The water, on a burning beach.
Run to the water
On a burning
And it brings me
We saw Crowded House, my girlfriend and I and two of our
good friends, in Austin at The Backyard in April of 1994, the first year of
Nolan Ryan’s retirement from his playing days, the first year of The Ballpark
It was probably not very cool to be a fan of Crowded House
back then, or for that matter to be a fan of the Texas Rangers, whose 23-year history
was so sad that what was about to be their first-ever first-place season was pathetic
in a way, as the club finished with a record of 52-62 that would be frozen by a
work stoppage that killed the stretch run and the playoffs. On the night we saw Crowded House, the
Rangers lost to Toronto, 13-3, one of five losses of 10 runs or more by Texas in
just the first two months of the season.
It was a bad baseball team, one whose manager (Kevin
Kennedy) got fired despite that division “win” that had eluded the 22 Rangers
clubs that preceded it, the last five of which featured Ryan, who went 51-39,
3.43 with 10 strikeouts per nine innings over that span, all in his 40s. A proud five-year run with Texas ended
without crossing the goal line into the playoffs. An extraordinary 27-year career ended in
September 1993 with a torn elbow ligament, but not before a 98-mph fastball to
Dave Magadan on the next pitch.
Whether Ryan would have pitched in the new ballpark the
following year, we don’t know. It was
probably a disappointment for the warrior to go out the way he did, a man of iconic
durability shut down by an injury, a ballplayer who didn’t get back to the
playoffs in this final run on the field.
I was in a room with Nolan Ryan yesterday, and six hours
after that in another with Crowded House (again with those same two friends and
my girlfriend, who I’ve now been married to for 13 years). Ryan looks a little different these days, as
does Neil Finn, now sporting a McFeely moustache. But they both looked very happy on Thursday,
happy to be at a microphone before a relatively small group, the latter because
he’s still able to do it, before his own private universe, however diminishing
in size, the former because it was probably the
last time he’d have to talk formally about what he was talking about, able now
to focus fully on the business of getting a baseball team back to the playoffs.
When Finn brought his son on stage for a few songs last
night, I’m guessing most of the 1,500 in the room (just about all of whom I probably
deceived myself into thinking looked older than me) thought it was pretty cool.
The segment of people living around here
who cared enough about what Crowded House once was is a lot smaller than it was
in Austin 16 years ago, and even then it was pretty small.
As small as what some in the mainstream media continue to
assume makes up the core of Rangers baseball fans. They’re wrong, of course. But just as it wasn’t about record sales, or
however it is that you quantify rock and roll coolness (an often opposite
measure), it’s not about whether the baseball team hangs more banners than the
football team, or sells more local advertising spots during the local news.
It’s cooler to be a Rangers fan now that Nolan Ryan is part
of things – and will stay that way – but he’s not in this because of ego, or power,
or money. He’s in this because he’s passionate
about winning, like his new co-owners and this organization’s baseball
operations team and its players and its coaches.
And a quietly large core of baseball fans that’s getting less
After last night’s win over Felix Hernandez and Seattle, the
2010 Rangers season is exactly two-thirds over.
Billy Beane, whose second-place team Texas visits for these next three,
was supposedly the first to suggest that you spend the first third of the
season evaluating your team and figuring out what you are, the middle third addressing
needs, and the final third kicking into that next gear.
The new owners of the Texas Rangers, one of whom sat yesterday
afternoon at a podium with a tie on and a huge smile on his face, had hoped to
be in place by Opening Day, but instead they now head into this final third,
like the rest of us, no longer having to distract ourselves with baseball games
so as not to get worn down by court proceedings.
“Dreaming of glory/Miles above the mountains and plains/Free
at last,” Finn sang, hours after Ryan had talked about the last 15 months, a time
during which he probably would have substituted a couple words other than “mountains”
and “plains,” but the President and soon-to-be Co-Owner of the Texas Rangers looked
very ready for these two months ahead of him and us, and maybe another after that,
free at last of a kind of battle that he never imagined having to fight and instead
geared up to do the kind of battle true baseball fans are in this for.
Break it into
Assess it, and address
Now floor it: It’s
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(c) Jamey Newberg