Oklahoma City has been the home of the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate for 28 consecutive seasons. Such longevity is almost unheard of in professional baseball.
Only three of today's 30 Triple-A teams - Omaha, Pawtucket and Iowa - have been with their current major league teams longer than the RedHawks.
Since Triple-A baseball debuted in 1946, only nine teams have been with their major league clubs for a longer periods of time.
And before Texas found a good Triple-A home in Oklahoma City in '83, the Rangers had been searching: their top farm team had played for six different cities in the Rangers' first 11 seasons, 1972-82.
With that history in mind we've decided to pick a lineup of Texas Rangers who have been Oklahoma City 89ers or RedHawks since 1983. The lineup is based on what the players did in Oklahoma City uniforms, though we'll also throw in a group based on what they went on to do in the major leagues.
BY OKC STANDARDS
(Years with Oklahoma City in parentheses, not including rehab assignments)
1B Lee Stevens (1996): The cleanup hitter on the 89ers' 1996 American Association championship team. He was Topps' national minor league player of the year and also the league MVP. He came close to winning the Triple Crown, finishing first in home runs (32), second in RBIs (94) and third in batting (.325). He also led the league in on-base percentage (.404) and slugging percentage (.643).
2B Ian Kinsler (2005): He hit .274 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs in 2005. Only two middle infielders in Oklahoma City's Triple-A history (Scott Sheldon, with 97 and 96, and Tom Quinlan, with 97) have had more RBIs in a season. Kinsler and his best friend on the '05 team, Jason Botts, combined for 48 homers and 196 RBIs on that playoff team.
SS Scott Sheldon (1998-99): He had 57 home runs and 193 RBIs in the RedHawks' first two seasons and he was picked to the postseason PCL All-Star team each year. Sheldon and Steve Balboni are Oklahoma City's only two-time league all-star players during the 28-year Rangers affiliation. Three other two-time league all-stars came earlier to the city: catcher-outfielder Keith Moreland, 1978-79; outfielder Dave Roberts, 1962 and 1965; and outfielder Tommy Smith, 1973 and 1975.
3B Dean Palmer (1990-91): In 1991, he was the greatest home run hitter in Oklahoma City history, even though he doesn't own the club records for homers in a season or career. Reason: He had 22 homers and 59 RBIs in 60 games, a home run every 10.6 at bats, before being called up June 24. Even though he missed the final two-plus months of the Association season, he led the league in homers and was the all-league third baseman. He was on pace for 53 homers and 142 RBIs in the Niners' 144-game season.
OF Nelson Cruz (2007-08): Over his two seasons here, he hit .345 with 52 homers and 144 RBIs in 147 games. He hammered 37 homers in '08, one shy of the Dave Roberts' Oklahoma City Triple-A record. He was the 2008 Pacific Coast League MVP, and he likely rates as the strongest hitter in Oklahoma City's Triple-A history.
OF Juan Gonzalez (1990): He was the American Association MVP and also the league's Rookie of the Year and the Rangers' minor league player of the year. He hit .258 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs in 128 games. He led the league in homers, RBIs and total bases. Gonzalez hit 27 homers in his first 97 games, through July 26, but hit only two more in his final 31 games. He had a three-homer game July 25.
OF Oddibe McDowell (1985): The best pure hitter the Texas Rangers have assigned to Oklahoma City. He had actually slumped to .400 when he was called up by Texas on May 18. In just 31 games for the 89ers he scored 32 runs, drove in 18 runs and stole 12 bases. When he left Oklahoma City he was leading the league in runs, hits and triples, and was second in batting and steals.
C John Marzano (1995 and 1999): The gregarious Marzano was a standout for both the 89ers and the RedHawks. He had 41 doubles for the Niners in 1995, tying Oklahoma City's Triple-A record set four years earlier by Rob Maurer. Marzano also hit .309 that season, with nine homers and 56 RBIs. He came back in a big way late in the '99 season, ending that year by playing all nine positions in Omaha, a day after the RedHawks had clinched a playoff berth. He helped Hawks reach the PCL finals, where they lost to Vancouver.
DH Steve Balboni (1991-93): He had 86 homers and 275 RBIs over 2 ½ seasons with the 89ers, helping them win the '92 American Association title. Arriving midway through the '91 season, he had 20 homers and 63 RBIs in 83 games. The next two years he was the league's all-star DH. He led the league in homers (30) and RBIs (104) in '92, and the league in homers (36) again in '93, and was second in RBIs (108).
SP R.A. Dickey (1999-2003, 2005-06): Mr. RedHawk. Played all or parts of seven seasons for the Hawks, forging a 49-40 record, including several big game wins. A team leader, popular among his teammates and a fast worker on the mound. Dickey played five of his seven Oklahoma City season on winning teams, and three of those went to the playoffs. In his final two RedHawks seasons he switched to throwing "The Thing," a hard knuckleball. Now he's an ace for the New York Mets, with a 10-6 record, 2.91 ERA - and .238 batting average, too.
RP Matt Whiteside (1992): Without him, the 89ers wouldn't have been the 1992 American Association champions. He pitched in only 12 games, but all game under pressure, down the pennant race stretch. He had a 1-0 record, an 0.79 ERA and was 8-for-8 in save opportunities. Including his stints with Texas and Tulsa in '92, he was 33-for-33 in save opportunities.
AND LOOK WHO'S LEFT OFF
How stout is this lineup? One answer is to look at some of the players who didn't make the cut, listed alphabetically:
SS Manny Alexander had several "Magical Manny Moments" on defense from 2003-05, and he hit .309 in '05.
OF Chad Allen set an Oklahoma City Triple-A record by batting .358 in 2004, and he also hit .345 in '05.
1B Jason Botts had 25 homers and 102 RBIs in 2005 and, over parts of four seasons, had 55 homers and 240 RBIs in 316 games.
OF Bob Brower set club records for triples in a season (18 in 1985) and runs in a season (130 in 1986).
3B Steve Buechele was the 1985 American Association Player of the Year.
OF Nick "The Quick" Capra owns the club career records for runs (482) and stolen bases (208) over seven Oklahoma City seasons.
1B-3B Chris Davis over the last three years has hit .328 with 30 homers and 141 RBIs in 178 games.
OF Tommy "Doubles" Dunbar remains the only Oklahoma City player to win a Triple-A league batting title (.337 in 1984). He hit .324 - with 82 doubles - over four 89er seasons.
IF-OF Esteban German hit. 303 and stole 128 bases over the last two seasons plus 2005.
1B Adrian Gonzalez hit .318 with 30 homers and 153 RBIs in 2004-05 and was a great defensive player.
1B Travis Hafner had a huge 2002 season, with a .342 batting average, .463 on-base percentage and .559 slugging average.
SP Rick Helling threw a perfect game and was the American Association Pitcher of the Year in 1996.
SP Michael Kirkman was the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in 2010. He was second in wins (13-3) and ERA (3.09) in the league.
1B Rob Maurer was the 1991 American Association Rookie of the Year and a star on the 1992 American Association championship team.
SP Matt Perisho was 15-7 in 1999, fourth in wins in Oklahoma City Triple-A annals.
OF Pedro Valdes hit .330 over the 1999-2000 seasons, with 37 homers and 150 RBIs in 202 games. Today, at age 37, he's hitting well over .300 in the Mexican League.
RP Jose Veras set the club record for saves with 24 in 2005.
SP Edinson Volquez was the most dominant pitcher in RedHawks history in 2007, going 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA in eight starts. He had more strikeouts (66 in 51 innings) than combined hits and walks allowed (46).
...AND A LINEUP BASED ON MAJOR LEAGUE PERFORMANCE
(Years with Oklahoma City in parentheses, not including rehab assignments)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (2004-05)
2B Ian Kinsler (2005)
SS Michael Young (2001)
3B Hank Blalock (2002, 2008)
OF Ruben Sierra (1986, 2000-01)
OF Juan Gonzalez (1990)
OF Sammy Sosa (1989)
C Mike Stanley (1986-87)
DH Travis Hafner (2002)
SP Kevin Brown (1987)
RP Tom Henke (1983-84)
ALMOST MADE IT: 1B Carlos Pena, 3B Steve Buechele, OF Ryan Ludwick, OF Nelson Cruz, SP Kenny Rogers, RP Francisco Cordero.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.