After years of struggling, the Texas Rangers are no longer strangers to success.
Baseball's Texas Rangers are no longer strangers to success
In certain phases of the last 40 years it has been possible to ignore the Texas Rangers and, at brief stages, to forget they still existed.
Not only did they pull off long periods of fecklessness, but they breathed beneath the American football Dallas Cowboys in an American football state in an American football nation.
Well, look now
It is the dawn of another season, and the most intriguing team in Major League Baseball would be the Texas Rangers. They had never won a play-off series, yet they have clambered through four series of thick play-offs to reach the last two World Series. Ratcheting up the curiosity, they have not won either World Series despite being one out - and one strike - from a first-ever title five months ago in St Louis.
They play 2012 with the residue of the anguish of that flirtation.
They play also with that batting line-up still likely to bang the ball around entertainingly. Their .283 batting average led the American League; their .340 on-base percentage tied for third, their 210 home runs ranked second and their 855 runs placed third. Josh Hamilton, the centre fielder, the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player, figures to maintain excellence despite the final year of his contract distraction.
So when they did their winter spending they went for pitching, and they went fascinating.
Among a few other things, they reached across the Pacific to outbid everyone else for the chance just to negotiate with the Japan's Yu Darvish, US$51.7 million (Dh189m). Then they signed Darvish for six years.
When he opens against Seattle next Monday in Texas, it will lure eyeballs from near and far. For more than two decades Japanese stars have splashed loudly into the US, but this one has the enticement of his 6ft 5ins frame, his 1.44 earned-run average of 2011, his vividness, his long legacy at only 25 years old.
The son of an Iranian father and a Japanese mother, Darvish has a bio that already reads as if he is 35. He has been a phenom since just about forever.
Adjusting to America, his list of Texas tutors has included the assistant to the general manager, Greg Maddux, the retired pitcher whose bust will grace the Hall of Fame, and Nolan Ryan, the team's principal owner, president and CEO, whose bust already has a home in Cooperstown.
Getting to the World Series a third straight time would require another navigation of the play-off maze that last year tripped up the best team in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies. The chances would seem against it, but the Rangers would seem capable of doing it.
Thus, the allure.
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