Think, Rangers fans, of how you feel when a runner takes off for second, the catcher pops up to throw, and just misses throwing the thief out. Be it because he didn't get up quickly enough, or the throw didn't have enough mustard, or the target was just missed. You get pretty angry, right? Those of you over the age of 25 or so probably go ballistic. You've been going ballistic on most throws to second for the last decade.
Did you know most fans have had to see imperfect throws from catcher all the time for their entire lives as sports fans?!
Pudge ruined us. There is no simpler way of recognizing how great Ivan Rodriguez was than to look at how much he skewed the expectations of a catcher for Rangers fans. Guys don't pop out of their stance as though they were never in it at all, or fire pinpoint fastballs across the diamond, and the offense you get from them is more like Yorvit Torrealba than you probably are willing to tolerate.
It's mighty hard to find a Texas fan who followed the team through the 90s who does not have the same answer when you ask him (or her!), "who is your favorite player of all time?"
We as Rangers fans just have not gotten to have players like him. One of the greatest ever to play his position, a future inner-circle Hall of Famer, and an eye-popping talent who came up with the team and spent more than a decade on an elite level.
We have a Hall of Famer in Nolan Ryan who came over at the very end of his career after his ticket was punched. We've had some good players, like Jim Sundberg, or some guys with big seasons and lacking careers, like Juan Gonzalez. Even this current glory era has very few players looking like they even have a shot at residing in that company.
But from the moment he stepped on to the field as a 19 year old, to when he left to become a World Champion in Miami following one of the greatest peaks a catcher has ever had, he gave the Texas Rangers an icon. An MVP candidate. A legend. A player who fans and sabermetricians alike could ogle.
His departure was painful. Watching him block the plate to win a playoff series, and seeing him finally get his ring with someone else -- immediately -- was at once depressing, and at the same time heartening. He was winning, and it wasn't with us, but he was still one of our own.
He played for quite a bit beyond that, but he was never what he was in Texas. He got his ring, he bounced around baseball for a while as merely a solid player, until finally his career officially comes to an end today. It ends in front of the fans who have never stopped adoring him. The bittersweet moment fortuitously comes while the Rangers are continuing to grow in the midst of their golden age. We can whimsically recall the greatness of his career without having bitterness over time lost.
Thanks for the memories, Pudge. Thanks for setting the bar for Greatest Texas Ranger Ever impossibly high. Thanks for warping our expectations for the hardest position on the diamond.
See you in Cooperstown.