How Sweet It Is

by Stephen Hunt

A classic Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tune from 1981 states, “The waiting is the hardest part.” It’s a mantra Texas Rangers fans once knew well as they waited 51 years since the team arrived in Arlington in 1972 as the former Washington Senators or over 7,600 regular season and playoff games to finally see their beloved team reach the top of the baseball mountain and win their first World Series.
​The Rangers’ 2023 run to championship glory was as compelling as it was unexpected, making them the first Dallas-area team to host a victory parade, a spirited event attended by thousands on Friday, November 3, one where people started lining up for a great spot to catch a glimpse of their conquering heroes the night before, since the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) paraded their Lawrence O’Brien trophy through downtown Dallas in 2011.
 Seeing the Rangers and their die-hard fans, many of whom have not only sat through their share of bad baseball over the years, many games played in the searing summer Texas heat at the team’s first two outdoor homes of Arlington Stadium and Globe Life Park before they moved indoors to the climate-controlled Globe Life Field in 2020, finally taste what it’s like to win a Fall Classic was truly heartwarming, to say the least. No longer are the Rangers among the Major League Baseball franchises yet to win a World Series. Now, that group only includes the Colorado Rockies, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, the only franchise yet to reach a Fall Classic, and Tampa Bay Rays.
​So, maybe I’m biased because, since 2017, I have worked on the Rangers home television broadcast as a statistician. Basically, I get paid to watch baseball around 80 nights a year, a gig where I feed pertinent information like pinch hitters, defensive changes, new pitchers, and pitchers warming up in the bullpen to both the broadcasters and to the TV truck while occasionally offering my own tidbits to the broadcast which are relevant.
 It’s a job which I one, never knew existed when I became a baseball fan at age nine, adopting the Kansas City (KC) Royals as my team for two reasons. One, my mom is a KC native, and my family would travel there often, and two, the Royals were one of three teams, along with the Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals, closest to my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, Tulsa was home to the Rangers’ Double-A minor league affiliate in the Texas League, the Drillers, for many years, and I got to see future Ranger stars like Juan Gonzalez, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa pass through on their way to the show.  
​My first taste of sports heartbreak came in 1980 as I watched the Royals lose in the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies. The following year, my dad, as big of a baseball fan as I was, and I attended our first big-league game as the New York Yankees played in Kansas City at Royals Stadium. That landmark day in my young life was preceded by an interesting scene at the Yankees hotel.
 The Yankees were staying at Crown Center, a high-profile spot in downtown KC. I remember seeing several fans in the lobby and players scurrying back and forth. The first autograph I ever got was from backup catcher Barry Foote on a scrap of paper. I don’t know what ever happened to that slip of paper, but more than anything, I remember Foote being so nice to a wide-eyed kid that morning. I also remember my mom attempting to get an autograph from former Yankee great Yogi Berra, then a coach who is known as much for his famous quotes as his playing career.
However, Berra denied her attempt as he was leaving the hotel coffee shop.
​As for the game itself, I don’t remember a ton about it, only that it was me and dear old dad in the stands at a place I had seen on TV and always dreamed of visiting. We would attend countless games there in the future, as well as Drillers games, various college games, and even some Astros games at the Astrodome while he was working in Houston. Attending baseball games and other sporting events with my dad, who passed away in 1994 when I was 22, was one of my happy places.
 The apex of us watching games came in 1985 when the Royals made their own improbable run to a World Series title over their in-state rivals, the Cardinals. The championship was extra sweet because most of my high school friends were St. Louis fans, so sticking it to them was great. My dad also offered some simple advice…enjoy the title because you don’t know when or if it will ever happen again.

​How right he was, especially since he passed less than a decade later, not even a year after he saw me graduate from our alma mater, Oklahoma State. It still gives me peace to know that before his passing, we saw the Royals win the Series, and he saw me crossing the stage at OSU.
 The Royals ended up making the World Series again in 2014 but lost to the Giants, the same team that defeated the Rangers in their first trip to the Fall Classic in 2010. San Francisco was then managed by Bruce Bochy, who would end up leading the Rangers to their first championship in 2023. However, KC returned to the Series the following year against the New York Mets, raising the Commissioner’s Trophy a second time, exactly 30 years after their first title.
​Since 1997, I have called the Dallas area home, and since I now only get to see the Royals play when they visit Arlington to play the Rangers, I’ve adopted the Rangers as my secondary team. The first Ranger game that I worked on the television side was Opening Day 1998 against the Chicago White Sox when I was the stats guy for the Sox broadcast.
 I honestly didn’t know what to expect but knew I was working alongside former White Sox player Tom Paciorek and another fellow big-leaguer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. Besides keeping the announcers and the truck abreast of any changes during the game, another of my duties was to update each hitter’s batting average manually and relay that to the truck after each at-bat. This was before the days of batting averages and other statistics being automated, so I carried a calculator.
​After that maiden voyage, I worked more big-league games occasionally but didn’t start working them consistently until 2006 when I worked primarily for teams visiting Arlington but also filled in for the home show. I have also done stats for college football, high school football, National Football League (NFL), Dallas Mavericks NBA games, Dallas Wings WNBA basketball, and Dallas Stars hockey.
 I have also worked as a freelance writer since 2000, a gig which has led me into countless clubhouses and locker rooms to interview high school, college, and professional athletes in every sport. Honestly, it’s a journey I never anticipated. I knew in college I wanted to one day work in sports, but not in what capacity. Working so many games with a group of fellow professionals as a writer or statistician has been such a huge blessing.
Not only did I work most of the Rangers’ 2023 regular season, but also their lone American League Division Series home game against Baltimore and all three home games of the American League Championship Series against Houston for Fox. As for the World Series, I missed the first game because I was doing stats for the Brooklyn Nets at the Mavericks’ season opener at American Airlines Center, but worked Game 2 behind the scenes for MLB Network.
 And when the Rangers shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-0 in Game 5 at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix on November 1, 2023 to seal their first championship, all I could think of were all the Ranger fans I knew, the players, and people who work for the team I have gotten to know and how elated I was for them.
​On the day of the parade, the Rangers had their final media availability with players, I talked to a colleague who works at The Ticket who is a lifelong Ranger fan. He relayed how happy he was that his dad was alive to see it. That shared experience of seeing your team win a championship, regardless of whether it’s friends, family, or both it’s being shared with, is what makes sports truly great and was the best part of seeing the Rangers finally earn the ultimate prize.
​All those smiles, cheers, and people wearing Rangers World Series champion hats or shirts at and around the victory parade and across DFW, for that matter, reminds us of a simple yet poignant lesson – savor the high points in life for as long as you can. 

Stephen Hunt is a lifelong baseball fan who is incredibly blessed to work very close to the great game.

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