Be sure to check out our short list of favorite eats at Rangers Ballpark, and our unabridged version of how to navigate the maze of concession stands in our "Hunger Games: Rangers Ballpark Edition" from this summer. Plus: Our starting lineup of DFW's all-star sports bars where you can catch the Rangers play.
For fans who have followed the Texas Rangers through rougher waters, the last three seasons have been a roller-coaster ride of glorious peaks and the bittersweet abyss. Two thrilling trips to the World Series in as many years, and two agonizing defeats, especially last year's one-strike-away loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Still, nobody can wipe these words away: two-time defending American League champions.
Only time and destiny will tell if the Rangers can make it three-time defending AL champs, go for their third consecutive World Series, and finally seal the deal. (As of this writing, they were certainly making their fans sweat it out more this year.)
We could handicap and analyze, and wax on about how a Rangers World Series win would be the missing jewel in our DFW sports crown (the Cowboys, Mavs and Stars all have their world championships).
But instead, we took to the Ballpark last Friday night to talk to the people whose hopes and desires (and face paint) fuel the home team: the fans.
They filled the seats all summer long for a record season attendance of 3,460,280, which ranks third in the league, after the Phillies and Yankees. We wanted to get to know a little about their ride with the Rangers -- from the newbies to the long-suffering faithful -- and to pay tribute to their perseverance.
True blue fan: Steven Stroik
It was a mystery. Last Friday's game against the Angels was strangely shy of the blue-and-red face-painted, hair-dyed, in-your-face fan variety. Here we were at the Ballpark, closing in on the playoffs, criminally short on zany. We were beginning to think the universe had shifted on its axis. And then we saw him racing toward his seat, a royal blue blur, zipping along underneath a colossal foam cowboy hat -- his face obscured in head-to-toe spandex. We huffed and puffed to catch up with him, so we could take in the rest of his evening garb: over his "Morphsuit," he wore a red, white and blue Rangers jersey, and, on his right hand, the item that completed our dream fan: a giant foam finger. Underneath the zippered face mask was the adorable 13-year-old Steven Stroik of Colleyville, who talked as fast as he ran.
Tell me about your get-up here.
The last time I was at a game with my dad, there was a guy who sat next to us, and he was wearing this hat with antlers glued to it, and the Rangers committee went to him and asked him to be the Fan of the Game. So my dad asked me: "Why aren't YOU the fan of the game?" So I was like, OK, next time, I'll wear my Morphsuit and giant Rangers hat. And that's how I ended up here.
So was the goal to get on TV?
No, actually, the goal was just to show up my dad. He didn't think I would do it.
That suit looks like you wouldn't be able to see a darn thing out of it.
No, there's a lighter fabric here, so you can't see in, but you can see out fine. It's kind of like sunglasses.
If you had to pick one of the current Texas Rangers to pal around with, who would it be?
Oh ... I can't really pick, 'cause they're all so awesome.
But if you had to take, say, one to school, and he'd be your buddy for the day ...
Hamilton! He's the guy who got four home runs in one game.
Diamond trio: Tammy Jividen, Samantha Williams and Angel Maxwell
Behind home plate, sitting nearly on top of the Rangers' dugout, was a trio of die-hards from Denver City, 90 miles southwest of Lubbock. Tammy Jividen, Samantha Williams and Angel Maxwell were all sitting pretty in their Rangers finery (are those customized, blinged-out Vans sneakers we spy?). And as we approached, the air tingled with fresh hope, and heartaches past.
So you're big Rangers fans, but do you get up here that often from Denver City?
Tammy: I just celebrated my 40th birthday here on the 16th, so we try to come as often as we can. Not as much as we'd like to.
Finish this sentence: Game 6 of last year's World Series made me feel ...
Angel: Frustrated. It's still heartbreaking. I think it's gonna take years to get that out of my head. If ever.
Tammy: No comment. [Everyone laughs]
What happened there?
Samantha: They beat themselves. Because they had it in the bag.
How long have you been a Rangers fan?
Samantha: I actually came to the Rangers when Nolan did. I was an Astros fan when Nolan pitched for them.
Who's your favorite Ranger of all time?
Samantha: It would have to be Nolan.
Angel: I would have to say Nolan Ryan.
Tammy: I went from Cliff Lee to C.J. Wilson, so now I switched to [catcher Mike] Napoli, because all my pitchers left me. [Laughs]
Favorite piece of Rangers paraphernalia that you own?
Angel: A baseball that's signed by Nolan Ryan.
Samantha: My rattle bat; it was a freebie from Dreyer's ice cream years ago, right after the stadium opened.
Tammy: Anything I wear -- and I have so much.
So do you put a lot of thought into what you're going to wear to the Ballpark?
Tammy: Oh yeah, gotta have my wardrobe planned out.
Angel: [pointing to her show-stopping red necklace] I bought this just a couple of days ago, just for this.
Samantha: This is faded [she said of the T-shirt under her Rangers jersey], because when they win, I wear it again.
Tell me about those shoes.
Samantha: A lady in Lovington (N.M.) has a business, Meet Virginia Arts, and she'll do any sports team you want. So you just take your shoes, whether they're Vans or Toms or Skechers, and I just told her I wanted them to bling.
Do you have any Rangers superstitions?
Tammy: Yes! Don't ever buy a shirt with a pitcher's name on the back, 'cause they leave ya!
So after two heartbreaks in a row, is it World Series 2012 or bust for you?
Angel: Oh no. I'm a glass half-full kind of girl, so I'm gonna say yes, they're goin'.
Tammy: They're my team, and I'm gonna believe in them no matter what. Win or lose, we're still here.
Boomstick warriors: Aaron and Valisa Tungate
It's harder to elbow your way through all the other fans when you're behind the aromatic wheel of a 2-foot-long Boomstick. But this was the mission for husband and wife Aaron and Valisa Tungate of Fort Worth. Aaron is a physician assistant, Valisa stays home part-time with their three kids and works part-time as a pediatric physical therapist. With its 24-inch trail of jalapeños, their gorgeously gluttonous hot dog was distracting, and they were itching to attack it. But the Tungates graciously paused to chat with us about their fandom, and their killer meal. It wasn't until later that we noticed something awry with Aaron: he wore a Rangers jersey, fine. But on his head? A ( boo-hiss) St. Louis Cardinals ball cap.
Have you had the Boomstick before?
Aaron: No, this is our first experience with the Boomstick. We ditched the kids at home tonight so we could have a date night, and said we were gonna commit to the Boomstick. So, we're gonna try to take it down.
Have you always been big fans?
Valisa: I always have; Aaron is converting.
Aaron: I was born in Illinois, and have been a Cardinals fan from the womb. But, living in the Metroplex these past 10 years has converted me into an avid Rangers fan.
Last year, Game 6 of the World Series made me feel ...
Valisa: Heartwrenching, just because it was so close. With us, it was a house divided. Because I was Rangers all the way, and he was not.
Aaron: I was ecstatic. I was dancing on the living-room floor.
Valisa: Probably the household favorite for us is Josh Hamilton. Our son's left-handed, and so he loves watching the lefty get up there. And being Christians, we love his back-story, too.
Aaron: Favorite Ranger of all-time, easily Nolan Ryan.
Will they clinch the deal this year and win the whole thing?
Valisa: I'm gonna say third time's a charm.
Aaron: I'm gonna go with that. We've got enough pitching to make it happen.
Post script: I checked back with the Tungates on the outcome of their Boomstick adventure. Here's what Brett e-mailed me:
"We rocked the Boomstick challenge -- ate the whole thing. We were both proud and a little embarrassed with our effort."
Crackerjack couple: Jerrin Moore and Yolandi Buitendag
They were a striking couple, him in his cool gray, red-sleeved team batting jersey, she in her chic, almost umpire-style Rangers ball cap. Jerrin Moore is a firefighter who lives in Grapevine, and Yolandi Buitendag manages a call center; she's originally from South Africa but lives in Rowlett. We snagged this boyfriend-girlfriend in the concession line as they were ordering their dogs.
How long have you been a Rangers fan?
Jerrin: I'm a lifelong Rangers fan. I watched them all the way back to Pudge [Rodriguez, Rangers catcher with the team from 1991-2002].
Yolandi: Thirteen years. I got a track and field scholarship at SMU. My friend and I used to skip school and came to watch the Rangers when they sucked; we would buy $3 tickets, eat hot dogs, sit out in the bleachers ... and now they're awesome. Now everyone watches them.
What about you, Jerrin? Ever skip school or work to see the Rangers play?
Jerrin: No, because if you're gonna do something, do it. I don't want to go and sit up high. I want to sit down low. Otherwise I'd rather just watch it on TV. Because if I'm so far away and they look like ants, then I don't want to go.
So where are the best seats for you? Where are you sitting tonight?
Jerrin: Tonight we're by third base.
Yolandi: He brought his hunting binoculars!
Jerrin: Probably behind one of the dugouts is the best seating.
Game 6 of last year's World Series made me feel ...
Jerrin: Disappointed. Let down. Led astray ... [Grinning]
Yolandi: Like ordering a shot of liquor. I was at Buffalo Wild Wings, and I was like: "Shot, please!" It was very depressing.
Which Ranger would you most like to take out for a beer?
Yolandi: Not Hamilton. [Giggles] A-Rod. A-Rod used to work out in the weight room at SMU every once in a while, so I would take him.
Do you have any Rangers gear you're particularly proud of, that you'd be upset if anything happened to it?
Jerrin: I have a good amount of Rangers stuff, but I think I like this the most. [Gestures to the cool shirt he has on.] This is one of their authentic batting shirts, so I'd be pretty upset if something happened to it.
Yolandi: I would be upset if something happened to that, too, because he talks about it all the time.
Do you come to the Ballpark often?
Jerrin: This was the first time I was able to come this year.
Yolandi: Me, too. My parents are visiting from South Africa, and we brought them here, and they just love it. We ordered our playoff tickets.
All-time favorite Rangers player?
Jerrin: I kind of like little Pudge. When I was little, I first started watching the Rangers when he came.
Who do you want to see the Rangers play in the playoffs or the Series?
Jerrin: Playoffs, I know they want to keep the Angels out, but ... and I want them to win it, but I want to see a good series. So I'd rather see the Angels than Oakland, because the Angels are better.
Double players: Rachel Kelley and Brett Eifler
As they walked down the steps to their seats in left field, you could maybe guess who was the Rangers lifer, and who was the Johnny-come-lately. Rachel Kelly's fan gear wasn't flashy or obvious; a weathered red cap, and a navy-and-white striped shirt; subtle accessorizing with a red necklace. Her friend, Brett Eifler, looking natty in a wheat-colored newsboy cap, also sported a royal blue Rangers shirt. It looked new. Maybe too new. Hmm ... Eifler moved here in 2006 from Green Bay, Wis. He's sales and operations manager for a logistics company called OHL; Rachel, a native Texan, sells international transportation for Livingston.
So how long have you been a Rangers fan?
Brett: It was gradual, but over the last couple of years it's become stronger. It's a lot easier to have fun with a team that's doing well. Fun team to follow, good time, great stadium, good people.
Finish this sentence: "Game 6 of last year's World Series made me feel ..."
Brett: Miserable. Absolutely miserable. It was in the grasp, and it slipped away that quick. Hopefully, this year's different.
Rachel: Just in shock and awe. They had it, so it was jaw-dropping. You sat in front of the TV, and you were like "Oh, my gosh."
Which Ranger would you like to either take home to meet the parents, or out for a drink after the game?
Rachel: [Laughing] I want to take Hamilton home. That would be wonderful.
Brett: I'd like to take Nelly Cruz out for a beer and ask him what the hell happened on that last play last year.
Favorite Ranger of all time?
Rachel: Nolan Ryan. That's easy. I grew up as a little girl going to these games with my grandmother. It used to be such a treat; I was like 3, coming to a game, and she loved Nolan Ryan.
Brett: Well, I'm a Johnny-come-lately, so I'm gonna go current-style. I love Adrian Beltre; I really didn't think that highly of him before, but this year's he's been a phenomenal player. The guy's amazing.
If they don't go all the way and take the World Series this year, is there any way they can keep a rock-star team together for next season?
Brett: No matter if you win or lose, you're always subject to losing players. If they don't want to pay Hamilton when he thinks he deserves, he may go elsewhere, but I think a lot of guys buy in to the Rangers, and it's a great community to play ball in. And I think they'll be able to keep the foundation. Hamilton's probably not gonna be part of that, but oh well ... see if we can get some home runs out of him this year.
How often do you guys come to games at the Ballpark?
Brett: Probably three or four times a year.
Rachel: Maybe me a little bit more because my dad has season tickets, so I get to come with him.
What are the best seats in the house?
Brett: I've sat two rows behind the dugout, and that was probably the best seat in sports that I've had. It was pretty phenomenal.
Most hated rival?
Rachel: Astros. It's gotta be. Just having family in Houston that are Astros fans, just having that rivalry going back and forth.
If the Rangers make it to the Series again, who do you want them to play?
Rachel: I think it's going to be the Nationals.
Brett: I would love to face the Cardinals again if they could make it, just so we could beat them. Other than that, I'd like to see them against the Brewers, because I'm from Green Bay, but I don't think they're gonna make it.
Would that test your loyalties?
Brett: [tugging on that new Rangers T-shirt] This one might still be in the closet.
Mad hatter: Tiffany Egly
The calendar says fall, but last Friday night at the Ballpark Arlington, it was still summer in North Texas. Which is why one fan's cap stood out like no other. We spied it -- and her -- from below. We stared up at the young woman behind the rail, in her seat close to the right field foul line. She was 20-year-old Tiffany Egly of Abilene. And her hat was unseasonably warm but delightful -- a navy stocking cap with braids, red and white piping, and white "T" emblem.
Tell me about the hat.
I actually got it today.
Isn't it a little toasty for Texas?
Yeah, but my husband and I are moving up north [to Indiana], so we've got to take it with us.
Is it going to break your heart to be away from your Rangers?
Well, when we come down in the summer, we can always catch a game.
How often do you make it up here for games?
Every two months.
What's your favorite memory from a ballgame?
Um, it'd probably be when we were in the All You Can Eat section. [Giggles] I ate so much that day. Best thing is the chicken sandwiches; I think I ate like three or four of them that day
Finish this sentence: "Last year, the end of World Series Game 6 made me feel ..."
Horrible! I was in shock that it actually happened. We lost! What the hell?!? My husband and I were screaming.
Do you think they'll clinch the World Series this time?
Of course. I have faith in 'em.
But you had faith the last two times, right?
I'll never give up on them.