C.J. Wilson, Lost.
Having plenty to focus on at my real job on Thursday was very welcome. Perfect distraction from what had been a disappointing baseball wakeup call.
But now I’m sitting at my desk preparing to write about baseball and it’s not as easy to distract myself from the emotional cauldron that hasn’t dissipated much from Thursday morning.
I spent a half-hour last night, while half-watching TV with the kids, working up this awesome idea that I would take C.J. Wilson’s beloved “Lost” and tell the story of his six full seasons in Texas in Sunday Sports Section gimmick fashion, using the taglines for the TV show’s six seasons as headers (Season 1: Survival Is Not a Game . . . Season 2: Everything Happens for a Reason . . . Season 3: Find Yourself . . . Season 4: The Wait Is Over . . . Season 5: Destiny Calls . . . Season 6: Destiny Found), until it struck me that that awesome idea was banally awful.
I probably wouldn’t have been able to resist tossing in Desmond’s “See you in another life, brother,” and I can promise you that Hurley telling Ben in the series finale, “You know, you were a real good number two,” to which Ben responded, “You were a great number one,” would have been square-pegged in somehow, but I can’t run away from this by goofing around. Every time I thought on Thursday about what I wanted to say in this space about Wilson and Albert Pujols choosing the Angels, I kept coming back to the final words of the news flash I’d sent out at 10:15 AM:
Look, there’s nothing about Thursday’s turn of events that I’m happy about. But there was this surge of adrenaline coursing through me all day, and still now, the kind that I used to feel after a final exam or a jury trial that would frequently lead me to grab the keys and head to the batting cages, so I could work some of that energy off.
I want Opening Day, now. I want May 11, at home against the Angels, now. I want September 18, 19, and 20, and 28, 29, and 30, now.
It’s strange. Losing the World Series to the Giants a year ago was a new, unwelcome feeling for Rangers fans of any duration. Game Six and Game Seven against the Cardinals were once again new, far more unwelcome. This is different, too.
I think we as Rangers fans grew up a little yesterday. Maybe.
If the Mavericks do lose Tyson Chandler, as appears to be imminent, it will hurt, but the fact that a title was won while he was here mitigates things a bit. (Different scale, but St. Louis winning ought to make the Pujols defection at least marginally less awful to stomach for Cardinals fans than it would have been had Texas prevailed.)
But Wilson leaves after one of the most harrowing defeats in pro sports championship opportunity history, and on top of that joins forces with the annual enemy, adding injury to injury to injury.
This is a new type of pain. Texas has lost Scott Servais and others from off the field this winter, no surprise. Chances are that if Thad Levine had taken the GM interview offered by the Astros, he’d be gone, too. This isn’t like Mark Teixeira moving on because he didn’t want to be here anymore, or Kevin Brown or Kenny Rogers leaving for a better chance to win. Wilson, like Servais, was in demand because he’s not only very good at what he does but because he was an integral part of a team that’s been to the last two World Series and is poised to be in the mix for a while, and in both cases it was the rival Angels who poached the club they’re chasing, giving one a chance to advance his career, the other a chance to basically come home.
Am I worked up about that? You bet I am.
But I’m not all that torqued at Wilson himself.
C.J. Wilson’s situation is a lot like Cliff Lee’s. And nothing like it at all.
Both decided to go home, in one form or another. They’d earned the right, for the first time in their careers, to choose where they’d play next and, standing out as the best among starting pitchers on the open market, had lots of options. Neither ran away from the Rangers so much as they decided, given what was available, that going home made more sense. Got no beef with that.
But real differences between the two made Thursday morning unlike the Monday night nearly a year ago when Lee chose the Phillies.
Wilson grew up in this organization and became a big leaguer here and a pitcher worthy of a $77.5 million investment. He was a junior college pitcher with a 2-10, 6.87 record who was scouted well and a minor league Tommy John survivor who was developed tremendously by Texas, an erratic reliever who was transformed into a workhorse starter worthy of an All-Star selection and assignments on Opening Day and ALDS Game One and ALCS Game One and World Series Game One.
Far different from Lee, who was pitching for his fifth organization after his fourth trade when he made all of 15 regular starts and five playoff starts for Texas. Lee, by no choice of his own, has worked for teams in Canada and the Midwest and in the Northeast and in the Northwest and in the Southwest before opting to go back to the Northeast. Wilson has been a Texas Ranger every one of the 430 times he has taken the mound and looked back at the right field foul pole to ground himself in a professional baseball game.
But just like I will never root for Lee’s failure – except when he’s in the dugout opposite the Rangers – I will never boo Wilson, and don’t wish failure upon him (even if I hope for another notch in the “L” column every time his team plays). That’s crazy. Both lefties were huge parts of the best seasons this franchise has ever given us, and both left behind younger Texas pitchers who learned from them (including, obviously, Wilson from Lee), and in that way their legacies will live on, and not just nostalgically.
When the red-gloved Wilson faces Texas, I will put everything I have into hoping the Rangers rip him a new one, just as if he were Jered Weaver or Chris Carpenter or Matt Moore or Charlie Furbush. And even if I hope Wilson’s team loses every time he pitches – not because he’s pitching but because of who he’s pitching for – I’m good if he leaves with a 2-0 lead in the eighth every time out, having fanned 11 and walked two and scattered three (unlucky) base hits, only to see the Los Angeles bullpen cough it up.
Texas has won the pennant the last two years. Los Angeles won the Winter Meetings this week.
Did the Angels narrow the AL West gap? No question. Did they close it? Play the games.
The Texas offense is still better, in spite of Pujols and Chris Iannetta. The Los Angeles rotation is still better, especially with Wilson migrating west (an argument can certainly be made that the Angels’ fourth starter would be the Rangers’ first). Texas has the much younger core and the much stronger farm system inventory to work with.
Anything that reduces the Rangers’ chances of winning is unwelcome. But this rivalry is good for the game, and will add something to Rangers-Angels that has largely been only circumstantial until now, that is, existent only in years when both clubs were strong. This isn’t New York-Boston, but the Rangers have never had a real, tangible, combustible rivalry – never – until now.
(The late-90s run-ins with New York don’t count, because rivalries have to raise temperatures on both sides, not just one, right?)
This will be good for baseball, and as much as we’d like to have avoided it, it’s going to add something real to regular-season Rangers baseball, too.
You know, you have to beat the best teams in baseball to earn a championship. Sometimes that includes the teams you play the most.
So now what? Does Texas take some of that prospect supremacy and convert some of it to respond to Pujols-Wilson? Not unless that was the plan if Pujols had stayed in St. Louis and Wilson had gone to Miami. Karl Ravech of ESPN tweeted yesterday: “Next move is for Texas. GM Jon Daniels may be [the] best in [the] business.” But then added: “Be patient in Texas.”
And the last part is the point, though it runs counter to my feral impulse that has me still thinking about that trip to the cages. This is about two different things. Deciding not to sign Wilson at whatever the cost would have been to do so is one. Wilson choosing the Angels is another. Letting one influence the other can get you in trouble. Whatever the course is, stay the course. The folks at 1000 Ballpark Way know what they’re doing.
I didn’t think it would have been smart to give Lee seven years, or six. While I don’t cringe at the contract the Angels used to land Wilson, I trust that the Rangers – who know Wilson better than the Angels or anyone else – had reasons not to go to the same lengths (which of course assumes without evidence that a Texas match would have won the day, which may not be the case). Texas long ago earned my faith as far as player evaluation and setting and following a blueprint are concerned.
How the Rangers really feel about Yu Darvish will reveal itself soon enough (by Wednesday afternoon, to be specific). Whether they believe Mike Olt has more value as a trade chip or at a lesser position here (first base or corner outfield) or – maybe most to the point – as a piece to hold onto until the exact right starting pitcher is made available is something we may not know for a long time, even though I’m sure it’s discussed most days upstairs in the Center Field offices. The prospect of Prince Fielder in Texas is going to get a massive amount of talk show and blogosphere play while Scott Boras lets the process drag out.
This winter is far, far from over.
Part of me is firmly reassured by that place on the calendar, while the other part of me is the one that would very much like to be at the Ballpark with 50,000 of you and 25 of them before I have to think about my next meal.
C.J. Wilson was a huge reason that this team has the been the final American League team standing the last two years, and while I’m saddened to see his run here come to an end, the importance of what he did here ever since signing for slot out of the fifth round more than a decade ago, a pitcher taken 141st in the country and paid accordingly ($200,000) to make a run at extending a childhood dream past Draft Day, doesn’t go away for me.
No Rangers pitcher in the last 10 years worked harder at overcoming injury and conditioning himself and doing everything possible to get the most out of his physical tools on a pitching mound. Wilson may have given radio montage-mashers lots of material during his time here (and man, did he do that), but at the same time he helped a whole lot of local kids not as fortunate with their health as most, and he set a tremendous example for lots of young Rangers pitchers hoping to reach new levels as consistently as he did, setting that example on the days he pitched and, maybe more importantly, on the four days in between.
I’d be OK if you didn’t read the next dozen lines, recklessly shoehorned (for reasons that are only thinly apparent even to me) from the very final scene of “Lost” into a baseball story written by a baseball fan restless for the next baseball game:
J: You . . . are you real?
C: I should hope so. Yeah, I’m real. You’re real, everything that’s ever happened to you is real. All those people . . . they’re real, too.
J: They’re all . . . they’re all dead?
C: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some . . . long after you.
* * *
J: Where are we?
C: This is the place that you . . . that you all made together, so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life, was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
J: For what?
C: To remember . . . and to . . . let go.
J: She said we were leaving.
C: Not leaving, no. Moving on.
J: Where are we going?
C: [smiling] Let’s go find out.
I’m not really sure what made me think that exchange belonged here, but something about it sort of resonates for me, and aside from the text itself there’s the (yeah, forced) symmetry between the final act of those characters in a series that had for six seasons (over 2004-2010) one of the great runs of television in my time and the conclusion of the run of one of the more unique characters in Rangers history, and certainly one of the franchise’s premier pitchers, a run that also lasted those requisite six seasons (over 2005-2011) that enable a big league ballplayer to leave, to move on, to go find out.
There’s a whole lot left to find out as far as baseball goes around here: What comes next this winter, what the Rangers are going to be without Wilson, and what the Angels are going to be with him, and with Albert Pujols.
It’s not supposed to be easy. And the more challenging it gets, the sweeter it is to prevail.
The next time C.J. Wilson trots out to the mound in Rangers Ballpark, it will be the bottom of the first rather than the top, and if I’m there I will stand up and applaud, thanking him for what he did here, before I sit down and lock in on the first of what will be dozens of Wilson-Kinsler showdowns over the next however-many years. Once the umpire crouches, my single-minded focus will be on Wilson getting roughed up, because I’m a Rangers fan. But I don’t wish bad things for him.
Just for the Angels. Because I’m a Rangers fan.
I’m still going to have to work through the irritation that there’s not a first pitch to settle in for tonight, or next month, or the next, but I know that my gut reaction to Thursday’s news, which persists after a day of reflection, will still be in place on Opening Day, and on May 11, and for the rest of the year and as far into the future of Rangers-Angels as I can imagine: