It remained for the mayor of Arlington, Texas himself to put the Big Event in historical perspective. "From now on," said the Hon. Tom Vandergriff, "time here shall be marked from June 27, 1973."
It is a date that shall live in infancy, for on this night in Arlington Stadium, David Clyde, a stripling of 18, began his major league baseball career by pitching the Texas Rangers to a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Twins. The lad went five innings, threw 112 pitches, struck out eight, walked seven and allowed only one hit, a two-run homer. It was a startling performance for a youngster only 19 days out of Westchester High School in Houston, but it was much more than that—an awakening of interest, perhaps, in a community that has steadfastly ignored its baseball team.
Clyde, at least, is not easily ignored. He is a left-handed fastball pitcher whose achievements at Westchester High—an 18-0 record in his senior year with an earned run average of 0.18 and 328 strikeouts in 148? innings—were trumpeted throughout the state. The first player selected in the June 5 major league draft, he had been judged by virtually every scout who saw him as the finest schoolboy pitcher in the nation. He was signed by the Rangers to a contract that called for a bonus of approximately $125,000 and a free college education. And, as his numberless interviews over the past few weeks established, he is a teen-ager of extraordinary tact and maturity, one who is humble, courteous and agreeably respectful of his elders. He has curly brown hair, wide blue eyes and a bashful smile. He is 6'1" and he weighs a muscular 190. He is obviously a creation of the late lamented Ralph Henry Barbour.
A paragon of this sort does not just slip into the Rangers' starting rotation; he enters the lists like a knight-errant. So lavish had the publicity been that by June 27 the aroused fans of the Dallas-Fort Worth megalopolis were prepared to accept nothing less than the new Sandy Koufax—who just happens to be Clyde's idol. Before Clyde, these same citizens had embraced the Rangers about as warmly as they might the Miami Dolphins. The team drew but 662,974 spectators in 1972, a dreary average of 8,840 per game, and until June 27 this year's total attendance had been running nearly 40,000 below last season's. It has been suggested that the Rangers deserved their inattention: they were dead last in the American League West in 1972; they are dead last today.
Consider then what occurred on David Clyde Night, as the occasion has come to be known. All 35,698 seats in Arlington Stadium had been sold by 9:30 that morning and another 10,000 prospective ticket-buyers were turned away. The 10,000-car parking lot was filled to overflowing and traffic on the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike was stalled so drastically that the start of the game had to be postponed 15 minutes. Since moving west from Washington, which they left because they felt unloved, the Rangers had drawn only four crowds above 20,000, the largest being 24,222. It took Clyde to lure the perennial absentees out of their television rooms. It was a child who led them.
"The people came on just a promise, a hope," said Mayor Vandergriff, gathering oratorical momentum. "But David Clyde made it clear that people here will respond to a product that is exciting. He wasn't just a fairy tale coming out of Houston. He was a dream come true."
There was, in fact, an Oz-like quality to David Clyde Night. All three of the neighboring amusement parks—Six Flags over Texas, Seven Seas, Lion Country Safari—were represented in pre-game ceremonies that challenged the imagination. There were two bands, although one seemed to dissolve into the other. There was a trio of grass-skirted Polynesian dancers. There were two lion cubs, a papier-m�ch� giraffe on wheels and a young man named Mike Bondurant who was dressed as an "Orchin," a mythical creature, apparently half bird and half fish, which, according to the creative department at Seven Seas, is the legendary playmate of whales. Bondurant, all feathers and scales, is actually the master of ceremonies for the dolphin show in the park. He cut a bizarre and incongruous figure in center field, although it must be said for him that, despite the burden of his costume, which included a beak that opened and closed, he stood loyally erect at the playing of the national anthem.
While the early comers, sweltering in 90� heat, were thus diverted, Clyde sat quietly in the clubhouse steeling himself for the ordeal ahead. Team Owner Robert E. Short, aglow in a patterned white sport coat and royal blue double-knit slacks, had come in from a tour of the premises. One half expected him to draw Clyde aside and, quoting from Warner Baxter, whisper in his ear, "You're going out there a youngster. You've just got to come back a star."
Clyde dressed slowly, fastidiously, like a young matador pulling on a suit of lights. Indeed, when he stepped into the arena the crowd responded as if he were a torero prepared to meet the deadly beast. And true to the part, Clyde waved ceremonially to the crowd and smiled winningly at his girl friend, petite Cheryl Crawford of Houston. His father, J. E. Clyde, urged him on with a victory gesture. Literally the entire Clyde family was there in the stands, said David's mother. So were his old high school coach, Bob French; his high school principal, David Figari; his Little League coach, Pete Ramirez, and dozens of former teammates and opponents. It was no time, as Clyde well knew, to choke.
But he nearly did. His first pitch of the game—of his professional career—was to the Twins' Jerry Terrell. A ball, ruled Plate Umpire Ron Luciano, a decision noisily denounced by the multitude. Terrell and the second hitter, defending American League batting champion Rod Carew, walked, Carew on four pitches. Neither offered to swing at a Clyde pitch, it being the strategy of Twins Manager Frank Quilici to test the rookie's control early, then force him to throw fastballs over the plate to the team's premier fastball hitter, the powerful Bobby Darwin.