Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Giving Respect Where It's Due

The Fall Classic is finally upon us! After another long 162-game season and the winding down of great playoff games, Game 1 of the World Series kicks off tonight (8:05 Est on FOX) with the St. Louis Cardinals hosting the Texas Rangers in a best-of-7 series. Both teams have performed beyond expectations this year, but haven't been getting the glory and respect that's due to them. So in light of that, I'm going to give respect where it's due.

Texas Rangers

As a Dallas native, you better believe that I'm stoked to see my hometown team in the championship. Since their improbable World Series run last year, many people doubted the Texas Rangers would win back-to-back AL pennants. Cliff Lee, the Rangers' "ace" last year bolted from Arlington to his beloved Philadelphia Phillies because he knew that the Rangers' pitching staff wasn't going to bring him back to the WS every year. Lance Berkman, NL's Comeback Player of the Year, called the Rangers an "average" team without Cliff Lee so he decided to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals even though the Rangers pursued him in the offseason. (He later admitted he was wrong about those comments. Good for him). Many media reporters and analysts tabbed the Rangers to win the West, but not much after that. Just like any other year in baseball, the talk of the town for the majority of the year in the American League belonged to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Shoot, even after the Red Sox's end-of-the-year collapse, team chemistry/character allegations, and management debacle, the Boston Red Sox are STILL getting more media coverage on a daily basis than the Texas Rangers. I'm honestly tired of reading about players drinking in the dugout or eating fried chicken.

But enough of that. The Texas Rangers set a franchise record in wins this year (96) and more importantly, in season attendance (~3 million). In a town that is highly dominated by the Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks, the Texas Rangers are finally asserting themselves as perennial contenders for years to come to the DFW faithfuls. Ranger fans have only the top executives and management to thank for their recent success. GM Jon Daniels has done a wonderful job laying the foundation for talent and piecing together a great ball club with a promising future. He was the one who took a chance on Josh Hamilton and Alexi Ogando, orchestrated trades for young developing players like Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and somehow managed to keep Michael Young this offseason. Not to mention the handful of acquisitions this year to bolster the bullpen (Adams, Gonzalez, Uehara) and bring in more power (Beltre and Napoli). Throw in revitalizing attitudes and personalities like owner, Nolan Ryan, and manager, Ron Washington, the organization is in very good hands. They have made baseball relevant in the metroplex and for that, I give my respect where it is due.

St. Louis Cardinals

Now let's be honest. I don't follow the St. Louis Cardinals. Like any other sports fan, I can list their big name players and tip my cap to their winning ways over the past decade, but that's about it. In the offseason, I'll go out on a limb and say that no one (besides maybe the St. Louis faithfuls) had the Cardinals winning the National League pennant. The media barely tabbed them to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, Albert Pujols (the face of their franchise and pretty much the city) was in the midst of a contract dispute. Couple that with losing their All-Star pitcher Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery and yeah...being left out of the playoffs seemed reasonable. Fast forward to the end of season. The Cardinals make one of the most unpredictable playoff runs (with the help of one of the most unpredictable collapses). One word came to mind on the final day of the season. Resilient. Man, these guys were resilient in finishing the season strong given all offseason adversity. They never stopped believing and never stopped playing. Any fan can respect that. However, I think my thoughts stopped there. The Cardinals were up against the favored Philadelphia Phillies, predicted by many to win the pennant. I think everyone and their moms thought the Phillies would waltz their way into the NLCS. Well...let's bring back the word. Resilient. With confidence in the bullpen and timely hitting, the Cardinals fought off the beloved Phillies in five games with the clincher against arguably the best pitcher in the game in his own stadium. Pretty sweet, huh? The NLCS was no different. Cardinals were the underdogs once again and took it to the Milwaukee Brewers outscoring them 19-7 in the final two games. I'd say that's pretty resilient. I would definitely give mad respect to their manager, Tony La Russa, who kept this ball club together throughout the year. One of great managers of his time, his passion for the game seems limitless. He has great feel for the game and has utilized his talents throughout the playoffs (namely his bullpen).

But with every championship run, there is always an unsung hero. This team is no different. David Freese has got to be one of the great stories in this year's playoffs. After battling a hand injury in his first full year at 3B, Freese has gone from a nobody to a household name for anyone remotely following this postseason. Not to mention that he's the Cardinal's second lowest paid player ($416,000). He has gone on to win the NLCS MVP where he hit .545 with 3 HRs 9 RBIs in 6 games. Last person to do that? Lou Gehrig (thank you SportsCenter). That's pretty good company. And against a Rangers team stacked with left-handed throwers, he's sure to add to his stats since he hits .060 better against lefties on the season. However, it might take him a few at-bats since he hasn't seen any of the Rangers pitchers except Mike Adams where he is 0-2 with 2 strikeouts. But I'll be rooting for you, David Freese. I just hope you don't drive in any winning runs.

Prediction: The only prediction a sports fan wants to see...a good series. Forget the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. I hope this series brings out the greatness of "America's Pastime" from two great mid-market teams. Oh..and I'm hoping for the Rangers in 5 (winning on home turf would be sweet).


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