It was, in many respects, the quintessential sports weekend for me, fronted by an unforgettable Red River Shootout that vaulted my beloved Texas Longhorns to the top of the collegiate football world, enhanced by some thoroughly gratifying Sunday afternoon gridiron action and capped by an entertaining, if not particularly tight third installment in the Senior Circuit's League Championship Series.
It was liberating. It was uplifting. It was a welcome reminder that everything can still break just right now and then, not only in sports but in life in general.
But the break's over. And now it's time to go back to work.
From [Nolan] Ryan on down, there is acknowledgment that pushing pitchers may result in a high-profile pitcher or two breaking down along the way. The general feeling: The number of capable pitchers found along the way will outnumber those lost.
Among Ryan's suggestions:
� More live batting practice. It was incorporated in the minor leagues at the start of the regular season. Ryan wants more in spring training, too, something now-deposed pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Dom Chiti resisted last spring for the major league pitchers. Ryan believes batting practice helps build stamina.
� More sprinting: The system is stocked with power pitchers. Sprinting helps create more explosiveness than long jogs.
� Expanding limits: He doesn't favor abandoning pitch counts for minor leaguers. But he does want pitch counts to be more individually tailored. If a pitcher is closing in on his limit when he finishes one inning, it's more likely he'll be sent out to start the next inning and pitch right up to his limit rather than taking a seat early.
� Most importantly, Ryan wants to instill a genuine feeling of fearlessness among Rangers pitchers.
"There is a mind-set you have to develop with these young kids," Ryan said. "They have to believe they can be successful in Arlington. They have to know they are capable of throwing more pitches and working through trouble. We are trying to push them so they'll know they can push themselves when things arise in the big leagues."
The voice on the phone sounded exhilarated -- as energized as ever.
And that was even before Saturday afternoon, when Tom Hicks' favorite college football team rocked the Cotton Bowl.
Contrary to local belief, you see, Hicks has plenty to be happy about.
The Rangers have promoted Jim Sundberg to senior executive vice president, the club announced on Friday.
Sundberg, who assumed the role of vice president of public relations one year ago, will serve as club president Nolan Ryan's right-hand man in overseeing all aspects of the organization. He also will continue his work in public relations, community relations and the Texas Rangers Legacy Partnership. In addition, Sundberg will assume the role of liaison for the club's Spring Training facility in Surprise, Ariz.
Are you seeing a slowdown in ticket sales, sponsorships, or other revenue sources?
TOM HICKS JR.: Stars ticket sales have increased over last year, following an exciting playoff run. Additionally, fresh season-ticket and mini-plan sales are very strong ... because of new initiatives and pricing points. It is still too early to get a read on the Rangers' sales efforts for 2009. ... A good sign is that our 10-pack is currently running 2 � times better than a year ago to date. ... The Rangers have the benefit of being one of the best bargains in the metroplex, and hope to draft on having the Cowboys as our new neighbor next year.
Is the economy affecting your planning, either on the revenue or expense side?
HICKS: The Stars continue to invest in players who can create success and incremental demand for tickets and corporate sponsorships. We continually evaluate investments in facilities that can make the fan experience more enjoyable (lounges at games, general facility improvements and modifications) and also for the players and their families (team plane, Frisco practice facility).The Rangers are also looking to enhance the fan experience at the ballpark. ... We continue to plan a real estate development that will be a fun place for Rangers and Cowboys fans before and after the games.
Are you doing any special promotions linked to the economy?
HICKS: Obviously, mass transit makes it more efficient to bring fans into the buildings, cutting down traffic and eliminating their need to pay for parking. The Stars have a DART promotion in place that has been very successful early. Arlington isn't part of DART. However, in the future we hope the TRE and other modes of mass transportation can be integrated with the Rangers, the ballpark development and Cowboys stadium.