Updated: May 17, 2019
The first former or current ballplayer I spotted was Ozzie Guillen. Not Ozzie Smith, nor Ozzie Canseco, but Ozzie Guillen. Standing face to face with the former White Sox manager and shortstop wasn’t how I’d imagined my first World Series. ESPN had set up a stage located outside the entrance of The Ballpark in Arlington (now named Globe Life Park). Guillen was one of their analysts.
I grew up loving the St. Louis Cardinals. As a kid, I marveled at Ozzie Smith’s defensive wizardry. I loved small ball. I sports cried when Mark McGwire broke the home run record. This was the first World Series I had a reasonable chance of attending. So I did what all Cardinals fans would do in my situation. I took out a loan and splurged for standing room tickets. This was a once in a lifetime chance, I reasoned.
I’d moved to Arlington, Texas six months earlier. I love baseball, so I surmised I could learn to love the Texas Rangers. Besides, being in the American League they rarely played the Cardinals. It didn’t feel like a betrayal.
Living about a mile from the stadium, I attended more games than I could count. Having a new team to follow was a new approach to baseball for me, but I loved it. The entire 2011 season I rooted for Josh Hamilton. He seemed to have overcome his demons and crushed home run after home run. I loved Ron Washington’s excitement and management style. I cheered when the Jumbotron flashed the highlight of Nolan Ryan rearranging Robin Ventura’s face. I marveled at Nelson Cruz’s raw home run power. I celebrated veteran and longtime fan favorite Michael Young. I came to realize that Adrian Beltre was the best I had ever seen play the hot corner. No offense to the great Scott Rolen.
I continued to follow my first love, the St. Louis Cardinals, but their 2011 season was frustrating. On August 24th they lost to the Dodgers and I was giving up on their season. Their record was 67-63. They were floundering. I was frustrated. It appeared they may not make the playoffs. I still remember a conversation I had with my brother about their play that season. Obviously fed up, I proclaimed, “They’re finished this season. They aren’t making the playoffs. It’s too late to fix it.”
What a difference a month and a half and David Freese make.
The Cardinals came into Game 4 up 2-1. They were fresh off a 16-7 win the night before that featured Albert Pujols crushing 3 HR. I walked into the stadium that evening proud to be wearing my Keith Hernandez powder blue jersey. The atmosphere was unlike anything I had experienced at a baseball game. The pregame buzz among fans in the stadium was exhilarating. Hordes of journalists followed Albert Pujols around on the field during batting practice. George W. Bush threw out the first pitch. Zooey Deschanel sang the national anthem. Unbeknownst to everyone before the game, a sketchy phone lurked in the visitors bullpen. Combined with the crowd noise, it was ready to wreak havoc on Tony La Russa’s bullpen management. The game itself, as a Cardinals fan, was disappointing. Arguably, Derek Holland pitched the best game of his career. The Rangers beat the Cardinals 4-0. But, it was worth every minute and dollar spent.
What a difference two games and David Freese make.
Fast forward to the series this weekend. The St. Louis Cardinals are returning to Arlington for the first time since that World Series. The Rangers never recovered from losing back to back World Series in 2010 and 2011. The only remaining Texas Rangers player from that 2011 team is Elvis Andrus. He’s still patrolling SS for the 2019 Rangers. The Cardinals still have Yadier Molina leading from behind home plate. Lance Lynn is pitching for the Rangers now. He’s no longer coming out of the bullpen, so he needn’t worry about the bullpen phones in Arlington.
This is the final season at Globe Life Park for the Rangers. A new, more modern stadium is emerging from the dirt and concrete across the street. The entire season is a long farewell for Rangers fans. Every game the Jumbotron flashes highlights from the past 27 years. There won’t be any Game 6 highlights, and I suspect few 2011 World Series highlights. A new era is dawning in Arlington next year, and fans are longing for a return trip to a World Series and redemption.
I’ll be attending Saturday’s game and rooting for the Cardinals, of course. I plan on wearing my Keith Hernandez jersey again. I expect it to be a much different feel. Albert Pujols, Tony La Russa, or David Freese won't be around this time. I don’t expect to see Ozzie Guillen. George W. Bush might be there since he lives nearby, but it’s unlikely. The national anthem will be performed by someone I’ve never heard of.
On the field and in the clubhouse, things are dramatically different than they were in 2011. The Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild and youth movement. Their sights are set on future glory, future heroics. As it stands today, Rangers fans are fighting through the 2019 season with little hope of seeing the playoffs. With new manager Chris Woodward at the helm and a new stadium that will shield fans from the suffocating Texas summer heat, expectations are high for 2020 and beyond.
The Cardinals are, well, they’re trying to find some post-Matheny redemption and consistency. Marcell Ozuna appears to have awakened. Matt Carpenter is working through early season struggles again. The starting rotation seems to have more cracks in it than believed at the beginning of the season. But, a couple of weeks ago the Cardinals sat atop the NL Central and things were trending upward. There’s no reason to believe they couldn’t get back on track in the coming weeks. With new manager Mike Shildt at the helm and a reinvigorated clubhouse atmosphere, fans are hoping for a return to the playoffs after a 4 year absence.
It’s a long season, but In terms of the future, it's an exciting time for both franchises.
What a difference eight years and David Freese in Los Angeles makes.