Giants And Rangers Fans Talk Up Their Teams

The World Series opens Wednesday night between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers. Fans expect an exciting series between the ace pitching of the Giants, and the powerful hitting of the Rangers. Ann Killion of Sports Illustrated and Fort-Worth Star Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy preview the pennant.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

The World Series begins tonight in San Francisco, where the unstoppable force of the Texas Rangers bats meets the immovable object of the San Francisco Giants pitching. The teams represent vastly differently areas and cities, but both see themselves as underdogs. The Rangers long played second fiddle to the NFL Cowboys in their home state - and one, just one, playoff game in their 39 years of existence, before last month. In San Francisco, the pitchers aside, describe its team as castoffs and misfits. They have never won the World Series since they move to San Francisco. Both areas now have highly developed cases of baseball fever.

Joining us are columnists Bud Kennedy and Ann Killion. Kennedy writes for the Fort-Worth Star Telegram and joins us from our member station KERA in Dallas. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. BUD KENNEDY (Columnist, Fort-Worth Star Telegram): Hello, Neal.

CONAN: And Ann Killion covers Bay Area sports for Sports Illustrated and joins us from the ballpark just a few hours before the first pitch. Nice to have you.

Ms. ANN KILLION (Columnist, Sports Illustrated): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And if you live in San Francisco or in the Dallas area or in Texas, is the suffering about the end? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our website as well. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Bud Kennedy, though, something interesting happened at Monday night's football game, where the - America's team, the Cowboys, were being drubbed by the New York football Giants.

Mr. KENNEDY: Everyone always says that Texas is a football country and has been for years. You know, the Rangers have just been an afterthought, something to do during the summertime until the Cowboys started training camp. It said there's only two seasons here, you know, Cowboys season and training camp. But you know, what happened was this Monday night was that during the game, when the Cowboys were losing badly to the Giants, suddenly in that domed stadium that the Cowboys are famous for, suddenly up rose the cheer, let's go Rangers. And it was the first time in the 40 years of history that anyone has ever been heard cheering for the Rangers at a Cowboys game.

CONAN: And I wonder, the owner of the Rangers - well, the team was in receivership just this summer, was it not?

Mr. KENNEDY: Oh gosh. The team was broke, went through bankruptcy court. You know, this has been the you know, this has been the kind of just careening story from one obstacle to another. You know, the manager was suspended for a couple of games before the season. The team went through bankruptcy. Now it's come out and all of a sudden, you know, people were thrilled here at the idea of winning their first home playoff game. They'd only won one game in history, it was on the road. When they actually won a playoff game at home, the celebration, there were fireworks and parades and I thought people were going to go next door to Six Flags and start overturning the amusement rides.

CONAN: And of course...

Mr. KENNEDY: And now they've they won more than one playoff game at home. The whole idea of the Rangers being in the World Series is just I know San Francisco has always had a lot of hallucinogens available. But in all the conditions, this is as close as we get.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Ann Killion, are those swarming the stadium at this point?

Ms. KILLION: Well, I'm sure there's plenty outside the stadium right now. You can pretty much buy anything outside the stadium, including T-shirts that say Let Tim Smoke. The pitching pitcher tonight, the Giants ace, is most famous for being - in the offseason pulled over with a small amount of marijuana in his car. So that's plays very well here San Francisco, actually.

CONAN: And Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young award winner, known fondly as The Freak.

Ms. KILLION: Yes. He's totally been embraced by this city because he's, you know, he's exactly what San Francisco loves best. He's offbeat. He's different. He's not predictable. He's idiosyncratic. He wears his hair long. He's, as I mentioned, been known to partake. So he's a big, big fan favorite. And he's the fact that he's this dominating pitcher is just kind of an added bonus. But he'll be taking the mound tonight.

Mr. KENNEDY: And Texans like him because they think he reminds them of the pitcher in the movie "Dazed and Confused," which was shot in Texas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KILLION: Absolutely.

CONAN: He is not the only stud, though, on the San Francisco Giants' pitching staff?

Ms. KILLION: No. The Giants pitching staff has really been they're trying to rebuild from the Barry Bonds years. They focused on their pitching staff. And they have a lot of young arms, homegrown arms, and they all came together this year. And they've just had this unbelievable post-season. It's theyre only winning games by one run. They've only scored more than three runs a few times, but they don't need to because they're shutting down the other team. And that's a different thing for this franchise.

This is a franchise built, you know, with people like Willie Mays and Barry Bonds and big sluggers in the past. And so to have these incredibly tense, pitching-driven ballgames is kind of a new thing. And that's one of the reasons the team's motto is team torture, which their broadcaster, Duane Kuiper, came up with. But it has been torturous. There's a lot of tension in these games because they're very close. But the pitching staff has been amazing.

CONAN: The Barry Bonds era known for a different sort of pharmaceutical than Tim Lincecum. Nevertheless, there must have been some joy to escape from the shadow of the Barry Bonds years. As great a ballplayer as he was, and he did lead the Giants to one World Series, they lost to the Anaheim Angels. But nevertheless, it's - it must be a relief to a lot of people.

Ms. KILLION: It is. Its a very different feeling than it was in 2002. And I think that's one of the reasons that this team has been so embraced by the Bay Area, is that it's help turn the page on that whole era that was very distasteful for a lot of longtime Giants fans. I mean, yes, Giants fans became known nationally as, like, almost enablers of the steroid problem, because they would applaud Bonds all the time.

And they were kind of defiant. It was kind of an us against you guys, us against the world. Because, really, the truth is any team that had Barry bonds, the fans would be applauding him in the same manner, it just happened to be here. But I do think that it was kind of a big relief.

This team is so different. And that 2002 team was made in Bonds image. And it was a humorless, not particularly friendly, very tense team. There was an expectation that when you have the best ballplayer in the game that you should get to the World Series. And they got there and, of course, lost in a pretty heartbreaking fashion in seven games.

But this team is such an unexpected surprise. And there is no big superstar. And there is this total camaraderie and esprit de corps feeling. It's just - it's as different as night and day.

CONAN: And Bud Kennedy, Texas exiled its superstar as well, Alex Rodriguez, and has risen from the ashes.

Mr. KENNEDY: And, of course, struck out as the last out of the Yankee series. You know, I believe everyone said that the Rangers paid Alex 252 million to put them in the World Series. And finally he did after all these years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KENNEDY: You know, but the Rangers, too, were in the same situation. They have pitching this year with Cliff Lee. You know, for years, it was said that the pitchers couldn't work in the ballpark in Arlington. That it was a totally hitters stadium and no pitcher could function here. Finally, they have a pitcher. Nolan Ryan is the owner. And they relied on the pitching in a couple of games of the series. The Rangers have the same kind of, you know, kind of struggle up.

And actually, you know, I have to remind fans here that although the Rangers had gone longer without making the World Series, the Giants have actually gone longer without winning one, and only because the Rangers have only existed for 50 years.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. Arlene(ph) calling from San Francisco.

ARLENE (Caller): Yes. I was in Dallas for three years and all of my friends kept saying, you know, itll be the Rangers' year next year. Itll be the Rangers' year next year. And I'm happy to see that it's going to - it was this - their year this year. But it's kind of like having mom and dad fighting because I am a San Francisco native, but part of my heart is in Dallas because I did live there as well.

CONAN: And I'm almost compelled to ask you, Arlene, how does that make you feel?

ARLENE: Well, I'm happy because my hometown team is going to the World Series, but at the same time, I kind of, you know, kind of go, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah to my friends in Dallas like, ha-ha. See, we're good too.

CONAN: Well, it sounds like you're going to have a good time when the series gets underway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARLENE: Yeah, I will.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Tricia(ph), Tricia with us from Palo Alto.

TRICIA (Caller): Hi, there. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

TRICIA: Just wanted to say that I'm a Philadelphia native, and now I'm living in Palo Alto. And even though it didn't quite go the way I'd hoped it might, it's nice to see folks excited about the Giants. And hopefully, they're - they'll win.

CONAN: But you might have rather seen Philadelphia red and blue?

TRICIA: Well, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRICIA: Yeah. Uh-huh.

CONAN: But now, you're going to stay with the National League now that your team has been eliminated.

TRICIA: Heck, yeah.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Tricia. And good luck to you

TRICIA: Sure.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

TRICIA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mark(ph), and Mark with us from Goshen, Indiana.

MARK (Caller): Yeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call today. I am born and raised a Detroit Tigers fan. And I just think it's great that we've got two mid-market teams. I'm looking forward to seeing not the Yankees in the World Series. And wondering if your host has anything to say about, you know, true baseball fans watching two mid-market teams.

CONAN: Well, your host would rather watch a major-market team, i.e. the Yankees, but they were eliminated by the Rangers, who proved themselves the better team this year.

Ann Killion, a lot of people are going to be asking questions about the ratings that these two teams are going to get. They're not expected to be as large as those last year with Philadelphia and New York.

Ms. KILLION: No, they're not. And that's been a big theme ever since both Texas and San Francisco advanced, surprising most of the experts. But you know what, who cares? You know, quite frankly, that's the television's problem. In terms of - I think a lot of people feel like the caller does that, you know, it's about time that we get some new blood, see some new faces.

And I got to tell you, I find the Yankees pretty boring these days. I was thrilled to see Texas eliminate them. I mean, yes, do the Yankees draw big ratings? But you know, they're kind of the same old faces that we've seen for a long time. And it's great to have - and it's always great when, you know, the huge market, the huge payroll goes down. I wouldn't say that these are both - well, the Rangers are - do have a lower - a low payroll. The Giants are kind of right in the middle there. They're not exactly paupers themselves. You know, they draw over three million a year. But it is nice to see some fresh faces and have a new storyline.

CONAN: Well, Ann, it's been nice having you on the program. No, I'm not going to kick you off the air just because you don't like the Yankees.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, Mark, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MARK: Hey, thanks. Go Rangers.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking with Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and Ann Killion, a columnist for Sports Illustrated, where she writes about Bay Area sports. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

George(ph) is on the line, George calling from Norman, Oklahoma.

GEORGE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

GEORGE: My very first baseball game I saw was back in '86 Major League. I saw the Rangers come back after a rain delay in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox...

CONAN: George, it was just barely Major League at that time, but you're right.

GEORGE: (Unintelligible) that time back in the old park before the new ballpark was built. Had good people back then. They had a Juan Gonzalez and Toby Herron and then later Steve Buechele. Here in Norman, we have Steve Buechele's son playing for the Sooners. And real excited about the Rangers making it to the series. We were the Triple-A club there - here for a lot of years. We're sorry to see them go, but...

CONAN: I didn't know theyd changed affiliations.

GEORGE: Because Nolan Ryan owned the Round Rock team.

CONAN: Uh-huh. So they switched the Triple-A franchise.

GEORGE: Right.

Mr. KENNEDY: George, this is really the Rangers have more fans in Oklahoma than they have in a lot of Texas. The Rangers have had good Oklahoma following, but they haven't dominated Texas. The Houston Astros were here first. And the Astros have always dominated the Houston, Austin, San Antonio markets, So, yeah, I talked with a bar owner in San Francisco yesterday, and he said he grew up in Taylor outside Austin, and that he did not know one person growing up or in his all time that was a Ranger fan. All his friends were Astros fan.

GEORGE: Mm-hmm. And now were the new Astros Triple-A club.

CONAN: Oh, well, that's I guess the ultimate indignity. Well, George, thanks very much for the call.

GEORGE: Thank you.

CONAN: We wish your team the best of luck.

GEORGE: Thanks. Bye.

CONAN: How much - Nolan Ryan, of course the great fireballing right-hander who stayed and pitched until what, 45, 46 years old. Bud Kennedy, how much has he put his personality on this team since he took over as one of the owners midsummer?

Mr. KENNEDY: I think he wouldve been tempted to come out and pitch again in that eighth inning of the Yankee game, where (unintelligible) trouble...

CONAN: Well, their first inning in their first game, yeah.

Mr. KENNEDY: That's right. The - you know, I think that what Ryan has done is convince players that they can succeed. Well, first of all, I mean, both of these teams obviously are really teams for these times. These are, you know, kind of - low to moderate budget, you know, struggling, proving teams. These are not the big-money superstars. You know, these are both teams that have kind of scrapped and held it together. And the Rangers even, you know, come all the way through bankruptcy.

But what Ryan has done is go out there and stand up and say you can pitch in this Ballpark, you can strike people out of this Ballpark. He's put pitchers together and held a relief staff together and he's convinced the team they could win. Their advertising theme from the beginning of this season has just been the simply the two words, it's time, with Nolan coming out on television, on billboard saying it's time. It's time the Rangers did something. And, you know, he's made them believe they could do it.

CONAN: That's one of the current owners of the Texas Rangers. But Ann Killion, I think all people in San Francisco need to know is that the owner of the Texas Rangers used to be George W. Bush.

Ms. KILLION: Yeah. Right. If he still was, there'd be much more intense feelings about this matchup. But since he's not, it's just kind of - you - I mean, you can't get two more different parts of the world than Dallas and San Francisco. At least that's the way we perceive it here in San Francisco. And there are obviously a lot of feelings and political differences and that kind of thing.

But I do think that both these teams kind of - they resonate - they should resonate, you know, Yankees aside, with America and they should get some good ratings, I would think, because they're great stories. They are teams for the times. I mean, especially if you look at the Giants' roster, half - you know, some of these guys were fired midyear like Pat Burrell. I mean, they lost their jobs. They were on the scrap heap.

The guy who won the MVP of the National League Championship Series, Cody Ross, was picked up off waivers because the Florida Marlins waived him. The Giants didn't even really want him. They just didn't want the Padres to get him so they picked him up. He ends up providing pretty much all their offense against the Phillies and wins the MVP. I mean, they're kind of a second chance group and theyre - I think that they - and the Rangers, too, you know, obviously Josh Hamilton and...

CONAN: He's a great story, but Bud Kennedy, there's the Giants' castoff, Benjie Molina, who will, I guess, get a ring no matter what happens.

Mr. KENNEDY: Benjie Molina as an example. I mean, some of these players have been kicked around both ways. And Benjie even because he played for the Giants at the start of season, the Rangers at the end, you know, he gets a ring no matter what.

CONAN: Well, we wish both of you the best of luck. Bud Kennedy, any predictions?

Mr. KENNEDY: We're just in - we have no idea here what to expect. We have never been here before.

CONAN: And Ann Killion, what do you think is going to happen?

Ms. KILLION: I think it's going to go seven. And I've already learned not to pick against this Giants' team. So I'll just leave it at that.

CONAN: All right. Ann Killion, thanks very much for your time today.

Ms. KILLION: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And don't open any letters from Ken Rudin, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KILLION: All right.

CONAN: Ann Killion is a columnist for Sports Illustrated, where she writes about Bay Area sports. Bud Kennedy, thanks to you as well.

Mr. KENNEDY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, joined us from our member station in Dallas, KERA.

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