May 1994 - The House That Bush Built

I recently hit the road to check out games 3 and 4 in The Ballpark in Arlington, the much-ballyhooed new home of the Texas Rangers.

The exterior of the park is grand, particularly at night. With the twin towers over the main entrance, the stadium looks a bit like a castle, but if you didn't know better, it wouldn't be hard to mistake it for a prison.

Once through the turnstiles, I was duly impressed with the exposed iron work, showing off the ubiquitous Lone Star of the new and improved Ranger logo, and the high, open archways that lend an airy and sophisticated feel. Wonderful 9'x10' sepia murals of former players grace the entrances to the luxury suites, and all 67 action portraits depict Hall o' Famers, with one exception. (Take a wild guess: His initials are N.R., and the street outside bears his name.) Sadly, Joe Fan can only catch a distant glimpse of but a few of these masterpieces on the way to the affordable seats.

On first blush, the playing field and seating configuration was quite impressive. It's kind of fun to look at the different elements and recognize their inspiration: The trim on the roof is reminiscent of the old Yankee Stadium. The right field "Home Run Porch" is similar to Tiger Stadium (although, despite some reports, the upper deck does not overhang the playing field, as it does in Detroit. Just ask the woman who took a header over the rail to the seats 37 feet below.) Although only a handful of fans will realize it, a "Hit it Here, Win a Free Suit" sign pays homage to Ebbets Field. The left field manual scoreboard, mini monster and multi-angled outfield fence have a flavor of Fenway Park. I'm surprised there's no ivy.

The more I looked, however, the more this ballpark felt like a hodge podge effort. What ever happened to originality? The great structures that T.B.I.A. borrows from are great partly because they are unique, not because they were copied from somewhere else. I decided that this ballpark is just an imitation of greatness, a wannabe. Call me a snob, but it boils down to this: You can't buy nostalgia, and you can't steal charm.

In addition to railings (since raised) that allowed people fall from the sky, there are some other irritating design flaws. Because of player complaints after the first couple of games, the white railings outside the Ranger offices in straight-away center had to be covered with what looks like a big black Band-Aid. Didn't anybody know that a background that matches a baseball can be a literal headache for batters?

I was lucky enough to score decent seats in different parts of the park, including a perch in the exclusive "club" level. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a great view of the field from a $20 seat, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that I couldn't see all of the playing surface. Due to the design of the manual scoreboard, I also had trouble seeing the numbers, and balls and strikes were hard to find elsewhere. Shortcomings of this nature are excused in an 82-year old park like Fenway, but I sat in what has to be one of the most expensive obstructed view seats in the Majors.

The Ranger's former home, Arlington Stadium was really not such a bad place to watch a ball game, even though it was a minor league facility that had been expanded several times to accommodate the Big Leagues. From an ownership standpoint, the problem was the largest bleacher section in baseball - about 40% of the seats were in the outfield and had to be priced accordingly. The new park has 120 luxury suites that rent from between $30,000 and $200,000 per season. Let's face it: The real reason for building this park was to make owner George W. Bush more money. In addition to ticket revenue, just moving into a new ballpark has increased the value of the Rangers franchise by an estimated $30-40 million dollars.

So, I don't buy the nostalgia angle. But I will grant that The Ballpark In Arlington is, without a doubt, the finest Major League facility in the entire state of Texas. It has reasonable ambiance, so the average fan will like the place just fine... as long as they don't fall out of the upper deck. Thanks, but I'll take Fenway Park any day.

©1994 - 2007 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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