A few weeks ago, my sister asked me what I thought of the Rangers this year.
Me: "Huh? The Rangers? Why?"
Sis: "We're going to make the playoffs, that's why."
Me: *shaking head to clear cobwebs* Maybe she means the New York Rangers. The NHL season was about to start, after all. But why would she care about them? And they were barely in pre-season training, so it was way too soon to be talking about the playoffs. "Our Rangers?"
Sis: "Yes, our Rangers. Who else?"
Me: *still confused* "The Texas Rangers, right? You know, the major league baseball Texas Rangers, not the law-enforcement Texas Rangers--the ones who haven't been in the playoffs in over a decade. The ones who have never won more than a single game in post-season history. Those Rangers?"
Sis: "YES." Her exasperation at this point was dripping so hard it could have been raining.
Me: "I don't know that I think anything of them."
You see, I grew up in the DFW area in Texas. I've spent my whole life as a casual Rangers fan.
My dad likes to tell the story of my first Rangers game. They were playing the Angels, and I was so young that I didn't really understand any of it. All I knew was that the "Wangews" were playing the "Faiwies." Over the years, my enthusiasm with the team has had an ebb and flow. I remember watching Nolan Ryan pitching in his final years, still striking out more batters than anyone else in the league. In my high school years, the team actually managed some success finally, and then not too long after that, they started to get into the playoffs.
The one thing that had been consistent through all those years, though, was that they always seemed more focused on bringing in the big names, dishing out the exorbitant contracts, than on putting together a TEAM. They were a baseball team that relied on those big names to hit home runs. If enough of the guys went long, then the team won--despite the fact that the pitching staff usually crumbled, and despite the fact that the defense was spotty from year to year, and despite the fact that they seemed to rarely just focus on getting a man on base and then moving him around until he got home.
In recent years, I'd pretty much tuned out. It was always the same ol' same ol'. So when my sister wanted to know what I thought of the Rangers, and the fact that they were going to the playoffs, that's what I thought.
Me: "Well, I guess I think that they'll do just what they've always done in the playoffs. We'll be up against the Yankees in the first round, and we'll get swept. That's the Rangers' story." At least, it has almost been the story. One of those years, we did manage to win one game. I'm pretty sure it was a fluke--one of those nights when we managed to hit more home runs than they were able to produce.
Sis: "I don't know about that. I think you should watch. I think this year's Rangers will surprise you."
So I watched. And I didn't recognize them.
There's only one single face on the team that I recognized from the last time I was paying attention to the Rangers and what they were doing. One. And he is a guy I didn't expect to make it very long in that organization, because he isn't much of a home run hitter, and he isn't an overpaid, big named dufus. I was sure he would only last a year or two before being shipped off to a team that had a chance at doing well, and being replaced by some slugger with an ego the size of Texas. I was wrong.
There were other things that made them unrecognizable to me, too. For one thing, not only did the Rangers have a great group of starting pitchers, they have a solid stable of relief pitchers. Having one or the other, wouldn't have surprised me. But to have them both? It took me quite a while to pick my jaw up off the floor after that realization.
But the thing that surprised me the most? This Rangers team can play "little ball." They get a guy on base, whether through a hit or a walk, or even through being hit by a pitch...and then they do what it takes to advance him. They steal bases! They bunt! They do all sorts of things that the Rangers I always knew would never have dreamed of doing.
And they used all of these things to win the first game. Okay, I thought to myself. Well, they've won one game in the playoffs before. I suppose this isn't entirely unheard of. This isn't completely rewriting the Rangers' story.
But it didn't stop with one game. Just Tuesday night, the Texas Rangers managed to win their series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Me: ???????????????????? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You see, I thought I already knew the story. I thought that history was bound to repeat itself. I thought that the Rangers, the only team in all of Major League Baseball who had never won a series in the post-season, would stay that way forever.
They proved me wrong. They did the opposite of what I expected.
Tomorrow night, they'll begin their first ALCS, playing against the dreaded Yankees--the team that, up to this point, has been the Rangers' post-season nemesis. The albatross following them wherever they go. Part of me is thinking that this first series was an accident, and the next series will straighten out the world again. Part of me is expecting to see the Rangers slugging for the fences again, and to see the pitching staff fall apart, and to see the Yankees sweep them in four games.
Part of me is hoping that I'm just sticking to the story I've always known.
All of this really makes me think about the stories that I read, and the stories that I write. So often, I'll read something and think I know where the author is headed, only to be taken down a completely surprising path that is far better and more exciting than the expected. But then sometimes, I'll think I know where we're going, only to discover that it is exactly where we're going. I leave that feeling disappointed.
As a writer, I don't want to disappoint my readers by giving them exactly what they expect. I want to surprise and delight them. That means I need to work harder, to be sure I don't repeat what is already out there (or what I've already done).
Are there stories you wish you didn't already know what was coming? Do you find yourself stuck in a story rut, rehashing the same plot points again and again? And are you following the baseball playoffs? Which team's story are you most interested in seeing change?