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Rangers suit up for better season

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Brad Short can remember his day of baseball fame well. The year was 2001 and his American Legion team in Arlington, Texas, was playing for the league championship. A high school freshman at the time, Short was on the mound that day -- his real estate of choice. And that day, he was on.

"I pitched a complete game," Short says. "I had nine strikeouts, only two walks and a couple runs so that's what stands out for me is that championship of that summer league. That was a high moment for me."

While that American Legion championship game is almost a decade in the past, it represents a distinct sporting moment for the pitcher. It's one moment among many, in a lifetime of baseball experiences for Short, who began swinging a bat and fielding balls as a kid.

Short's experiences with America's Game have seen him play on many a baseball diamond over the years, in his native state of Texas and in Minnesota, where he finished high school.

But this year, for the first time, Short will suit up with the Rangers and step out on the field representing Tinker as starting pitcher.

"It's always been something that's been a part of my life," Short says. "My dad played when he was younger too. He played a little bit in the minor leagues for the Cincinnati Reds so it's been something that's been in my family. He was a catcher so I grew up playing ball, grew up loving it."

It's a good fit for the 24-year-old second lieutenant and assistant coach. His favorite team is his home-town Texas Rangers, so this summer he'll get the chance to represent his top sports franchise by sharing their name and his air force base.

"It's a great opportunity to get these guys out playing," Short says. "It'll be good to get back in the groove of things and playing real baseball again. I think a lot of guys really miss out on that once high school is done."

The Tinker Rangers had a less than stellar season last year, to put it plainly. With only two wins in 16 games, there weren't many bright spots.

But this year Short thinks things will be different, as 30 guys came out for tryouts to be on the base varsity team. Now, with 15 able players on the roster and experience at every position, Tinker is in a new league -- the Men's Adult Baseball League -- and has renewed talent to make a showing.

"From a coaching standpoint last year I wasn't here but they only won a couple games so we're definitely hoping to improve on that record," Short says. "We had quite a few guys come out this year. We had to cut a few of them and we put together a really good team and we should have a better season than we did last year."

Short recognizes the team is up against 15 other good teams, but he's hoping for at least a .500 season for the Rangers, as they play 26 games over a six-month season.

"There are some players who have played minor league ball who are playing in this league," Short says. "A lot of really good college guys who maybe didn't make it to the next level, so it's going to be a really competitive league."

The impetus to play for Tinker is strong enough for catcher Justin Bignell that he drives from Fort Sill, Okla., twice a week for practices. The Army field artillery sergeant says it's a lot a work to just make it to practice. It's worth every minute of the hour and a half commute, though.

"It's totally worth the drive. I'd drive to Dallas if I had to because I love to play," Bignell says. "I figure I'm in the military, play with the military. We work together as a team."

Two deployments to Iraq and Africa in subsequent years kept him off the team in previous years, Bignell says. He's looking forward to the May 2 season opener and a chance to improve from last year. The last time he played serious ball was on a wooden bat, semi-pro team out of Fremont, Neb., several years ago.

"As a team I think we can improve and build on what we had last year," Bignell says.