Checking out of our motel Sunday morning, we still had a two hour plus drive to Arlington. We were not in a particular hurry, since the game between the hometown Texas Rangers and the visiting Oakland A’s had been “flexed” from early afternoon to early evening to accommodate ESPN’s Sunday Night game. Instead of a 215 pm CDT start, the first pitch would be thrown at 710 pm.
1. Heading to Arlington
With time to spare, we took our time getting into the Dallas metro area, finding lunch before deciding how we wanted to proceed. Since we were staying in the area overnight (flying out of Dallas the next morning), we checked into our hotel before heading out in the direction of the stadium. We arrived well ahead of the first pitch, and secured parking just outside of the Ballpark in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers.
A demonstration was underway just outside the ballpark as we arrived. Based on the signage carried by the demonstrators, it appeared to be tied to gay rights. Being from the Northeast, I assumed that the demonstration was a pro gay rights rally. Almost immediately, I was proven wrong, as it was clear this was an anti gay rights assembly. This should not have surprised me, given the section of the country. To my great surprise, the demonstration was far from peaceful, as homophobic slurs were flying at what I considered an alarming rate.
Being from New Jersey, it took all of my restraint NOT to respond to the vitriol present at that rally, and there were several verbal altercations between demonstrators and passersby. Wanting to avoid a possibly ugly interaction, we left the area in search of a quieter location to wait for the gates to open at the stadium.
We stumbled upon the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum, located at the ballpark. Inside the museum, we found displays complete with bats, jerseys, and trophies belonging to baseball greats. There are exhibits on Texas Rangers history, the Negro Leagues and the Texas League, and the museum has facilities for students of the game to conduct research. While not as inclusive as the National Baseball Hall of Fame (nestled in Cooperstown, NY) or the Negro League Baseball Museum (located in Kansas City, MO), the museum was an enjoyable way to pass some time and is recommended if you attend a Rangers home game.
2. The Ballpark in Arlington
Fortunately for me, high clouds filtered the still strong mid September sun in Arlington, mercifully keeping temperatures in the 80s leading up to game time. The Ballpark in Arlington is an open air stadium, which was a controversial decision when the plans for the ballpark were announced. It is not unusual for temperatures to hover near 100 degrees F during summer afternoons and evenings, potentially putting the health of players and fans alike at stake. Because of the heat, most Rangers home games were played in the evening to avoid the worst of the conditions.
Cooler temperatures made exploring the park more enjoyable, at least for me. The Ballpark in Arlington was bigger than I expected, complete with three decks encompassing almost all of the entire playing field. With a capacity of greater than 48,000, it was one of the biggest “new” MLB ballparks. From our first look inside the ballpark, it was clear that a fair amount of planning was done to create the stadium’s atmosphere.
In a nod to the past, home plate, the foul poles and the bleachers were transplanted from Arlington Stadium, the home of the Texas Rangers from 1972 through 1993. The roof over the right field porch was reminiscent of Tiger Stadium, the former home of the Tigers. Finally, the white steel facade in the outfield was based on the facade of the old Yankee Stadium. Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the park was the office suites in centerfield, beyond the grassy noll that served as the batter’s eye. All of the above resulted in a large ballpark, much larger than I had expected.
While touring the ballpark, we happened upon the visitor’s bullpen in left field, which was enclosed under the lower level concourse. A’s pitcher Barry Zito was warming up in the bullpen before the game, getting in his between start throwing. Because of the closed nature of the bullpen, Zito, a left hander who’s game was predicated on control and pitch placement (rather than velocity), was seemingly throwing very hard during his warmup (due to the echo).
As we were watching Zito throw, a young fan walked up and said “Hey Barry, you are throwing really hard”. Normally, players ignore fan comments, even during warmups, as they are concentrating on getting ready for competition. However, Zito stopped throwing, looked up at the young fan and said “Ah, don’t let the sound fool you”. With that one sentence, Zito showed me that he was respectful of fans, and that he was fully aware that he was indeed not a hard thrower.
Following our tour, we headed for the concession stands to get a baseball dinner. With hots dogs, pretzels and drinks in hand, we headed toward our seats. Despite a strong starting lineup, the Rangers were mired in last place in the AL West. With the home team limping toward the end of a disappointing season, there were plenty of good seats available for the game. We were fortunate enough to score seats in the lower level, just to the third base side of home plate.
Starting for the visiting Oakland A’s was right hander Justin Duchscherer. Not one of the five man Oakland rotation, Duchscherer was making a spot start, just his third of the season. On the mound for the Rangers was left hander Tony Mounce, the fifth starter in the Texas rotation. Given the relative weakness of the starting pitching, we expected the strong lineups for both teams put on a hitting display. We didn’t have to wait long for the offensive fireworks to begin, as the teams combined for seven runs in the first two innings.
After this outburst however, both offense were quieted into the middle innings. While Tony Mounce lasted six innings for the Rangers, the A’s starter (Duchscherer) didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, leaving the game in the hands of the A’s bullpen. As evening faded into night at the Ballpark in Arlington, conditions became a bit cooler. Scoring slowed the pace of the game, leaving us some time to get a sense of the environment within the ballpark.
Not surprisingly, a disappointing season for the Rangers resulted in a sparse crowd, which seemed even smaller than the announced attendance 17,000. So few people in the park made the ballpark appear even larger, robbing the place of any charm or intimacy. A collage of pieces from other parks gave the Ballpark at Arlington an almost forced feel, further diluting any sense of identity. To be fair, the ballpark DID provide a pleasant environment in which to watch a game, but I didn’t get the same feel I did at other ballparks in our travels.
Following Alex Rodriquez’s 43th home run in the bottom of the fifth, the hometown Rangers took a 5-3 lead. In the top of the seventh, the A’s broke the game open with three runs, and a trio of A’s reliever closed the door on the potent Texas office to seal a 6-5 win for the A’s. We filed out of the park with the rest of the remaining crowd, taking what would be our last look at the Ballpark in Arlington. Even though we had a good time seeing a ballgame here, there was not enough to bring us back any time soon.