-game elimination.

Last year, for instance, the Rangers had as much talent as any team in baseball. In a 5- or 7-game series, there’s isn’t a team in either league I would have picked us to lose to. That’s not my bias coming into play; that’s just how good we were. On paper.

But like Kenny Mayne used to say when he anchored Sportscenter with Dan Patrick in the late-90’s: “Games aren’t played on paper, they are played inside little television screens.”

That’s why the Rangers lost to the Orioles — a far inferior team talent-wise — in last year’s wild card game. In the playoffs, the bigger sample favors the better team; the smaller the sample, the better chance something freak happens, or the lineup is in a funk for a game, or someone just gets lucky. With how last season finished for the Rangers, I’m not so sure our fate would have changed no matter how many games we played against Baltimore, or anyone else, really.

The Rangers’ best 25-man roster in their history, and they just flat-out sucked at the end.

2013 is different because we are flying under the radar again, which hasn’t been the case since 2010 — the first time we made the World Series.

In 2011 they weren’t expected to return to the World Series because “Cliff Lee wasn’t pitching there anymore,” but when people saw the Rangers’ dominate they weren’t all that surprised. By October 2011 the Rangers were turning into a “national team.” Their fan base expanded rapidly — particularly and naturally in Texas — and the quiet stars we had known, like Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus and Nelson Cruz and Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, were earning big hype from the media; the causation was their stellar play on the diamond.

Like all good things, eventually they must come to an end. Those rosters, filled with players who made deep runs into October in 2010 and 2011, and were probably part of the best team in the Majors last year from April-August, are blown up. Josh Hamilton and Michael Young, C.J. Wilson, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Mike Adams, Scott Feldman, Mark Lowe;

they are all gone.

Some were great Rangers; some had a little too much baggage; some complained to the media; some kept their mouth shut.

This year doesn’t feel quite the same as the last 2-3, but damn I’m excited to see what we can do.