Baseball is a passion of mine. That’s nothing new to anyone who knows me even just a little bit. I love baseball. I love everything about baseball and as a lot of you know, one of the things I loved most about baseball was it was a special, special bond between me and my dad.
Me and dad started our “baseball relationship” when I was about 5 years old when we moved to Lubbock. Mom and dad enrolled me in the local christian t-ball league and from the moment I stepped onto to that field, I fell in love. And as I went through t-ball, coach pitch, machine pitch, fast pitch, junior leagues, and finally high school, that love never faded. In fact, it only got stronger. I loved the sight of walking onto the freshly cut baseball diamond right before first pitch, I loved the way the aroma of hot dogs, garlic fries, nachos, and peanuts fill the stadium, I loved the sense of a accomplishment after a tense win. I loved hitting that ball on the sweet spot and not feeling anything and suddenly watching that ball sail over the fence.
That “love” started on a little t-ball field in Lubbock, TX with me and my dad.
From that day on, there were countless days of batting practice and intense sessions of playing catch, just me and him. Just two guys what are the same. I still remember the frustrated look on his face every time I over threw him or threw the ball in the dirt, he would just look at me and pound his chest meaning “hit me in the chest every time, Jeff.”
Baseball was mine and dad’s special language. We might not have always understood each other, though it was very rare, or we might have not always agreed on a certain thing (again rare), or I we might be angry with each other (again, VERY rare), but we ALWAYS could agree on baseball and our love for the game.
When I was about 7, that love for baseball transcended into a deep passion for a certain baseball team… the Texas Rangers. I remember sitting on the floor in our Lubbock living room watching the Rangers getting beat by the Yankees in the Division Series of the playoffs 3 out of 4 years. I remember Dad telling me all about the certain players like Pudge Rodriguez, Rusty Greer, Will Clark, and Mark McLemore. He would educate me about the big leagues and how everything was ran. I remember wanting so badly to go to a Ranger game for so many years, but due to us being in Lubbock and the Rangers playing in Arlington 7 hours away, it just was never feasible.
On a summer night in 2001, I finally got my chance. Dad decided to take the youth group at our church in Lubbock on a trip to Arlington to experience Six Flags, Hurricane Harbour, and the beloved Ranger game. To say that I was excited would be an understatement.
I walked into The Ballpark in Arlington for the first time and it engulfed me. I was already in love with baseball, but now, the Texas Rangers became MY team. From that hot summer night against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, until last Monday’s game 5 World Series loss, the Rangers were and will always be MY team. Not only my team, but mine and dad’s team.
At the time, we became one of this earth’s pathetic creatures…. a Texas Ranger fan.
From that night on, I was a hardcore fan. I watched almost and still to this day watch almost every game, home and away. We would go to about 5-10 games a year. We always dreamed of one day watching OUR team play in the World Series.
Every season would bring on new expectations and new excitement. Dad and I would always say, “I believe this is the year.”, even thought we knew this team was not good enough, and usually by the time August rolled around, it was “well, just wait until next year, it will be OUR year.” Next year never came. Year after year, after year.
April 6, 2009 was our first Opening Day experience. Again, 2009 was “the year”. And in case your wondering, by the term “the year”, we simply meant to make the playoffs because the team had not done so since 1999. It was such a great experience. From arrival until the departure, it was what dad would always call a “memory maker”. Texas won 9-1 against the Cleveland Indians that day. A day that I will never forget.
The Rangers stayed competitive all throughout the 2009 season up until the very end. “Wait until next year” actually didn’t come until late September. But then again, the Rangers did not make the playoffs and again, we were disappointed, but never lost our confidence in this team. We were in full wait until 2010 mode.
April 5, 2010. Opening Day for the 2010 season, and we experienced it yet again. In fact, you can read about that here. Another awesome memory maker. This Opening Day, little did we know would be our last together. The Rangers won in dramatic fashion, 5-4 in a walk-off win over the Toronto Blue Jays. Walking out of Rangers Ballpark that day, we were convinced, FINALLY, this was OUR year. We both felt it. This team was special.
June 4, 2010. The worst day of my life. Not many 19 year olds go to bed one night with everything in your life normal, and wake up the next morning with everything in your life turned upside down. A lot know the story, so I will not go into much details. Mom rushed into my bedroom and was panicky and just yelled “Jeff, get up, something’s happened.” I did not really know what was going on, but I could tell in the tone of her voice, something was deeply wrong. I jumped out of bed, and mom led me out to our backyard. That is where I saw my dad, sitting in his crashed truck. I knew from the moment I saw him that he was gone. That image will be forever branded into my memory. As everyone always says, “I was totally shocked when I heard about your dad.” We were all shocked. He was not sick, he had not complained the night before or anything about something being wrong, but, apparently he had a genetic arterial heart disease that no one (not even him) was aware of, and on the morning of June 4, 2010 after he had just gotten back from his daily jog, Dad went home.
I will never, EVER forget that day, as I’m sure any kid will never forget the day one of their parent’s died. Yes, I went through the “stages” of grief. I really struggled through the anger. I was so mad that I was 19 years old, and that my dad was no longer going to be in my life physically anymore. Never going to see me graduate college, never going to see me get married, never going to see my kids. I might not have shown it much because, like my dad, I am good at hiding my emotions.
On the night of June 4, after everyone had cleared the house and I finally sat down on the couch without having to hug someone that gave me reason to cry every single time, I turned the television on of course, the Ranger game.
September 26, 2010 the Rangers clinched their first division title in 11 seasons. They had done it. The feeling that me and dad felt walking out of Rangers Ballpark 5 months earlier after our last Opening Day together came true. The Rangers were in the playoffs. As I watched the team jump up and down on the diamond in the Oakland Coliseum, I just sat on the couch with my mom, and we both just took in the moment, and after a few minutes, the tears just started flowing. All of those memories of sitting in the same living room watching that team and going through the emotions of winning games, and the emotion of a tough loss- there was always one constant, and that was dad. He was always there, and the next night, me and him would again watch our team.
October 22, 2010. The Rangers dominate the New York Yankees, 6-1, and clinch a spot in their first ever World Series. The dream had come true. Again, as I watched the team celebrate, I sat there thinking about dad and all of those nights of dreaming of this team being in the World Series. The dreams had become reality. The Texas Rangers were in the 2010 World Series.
As I watched the season unravel from June 4 until this past Monday in the final game. I felt as though I wasn’t watching this team for me, but for both of us. I felt the whole time, in some way, Dad was sitting in his recliner and feeling the same emotions that I felt as I watched the Rangers go through this magical season. It is very fitting that the Rangers finally made the World Series in the same year my dad passed, and I’m not angry that he wasn’t here to experience it with me, because I am convinced that he was here, every pitch, every out, and every game. To me, this season and this team making it through the playoffs and ultimately to the World Series was a healing process for me and my family. The Rangers meant so much to me and dad, and finally, what we had talked about for a lifetime was here.
The Rangers did not win the World Series, losing to the San Francisco Giants in 5 games. I was there on Monday night in Game 5 when Edgar Renteria hit a 3-run homer that would prove to be the dagger in this magical 2010 season. I was there on April 5 when the Rangers season began with dad. This season healed my broken heart that I never thought would be healed. I miss my dad like crazy every single day, but this team helped me through the hardest time in my life. They gave me hope and a reason to believe again, and I thank them for that.
To me and my family, baseball will always be more then 9 guys throwing and hitting around a round ball. Baseball will always be the connection between me and Kip Clark that will never be broken.
And the Texas Rangers season of 2010 will always be more then the Rangers losing in the World Series. It will be the ultimate “memory maker” of how I believe this was God’s way of healing me in the loss of my best friend, and my father. I will never forget this season.
It will ALWAYS be more than just a game.