At the corner of East Randol Mill Road and Stadium Drive in Arlington, Texas, roughly midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, stands this monument to the Metroplex’s love of baseball. It’s had several names, but since March 2007 it’s been called the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That’s because it’s where the Texas Rangers play their home games.
As you can see, I took these sucky photos during the off season, when the place was shut down for repairs. Here’s how it looks from a distance, on a brighter day than the one I visited on:
Just for the record, I can’t claim that one; it’s a public domain publicity shot. So’s this view of the interior:
Nice view from the nosebleed section, right? I haven’t been inside to enjoy a game for a while, but looking at these pictures really brings back memories. For some reason, I usually ended up somewhat to the left of this shot, over behind third base, and a bit lower down. I actually liked that kind of seat, because you can see the action everywhere, and there’s less danger of getting beaned by an errant baseball. I once saw that happen to a poor lady who was seated next to the box seats above the Rangers dugout (you can’t see them in the picture). What happened was, a guy fouled out into the stands, she wasn’t looking, and the ball smacked her in the side of the head — kind of like what happened to the main character’s mother in the movie Simon Birch (it’s a good one; rent it). This lady wasn’t killed, but she was gone for most of the game. I think some kind soul gave her the ball when she got back, but I’m not sure. I hope she at least got a free hot dog.
They have good hot dogs, as I recall. I happen to be fond of hot dogs, and truth be told, perhaps overly fond of food in general. (Hey, at least I don’t snort coke). One of my favorite memories of the Ballpark is of the day we arrived in Nosebleed Heaven with tickets guaranteeing us a soda and jumbo hot dog along with our seats. That day they were out of jumbo hot dogs, so they gave us four regular-sized dogs each. Joy!
I was also impressed, and continue to be, by the ticket prices. Back when I went in the mid-1990s, you could get seats (complete with refreshments!) for as little as eight dollars. Nowadays a single ticket costs about $15, but you can get a better deal if you buy a ten-pack — they can be had for as little as $79. Even if you want to go the VIP route, you can get snooty Lexus Club box seats for as little as $35 ($349 for the ten-pack). To quote classic Eddie Murphy, “What a bargain! That is a bargain for me.” Of course, if you want some beer and hot dogs, expect to pay a little extra. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the costs of all the swag they’ll try to sell you under the stands.
The Rangers got the Ballpark built in the early 1990s using the standard “build it or we’ll go somewhere else” tactic that, by the way, didn’t work on Dallas the last time the Cowboys tried it*. The owners contributed $56 million, a not-inconsiderable sum, while the city of Arlington pnied up $135 million, which they financed by raising the sales tax by a half a cent for 12-15 years. They should be finished paying it off pretty soon, if they haven’t already, because the Ballpark was officially dedicated in 1994. The city and the owners astounded everyone by not naming it after Nolan Ryan, the legendary pitcher who played for the rangers from 1989 until his retirement in 1993; instead, they decided just to call it The Ballpark in Arlington. That sounded very plain and stupid to a lot of people at the time (including me), but actually, it turned out to fit the place pretty <> well. (Nolan Ryan did end up getting a small stretch of nearby parkway named after him, by the way).
The Ballpark’s original name lasted until 2004, when the Ameriquest mortgage company bought the naming rights and renamed it Ameriquest Field in Arlington. Not so euphonious as the original name, if you ask me, which nobody did. I happen to think “Floyd B. Largent, Jr. Ballpark in Arlington” would be an excellent name with a rather musical allure, but then I don’t have millions to spend, do I? In any case, Ameriquest ran afoul of the sub-prime lending crisis and stopped sending the Rangers money, so they renamed it Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on March 19, 2007, which happens to be my birthday. So at least I have that much.
The Ballpark, whatever you care to call it officially, is a gorgeous brick and granite structure built expressly for one sport, unlike most of the other local arenas. It think it bears some resemblance to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, but then I suppose it bears some resemblance to all major league baseball parks. It can handle just under 50,000 fans, and inside there’s a 17,000 square foot museum and children’s learning center, both of which you can get to year-round (except for the day I went, naturally). The new arena was built to replace the aging Arlington Stadium, a thirty-year old facility that was, frankly, on its last legs by the early ’90s. The former stadium’s location is now the current stadium’s northernmost parking lot.
Speaking of good ol’ Arlington Stadium, it got a lot of use from the Rangers, who appropriated it from a minor league team in 1972. I don’t have a huge amount to say about the Texas Rangers, because frankly, I’m not much of a fan, despite the fact that I’ve attended a number of games. The bare historical record is that they were the second incarnation of the Washington Senators; the original Senators had left in 1960 to become the Minnesota Twins. They were moved here rather abruptly in 1971 — much to the displeasure of the Washington fans, apparently — and were renamed after the legendary law enforcement agency, which I happen to feel was a stroke of genius on the part of the franchise. That’s because it makes them appeal to a much wider audience: they’re not a Dallas or a Fort Worth team or even a Metroplex team, they’re a Texas team. Here’s their team logo, incidentally:
Generally, the Rangers’ record has been middling to mediocre. We used to joke about the Houston Astros being “the Lastros” or “the Disastros” because their record was often among the worst in the league (and no, they haven’t changed much), but the Rangers have never been much better, and are usually worse. Now, around the time they moved into The Ballpark in Arlington, they were pretty decent — which is to say, they had some good players who were willing to bother trying to earn their salaries. That’s the era when I went to most of the games I’ve attended. Back then they still had Pudge (Iván) Rodriguez — only the greatest defensive catcher in the history of the game– playing for the team. This was before they got stupid and traded him to the Mariners, who then proceeded to go straight to the World Series and win it. Great for Pudge, terrible for the Rangers. Pudge was an excellent offensive player for the Rangers, too; as I recall, in one game he scored nine RBIs, including at least one grand slam. But when he became a free agent in 2002 they cut him loose, and off he went to help the young Mariners with the World Series (in your face, Rangers!).
But hey, the Rangers tend to do things like that. Heck, they paid shortstop Alex Rodriguez $252 million to come play in their sandbox in the early 2000s, then proceeded to treat him like crap and play like a bunch of losers. A-Rod, on the other hand, busted his hump and broke power-hitting records several years in a row, and in 2001 was the only major league player to play in every one of his team’s games that year (Cal Ripken had already retired). Of course, his teammates managed to sabotage these achievements, and in 2003 they hit last place for the fourth year in a row. Rodriguez had done an excellent job that year, as always; in fact, he was the American League MVP, and team captain. But he wasn’t happy, so he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he was welcomed with open arms. It’s not like he was a cocky bastard, either — by all reports A-Rod is a genuinely nice guy, or at least he was then. The worst he had to say about the Rangers in public is that they acted like a bunch of babies when he was there. They probably did. Rodriguez continues to excel — he’s the AL MVP again in 2007 — and the Rangers continue to suck…most of the time.
Amazingly, the Rangers somehow scored an amazing 30 runs against the Orioles in a doubleheader on August 22, 2007, winning 30-3; this was the first time any major league team had scored 30 runs in a single game since the Chicago Colts did it in 1897 — 110 years ago! Now that’s some good baseball. So although they still ended the season in the basement, there’s hope they’ll do better next year. The first home game is April 8, 2008, so if you’re in town and you want to find out, you should be able to get a ticket anytime between then and late September. Maybe longer, if they make it into the playoffs.
*So they’ll be moving to Arlington, since the tactic works there, and into a multi-bazillion dollar stadium that won’t be complete until 2011. But that’s grist for another entry.