Ask anyone in the game that’s been close enough to tell you: losing the World Series is a tough pill to swallow. But losing the World Series title for the second year in a row – and twice being only a strike away? The feeling should be unimaginable. While the Texas Rangers fans are disappointed and upset at the loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the players are literally living with the loss. After an incredible season, the Rangers stumbled in Game 7 after an exciting, but ultimately disappointing loss in Game 6.
Last year ScoreBoard caught up with C.J. Wilson the day after the World Series ended and one year later, we’re back in the same place. Despite the circumstances, Wilson was in good spirits, reflecting on the positive aspects on the season with his thoughts focused on the future. He graciously agreed to talk about the loss, the season and what’s in store for next year.
ScoreBoard: That was a tough loss, but on a positive note, what a great season it was. Hopefully the fans will see it that way after the initial sting wears off.
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, we keep getting further every year so I feel like at some point we’ll get to the top but it’s a very painful process getting this close. There’s a lot of people that find the guts to write you on Facebook that we suck and we blew it. But if we suck, what did you think about the 2006 team? [Laughs] Tough crowd.
ScoreBoard: That has to be hard, though, to have to see all of that on top of everything else.
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, it’s tough to not be able to have a rational discussion with people because it’s my life. Some people are fans – they turn off the TV and the game is over. This is my life. I assure everyone that we take it harder than anyone else.
ScoreBoard: How hard was this as compared to last year?
C.J. Wilson: It is rough because we were literally one strike away from being world champions. That’s as close as you can get from not doing it. [Pauses] That’s pretty painful because as a pro athlete you’ve worked your whole life to get to where you’re at. I felt like as a team we did everything right all year but we just weren’t rewarded in a tangible way. We’ve been rewarded in a spiritual way on a lot of levels and we’ve been given a gift of fire and tenacity and desire that can never be taken away. It will last the rest of our careers – and outside of baseball as well, but you can’t wear that around on a necklace or on your finger so it’s not as tangible for some people. Sure, we were the American League champs again and that is a level of achievement but losing to a team that we feel like – well, we were one strike away and it’s really gut-wrenching. I don’t know how emotional it is for everybody because you’re fighting so hard for everything you have. There’s nothing left in the tank. There’s no “Oh, I wish we could have done this…” because every single person that stepped on that field tried as hard as they could.
ScoreBoard: A lot of people said that Game 6 was the most amazing game they’ve ever seen.
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, that was the most amazing baseball game I’ve ever seen played in the playoffs. Unfortunately, we came out of the wrong end of it.
ScoreBoard: A lot of people are going to want to know what that plane ride back was like last night.
C.J. Wilson: Uh, short. Thank God it was such a short flight back. We were only an hour and fifteen minutes from St. Louis so it’s not that long, agonizing flight back from San Francisco. I guess that’s the first plane ride back like that because we lost last year at home. We won all of the other playoff series, so it was different. It was late, but there was actually a lot of fans at the airport so I put my bags in the car and walked over to the fans and shook their hands, gave them high fives and thanked them for having an awesome season with us. It was cool that people showed up to support us despite the fact that we lost.
ScoreBoard: And the fact that it was 3:30 in the morning.
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, I’m sure they had things to do in the morning, too. It’s unfortunate because this franchise has taken so many lumps over the years and to have to take two more right in a row at the World Series is painful, but we’re obviously going in the right direction as an organization at least, so I think we have a chance to be the premier American League team over the next few years if we keep things together. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it.
ScoreBoard: Well, one of those factors is you. I know there’s not much you can say – or even much to know at this point, but what are the chances you’ll be back next year?
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, there’s a great chance because I like it here and I’ve won here. I’ve proved that I can be a good pitcher here. There have been a lot of people over the years that have said it’s impossible to pitch here in Texas and look what we did here on the rotation – we went out and won a bunch of games and threw a bunch of innings and did stuff that no other organization can say…not even the mighty Red Sox or Yankees. They didn’t do what we did. It’s now all about figuring out how all of the guys on the team – not just me – there’s Elvis, Nelson, Josh, Ian – a lot of guys have contractual things that are coming up. I think one thing the Rangers want me to know is what they’re planning on doing with all of these other guys in the long term. So that gives me confidence that we’re going to keep winning.
ScoreBoard: What have you thought so far about your time here?
C.J. Wilson: The only thing I’ve been concerned about the last couple of years is being the best starting pitcher I can so my team can win the most games. I don’t know. It hasn’t even been 24 hours in that sense. I had a conversation with my agent today and he told me to be patient – that nothing is going to happen for a while. Some other teams might call and the Rangers might call but there’s not going to be an actual offer for a while. There won’t be a quick resolution so I guess it’s good that I have other things to do. I’m going to a wedding for a couple of days and then I’m driving home to California for a bit, I’m going to go to Japan for a bit for business and travel a bit with my race team. I’m only going to take about 10 days off and then I’ll start training again.
ScoreBoard: You always have interesting things going on during the off-season, so I’ll bet you’re looking forward to that.
C.J. Wilson: The off-season for me is a lot of fun because I get to be on my schedule for a bit and not having to be anywhere in particular other than the places I want to be. Obviously I put everything into baseball. Once baseball is over, I need a mental and emotional break from the stress of being involved in every game. When you give everything of yourself physically and try as hard as you can, you look at yourself in the mirror and go, “I might have failed at some point, but I tried as hard as I can but I know it wasn’t from lack of effort. It was from lack of experience or the inability to control a certain pitch.” I’ve been able to acknowledge this and it wasn’t that there wasn’t enough effort or I didn’t take it seriously. I think when some guys fail, they look in the mirror and go, “It wasn’t my fault.” But I’m like, “Everything was my fault if I was on the field. If I could have done this better, we would have won.” So I find a way to do it better. That enables me to look positively towards the future. Even though I had a good year this year, it was better than last year and I hope to have the same type of improvement this year to next year as well.
ScoreBoard: And you can’t worry too much about that “what ifs”.
C.J. Wilson: That’s why it’s nice to have a baseball career. At 30, if I was a football player, you’re pretty much towards the end. I’m kind of in the prime of my career right now and I feel like if I wanted to play for 12 more years, I could. That optimism is how I get better. Maybe there’s something I can do to get better with my mechanics, run a little better or whatever it is that will bring me to the next level. You can only gain so much at a time – one percent or two percent, but to the principle of compound interest, that adds up to a lot. As a team, we’re the same way. We’re all 1 to 2 percent better and it added up to six more wins in the regular season and obviously a couple of more wins in the post-season.
ScoreBoard: You have experienced leaders in Ron Washington and Nolan Ryan. Did they have much wisdom for you last night that helped?
C.J. Wilson: Not really. Last night everyone was a little shell-shocked. Nolan talked to us after the game in a closed-door meeting and Wash talked to us and some of the players said some things to each other and some positive things were said. [Nolan] said that the Metroplex is ours now and we’ve gotten more respect now than we ever have and he’s really proud to be with the team and proud to see what we’ve accomplished. That makes you feel good when a Hall of Fame pitcher can back you up like that and say that you’re doing the right thing. Some teams would be happy but to us, it’s not good enough. We need to win more. The World Series was difficult because we had a lot of injuries we were nursing. Our whole outfield was banged up: Nelson, Josh, David Murphy had partially torn groins, hernias or something like that. Beltre had a bad knee, Napoli twisted his ankle really bad and during the regular season those guys would have been on the DL for those types of injuries but in the World Series, you just keep on truckin’. The only thing we can do better this year is stay healthier as a team and individually we can go out there with more accuracy with how we approach the game. Sometimes we try too hard – sometimes the pitcher tries to throw too hard and the batter tries to hit too many home runs and that leads us to giving away a few innings. A few runs here and there adds up and we need to get that under control. I’m very proud of what we did this year. No one picked us to go to the World Series this year. We’re still not getting the respect we want on a national level, but people can give these other organizations all of the credit and we’ll just keep winning and hopefully win the World Series next year.
ScoreBoard: Well, the team certainly has the support of what is becoming one of the loudest home crowds in baseball.
C.J. Wilson: They actually took out a landline with how loud they were, which is very impressive. [Laughs] The fan support we’ve seen the last two years in the playoffs at home has been so awesome. Our fans have got to see six home World Series games the last two years and that’s pretty cool. We felt like they were in all of them. We’re only 3 and 3 on those home games but I think as it goes on further and if we get home field advantage…that’s the thing – we now understand the importance of home field advantage. If we would have had those games at home, there’s no way those guys would have beat us with our fans on their back. That’s partially my fault for giving up the home run in the All-Star game. [Pause] The ball bounces off of the back fence and that was the World Series for us right there in a way. At the time I didn’t think…I was very disappointed in myself there for getting the loss in the All-Star game but I didn’t think it would come down to us not having our fans there in Game 6 or Game 7. We had so many Rangers fans in St. Louis, though. It was crazy – they were really loud and chanting through batting practice and stuff. It was cool that we were in a city where we were that close that they could travel to but ultimately it was disappointing to lose in front of them as well.
ScoreBoard: You could even hear the fans chanting on the broadcast feed.
C.J. Wilson: There was [chanting]! There were Napoli chants but it was funny because the fans would go, “Nap-o-li” and the Cardinals fans would go “Sucks!” at the end of it. [Laughs]
ScoreBoard: Well congrats again for making it as far as you did – back-to-back Series appearances is no small accomplishment. I imagine the pressure must have been intense the last few days. It sure was great drama to watch.
C.J. Wilson: I would say that it’s the best World Series I’ve seen in ten years. I can’t think of another World Series since the ’01 Yankees/Diamondback that came down to that close of a game with that much drama. Game 1 was 3-2, Game 2 was 2-1, Game 3 was a blowout, Game 4 was tight, Game 5 was tight, Game 6 was tight and Game 7 we didn’t score any runs after the first inning and that’s what killed us. Without getting too baseball-y into things, it was an epic series. Everybody that sat down and watched it said so. Even the reporters were coming up to us going, “That was crazy. That was the gnarliest game I’ve ever seen.” When you’re getting reporters who do nothing but watch baseball every day and have for the last 30 years of their life and they’re telling you that, it must be true. They only lie when they write I guess, right? [Laughs]
ScoreBoard: Any last thoughts on the season now that you can look back on it?
C.J. Wilson: The biggest thing that I can say is that the support our team got from the fans this year was so unreal and it’s palpable. You can really feel that and it’s cool to be a part of that. It’s too bad that we didn’t join Dirk in the championship parade party but I was not involved in Game 6 at all. I wish I would have been able to get in there and help win but I wasn’t called upon. Game 6 is one of those games that’s going to haunt a lot of players for a long time.
ScoreBoard: Well, there’s always next year and hopefully we’ll have you then.
C.J. Wilson: Yeah, well, I think so.