Last night’s Texas Rangers victory over the Tampa Bay Rays is not only being recognized as the Rangers’ biggest win in the team’s 39-year history but also as one of sport’s classiest moments ever when the team chose to celebrate in their clubhouse by spraying ginger ale instead of champagne after winning their American League Division Series.
The team chose to do so as a nod of support to center fielder Josh Hamilton, who’s battle with drugs and alcohol have been well chronicled. When the Rangers earlier won the American League West crown in Oakland, Hamilton missed the clubhouse celebration choosing to remain in the training room so as to avoid the traditional alcohol bath in the postgame celebration.
Hamilton, who could well be the American League MVP this season, is a big reason for the Rangers success this season. Having him not participate in any celebration is a shame regardless of the good reason behind his decision.
So, here’s to ginger ale.
But it reminded me of a similar situation here at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2003.
Al Unser Jr. won the Indy Car race that night by an eyelash, just edging out Tony Kanaan by 0.081 of a second. It came on the heels of Unser having completed rehab for alcohol problems. One of the biggest and most recognizable names in American sports, Unser entered rehab after having a very public incident in Indiana.
Proud of his recovery, Unser celebrated with his crew in Victory Lane which, in his mind, signified completion of a tough chapter in his life. The ear-to-ear smile on Unser’s face, though, disappeared when I told him we had to go to The Speedway Club for the traditional post race champagne toast -- something we do with the winner of every Indy Car and NASCAR Sprint Cup race here at Texas Motor Speedway. The drivers look forward to the traditional celebration and are always stunned to walk in the club’s Grand Ballroom to find a thousand members of The Speedway Club ready to toast the new champion .
“I don’t want to be around champagne, Eddie,” he said. “But I don’t want to disappoint those people. I want to celebrate. Just no champagne. I’ve worked hard on my recovery and I don’t want to mess that up.”
I had an idea. I told Unser to keep celebrating. We were going to The Speedway Club and the last thing I wanted to do was cause any problems to his rehab. Little Al had been a friend for a long time and I was proud that he not only had worked hard to overcome the problem, he seemed to love talking about it to anyone who would listen. He was a good witness.
So we went to The Speedway Club. The crowd cheered when we came in the door. And we stepped on stage Unser saw our solution and quickly picked up the champagne glass. So did all the club members in the room. And we toasted the winner of the race that night, everyone raising their champagne glass along with Al Unser Jr.
Only our glasses were full of milk, the traditional drink in Victory lane at the Indy 500.
Congratulations, Josh Hamilton and the Rangers. Not only on winning the ALDS but also in supporting each other.