Hardly had the former Washington Senators decided to call themselves the Texas Rangers when Sissy Farenthold, a Texas gubernatorial candidate, proposed to abolish their namesakes. Needless to say, she got nowhere, and both outfits were doing nicely, thank you, as the baseball team played its strike-delayed opening home game last Friday.
Manager Ted Williams was still affecting toughness—"They like you in April, but you don't know what's going to happen in June," he growled, upholding tradition—but a real smile kept lighting to break out. Williams actually looked happy as the photographers went to work. He posed with Little Leaguers, smiling. He even autographed their bus. One suspected that Williams greatly liked the kids.
The expanded Arlington Stadium turned out to be virtually a new park with a good baseball atmosphere, and the Ranger management wisely encouraged a nice, casual, y'all drop on over and pay us a little visit feeling. Quite the opposite of many big-league regimes, which seem to be saying it is an act of considerable largesse on their part that they are admitting the public at all, and on condition that the outsiders be unobtrusive and respectful of the mysteries being performed.
As the Rangers were introduced, no great football roar went up from the crowd of 20,105. There was only the light clattering sound of clapping. It was a baseball crowd all right, and a dignified one. For a while the people threatened to be all too quiet and respectful. They were men coming home from work and women from an afternoon shopping at the Piggly Wiggly—nice people, salt-of-the-earth people, but scarcely a mob whose cry made the heart freeze.
Tossing out the first ball had no drama. The first pitch, lamentably a ball, had no anything. The visiting California Angels went out in order, to relative quiet. Lenny Randle, Texas' alltime first Arlington batter, tapped an easy grounder to short for the Rangers. It was quiet. Dave Nelson struck out. It was dead quiet.
And then Frank Howard set baseball ahead weeks and months in Texas. Just as the crowd was wondering what was on The Late Show, the ball came off his bat in a splendid, towering arc, destined all the way for a home run. It vanished into the darkness far above the 400 sign in precise dead center field, as if Howard had pointed there.
The crowd roared a tremendous roar, and major league baseball was born. The Texas Rangers had been a laboratory creature, smelling of formaldehyde and patched-together cadavers. Howard's clout spanked life into the monster.
Filtering into the park from a miles-long traffic jam, the assemblage roared some more when the Rangers scored two more runs in the third, two in the fourth, another in the fifth and another in the sixth. It murmured loud approval as Shortstop Toby Harrah, who had been .091 on the road, collected three straight hits. It cheered as Randle, 3 for 16 heretofore, got three straight hits. It cheered when singles hitter Nelson slammed one into the seats. It managed a really major league boo when California deliberately walked Frank Howard his second time up.
There was almost too much to cheer about. After the Rangers mounted up a 6-1 lead, the crowd fell into a surfeited Sunday picnic semisilence, even during California rallies that brought the Angels back within one run, 7-6. But in the ninth, as Relievers Casey Cox and Paul Lindblad, rescuing Dick Bosnian's win, did away with a smaller threat and moved the first home victory into sight, the Texans cheered every pitch.
Enormous, gentle Frank Howard, sitting in the clubhouse, denied having screen-written his dramatic lid-lifter. "A guy just does the best he can," the red-haired giant said earnestly. "We're aware you can't peddle a poor product to the public. It's nice to think that these people's first memory of major league baseball might be my home run, but I really hope that their memory is the win."