SURPRISE, Ariz. (CBSDFW.COM) – I’ve made it here.
When my boss told me a week ago I would be coming out to Arizona to cover spring training, I was in disbelief.
I freely admit that I am a baseball fan. I’m a lifer Rangers fan for that matter, but for this assignment I’m taking my fanboy hat off and squaring up my journalist’s fedora, complete with press card.
But my inner geek is still just thrilled to be here.
After arriving at work Tuesday afternoon and talking shop with Rangers expert Gina Miller, I headed off to the airport to catch my flight. I brought my laptop, video and still cameras, a change of clothing and enough gum to last me for 24 hours.
When I got to the airport, I decided to call a friend who knows a thing or two about Japanese baseball. While living there he became a fan of the Orix Blue Wave, a team that isn’t even around anymore. They did have one player you may have heard about, a young standout named Ichiro Suzuki.
Unfortunately, I was unable to reach my friend, but then I remembered he and his wife just had a baby 5 days ago, so he probably wasn’t up for talking.
What I do remember him saying before though was how much Japanese fans follow their teams. If the Rangers current winning ways say anything about them, it’s that they’re building that kind of fandom.
The plane was buzzing with Spring Training talk. While walking to my seat (Exit Row!) I heard a man and woman chatting about where they were headed, and what games she hoped to catch. Yu’s debut is on her list.
The guy next to me even talked up the Rangers, even though he was from North Carolina and only flying out to Arizona on business. We talked about some minor leaguers he knew and a guy from a town near his by the name of Josh Hamilton.
As the flight sailed on, the conversations stopped and we went about our business. He watched ‘Moneyball’ on his computer while I flipped through the SkyMall catalogue. As we got closer to Phoenix, I noticed something spectacular.
If you have ever flown into Phoenix, you know that it’s a giant grid in the desert. The beauty of dusk out here is in both the darkness past the edges of town and the amber glow of street lights showing you the city.
But this time, I noticed something more. Dotted all along the view were baseball diamonds. There are 10 ballparks the size of Quick Trip Park surrounding the city of Phoenix. They host 15 MLB teams each spring. In addition to the parks, each complex will have a number of fields used to play intersquad games and other practices. Seeing each of them lighted up with their green grass and brown dirt would be impressive to any baseball fan.
After deplaning and getting my rental car (it’s Rangers red I might add) I was off to Surprise. 30 miles later I drove past the city limits sign into the Rangers’ winter home.
My first impression is it’s very similar to Collin County. No, it doesn’t actually look like McKinney or Allen, but it does have long highways and roads branching off in every which was toward subdivisions. It also was surprisingly industrial. Frisco comes to mind the most. Across from the hotel I’m staying at is a giant field. Next to that are some houses. Instead of oak trees and suburban 2-story houses, Surprise is home to palm trees and stucco homes.
Once I arrived I tried to find somewhere near the hotel to eat. The Irish bar about a 1/2 mile away did the trick. Inside were fans, honest to goodness Texas Rangers fans hundreds of miles away from DFW, in town to cheer on the team.
The fanbase is growing, and thanks to Darvish, it’s about to get international.
Wednesday’s game promises to be interesting. It’s being carried live in Japan. It’s being covered by all kinds of media types (myself included) and it’s got all the trappings of a playoff game, and we’re still one month away from Opening Day.
The excitement for this team is in the air. Not bad, considering where we left off last year.