My family left me baseball. Texas Rangers baseball.
I thank my dad and my grandma for my love of the game and my love of the Rangers and, therefore, my generally positive attitude this year. As you can imagine, these past few weeks and the next several days will likely be some of the most memorable I will ever experience.
In the final years of his life, my dad had largely lost interest in the Major League version of the game. The crowds. The large sums of money involved on both sides of the white lines. The steroids. He may have soured on the sport on its grandest stage, but I still suspect he kept one eye on the Rangers while opting to attend his beloved Grand Prairie Air Hogs minor league games during the last two seasons of his life.
When my dad died July 26, 2009, he did so as only a decorated World War II veteran/baseball fan could: at the conclusion of "God Bless America" as the Rangers were beating the Kansas City Royals on a TV in the Irving hospice room in which he drew his last breaths.
But my dad's close association with the game was far deeper than how he died that Sunday afternoon.
He took me to the first Ranger game ever played in Arlington Stadium. Frank Howard hit a monster home run. We were in the presence of The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived, the one and only Ted Williams, first manager of the Rangers (who lost 100 games and walked away from the game forever after that season). Dad and I had seats behind home plate. We both agreed that Ranger catcher Jim "Sunny" Sundberg was probably a pretty good guy (and we were right ... with a nickname like Sunny, how can you be anything but?). The Rangers won that game. We were so young. I was 13. Dad was 47. I still have the front page of the Dallas Morning News Sports section that featured coverage of that momentous day. It will forever be one of the best days of my life.
Over the next several years I would attend scores of games at Arlington Stadium and subsequently the Ballpark in Arlington and whatever name it would take on because of sponsorship's millions. I was at least glad they returned it to "Rangers Ballpark at Arlington" before he died.
My dad taught me everything I know about baseball. Neither of us ever amounted to much as athletic specimens and so instead of loving to play, we just loved to watch. He told me stories of his days as a groundskeeper with the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league team in Springfield, Mo. He and my Uncle Bill both tended the water hose, keeping the infield dirt smooth and fresh. Dad was No. 1 on the hose until a big teenage boy came onto the field one day and knocked him down to the 2 spot. That boy, a prospect signed by the Cardinals, was Joe Garagiola, who would go on to become one of St. Louis' most beloved citizens. He was a broadcaster, a "Today Show" commentator and generally thought of to be an all-around nice guy by anyone who ever met him. My favorite story about him was the time when, in 1993, my dad wrote Joe a letter, reminding him of their days on the hose in Springfield. Joe wrote dad back and told him he remembered that time fondly. Joe Garagiola is as classy as they say he is.
I don't know where my family's love of baseball began. My grandfather died when my dad was just nine years old. My guess is he loved the game, too, because my grandmother continued her love of the game throughout her life. In her final years, she moved in with my parents in their suburban Dallas home. She could no longer see well, so she turned on a transistor radio on her bedside table every night and listened to the Rangers as she would fall asleep. Every morning, she would wake and ask dad who won the game the night before. Grandma always turned her transistor radio off early when a particular young reliever would come in for the Rangers because she always noted that he would often lose the save, and the game, and she had little tolerance for either. And she was right a lot of the time. That young reliever? Kenny Rogers, who may have struggled as a reliever for the Rangers, but would mostly excel as a starter and would go on to record the only perfect game ever thrown by a Ranger pitcher.
My dad died a year before the Rangers' first ever World Series appearance. Grandma died two weeks after the close of the baseball season in 1993. Kenny Rogers' perfect game would come in 1994. People wonder why I get so emotional when the Rangers win this post season.
Now they know.
Baseball has been handed down from one generation to the next in my family. It is a love that has already been handed down with our kids. It is my family's inheritance. And with it, I've learned that money doesn't make you rich as much as love does. Or, in this case, our shared love of the game of baseball.
It's been a good couple of weeks for Texas baseball fans. So many years of futility is being washed away thanks to this group of what appears to be high-character, quality men who come together for each other on and off the field. They are, in fact, a good enough group of guys that if my dad and grandma weren't already in heaven, they'd sure be there this week.