By David Mullens
The difference between the 2023 American League Champion Texas Rangers and any of the previous 51 teams that have played baseball in Arlington since 1972 comes down to one three-letter word.
“This is just so much fun,” said Rangers’ outfielder Evan Carter, who turned 21 on August 29, after an 11-4 Game 7 win over the Houston Astros propelled Texas into the World Series. “It’s an incredible group of guys. I’m super thankful to be a part of it. And you know, we’re going to keep it going. This is a lot of fun.”
The 2023 Rangers are the most fun baseball team to ever represent the area. And their fun has translated into playoff wins and their first World Series berth since 2011.
Carter, a second-round MLB Draft choice in 2020, played in his first Major League game on September 8. He had played exactly one week of AAA baseball before being called up to the show. He had totaled 23 big-league games before playing admirably in the Wild Card playoffs against the Tampa Bay Rays, the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles and the ALCS against the 2022 World Champion Astros. Carter had every reason to feel uneasy.
“No nerves,” Carter said after Texas clinched the pennant. “Just too much fun. Baseball is baseball. You just want to get ready to play. But, man, once you get going, it’s just all about having fun.” Out of the mouth of babes.
When the Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010 and 2011, those teams were good, but not particularly fun. They were led by Jon Daniels, the plain yogurt of GMs. He was decidedly more comfortable with a comparative spreadsheet than karaoke song sheet. For ages, baseball has been a Saturday night kegger at Chico State rather than a daylong discussion at Cornell, Daniels’ alma mater.
The 2010 squad had solid, likeable players like Michael Young and Ian Kinsler. Vladimir Guerrero swung at every pitch and was successful a remarkable three out of every 10 times. Josh Hamilton was an amazing talent, but a troubled superstar. San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy exposed the Rangers weaknesses and beat Texas in the World Series 4 games to 1.
In 2011, the Rangers looked unbeatable. Manager Ron Washington was likable, mainly because he verbalized the twists and turns of the game by famously saying, “that’s how baseball go.” Adrian Beltre brought game intensity and the leadership to keep erratic Elvis Andrus in check. Mike Napoli looked like a Texan even though he grew up on the Florida coast. David Murphy became a fan favorite because he couldn’t keep his jersey clean.
But closer Neftali Feliz didn’t want the responsibility of finishing big games. Looking into Nelson Cruz’ eyes when the Rangers’ first World Championship was on the line in Game 6 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals was foretelling. Cruz wasn’t having fun. He was frightened.
Replacing Daniels, President, GM and Highland Park native Chris Young knew the team needed baseball players who respected the game and had a good time playing it. He knew firsthand that making millions of dollars playing baseball was a pretty good gig.
He signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to create the best middle infield in baseball. He knew Seager and Semien alone weren’t enough to win a championship, but they were a great start. And most importantly, they wanted to play for the Rangers.
Texas took a chance on journeyman Adonis Garcia, and he turned into a star. His field presence is as powerful as his swing. “He’s a bad man, isn’t he?” Seager said. “To be able to come into this atmosphere and in every at bat and do what he did was pretty special. It was really fun to watch.”
Young and the Rangers gave rookies Josh Jung and Carter a chance to play the game that they obsessed with their entire lives. Young stocked the rotation with veteran pitching and brought in Bochy to put everything together.
The 2023 Rangers are skilled. Because of their quiet confidence and an unteachable love for the game, they don’t let setbacks like injuries and losing streaks get to them. Texas showed great resolve when they bounced back from a disastrous final regular season weekend after sleepwalking in Seattle. Without a stop home, they traveled cross country to Tampa Bay to sweep the Rays, went up to Baltimore and swept the 100-win Orioles and won the final two games in Houston to clinch a championship.
“CY [Chris Young] and the owners had a vision, and they completely came through with it,” said Seager on the Minute Maid Park turf just after the final out of game 7 was recorded. “It’s a lot of credit to these guys and to what we have been able to do this year. This team is tough.”
In the 2023 World Series, Texas faces the surprising Arizona Diamondbacks, a team of overachievers who show many of the same traits that the Rangers possess. Arizona won the final two games of the NLCS in Philadelphia to beat the Phillies. Although profoundly anonymous, the D-Backs — like the Rangers — seem to enjoy what they are doing.
There are so many ways that makes baseball fun. The pace of the game is comfortable. The skill required to hit a baseball is staggering. And team comradery is infectious. The best teams are the tightknit teams. Baseball, especially playoff baseball, is the consummate team sport. All 26 players on a roster may be called on to play their absolute best at any given moment. Players like Seager, Semien, Garcia, Jung, Carter, catcher Jonah Heim, pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Jordan Montgomery and a slew of others play like they don’t want to let their teammates down.
The Rangers play like they are having fun. “It’s just been a really fun ride,” Carter said. It’s easy to have fun when you are good.