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Big Night in Rangerville

Sosa blast lessens sting of lost season

Almost nothing had gone right for the Texas Rangers so far in the 2007 season. During the previous couple of years, the team's lack of success had been pinned on Manager Buck Showalter. After all, none of the players, it was said, liked playing for him. Consequently, he was shown the door following the 2006 campaign. His replacement was Ron Washington, a "players manager," one all of the Rangers would want to play for. A big trade had been engineered with the White Sox, dealing the team's number-one prospect, pitcher (and Texas native) John Danks, for a hurler who was supposed to be more "Major League ready," Brandon McCarthy. The Rangers were destined to contend in 2007.

The only problem was that the team fell flat on its face, diving to the worst record in Major League Baseball. And while McCarthy was spending time on the DL, Danks was starting every fifth day on the south side of Chicago.

But for one night on June 20th, the Ranger faithful were rewarded with an event that they could hold in their hearts for years to come.

The Cubbies provided the opposition

That night, with the Rangers 18 games behind the Angels in the AL West, the Chicago Cubs -- and their legion of fans -- were in town as part of an Interleague series.

It was quite ironic that it was Chicago, because a player who had been the most beloved Cub of the past decade, Sammy Sosa, was now a Ranger. And he entered the contest on June 20 with 599 career home runs. The buzz around the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex was all about Sammy and his chase of the milestone of 600 home runs. After all, the Rangers weren't exactly in a pennant chase, so fans were thrilled to have something to talk about.

A bigger crowd than usual was on hand for the weeknight contest, and BASEBALLPARKS.COM was there to capture the action. A sign in right field announced that the "Sammy Sosa Home Run Count" stood at 599 (below right).

He didn't disappoint

His first time up, Sosa reached on an error. During his second at bat, when it was a little darker, Rangers Ballpark twinkled like a Christmas tree each time a pitch was thrown to him, as fans in every section were firing away with their cameras hoping to capture the big moment when he would hit #600. It didn't happen then, as the Cubs booted another ball hit by Sammy, again allowing him to reach base on an error.

Sosa's third plate appearance occurred in the 5th inning. Again, with the flashes of a thousand cameras going off with every pitch, the Cubs' pitcher Jason Marquis got ahead in the count, one ball and two strikes.

Then Sammy did what he'd done 599 times before (below left). The next pitch from Marquis was slugged into the Rangers bullpen in deep right-center field. The 395-foot blast made Sosa only the fifth player in Major League history to achieve the 600-home-run plateau.

The follow-through

In quick succession, here's what happened as soon as Sosa swung the bat: he did his trademark hop out of the batter's box, because he knew he'd hit it out of the park; in the bullpen, Ranger reliever Akinori Otsuka scrambled to retrieve the ball so he could give it to Sosa later; as the Rangers always do when a batter for the home team homers, they set off fireworks above center field (see photo at the top of this page) -- but in this instance, there were more pyrotechnics than usual; Sosa's teammates poured out of the first-base dugout to greet him at the plate (above right); the sign in right field was corrected to show "600" instead of "599;" the crowd cheered as loud as I'd ever heard at the Rangers' home park; a tribute to Sammy appeared on the scoreboard noting that only five players had achieved the lofty level of 600 home runs (above center); a banner was unfurled above center field congratulating Sammy on the accomplishment (below left); the fans kept cheering until Sosa made two curtain calls by popping out of the dugout to wave to the fans (below right).

The public-address announcer told the fans that they would receive a commemorative souvenir of the night as they left the park, one to which they could attach their ticket from the game showing they were there to witness the achievement (below). A classy touch.

So for one night, the baseball fans of north Texas forgot about steroids and an underachieving baseball team. Instead, they all reveled in the fact that they had seen history.