THE BALLPARK IN ARLINGTON
THE BALLPARK IN ARLINGTON. In April 1989 George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, along with Edward W. “Rusty” Rose and Tom Schieffer, bought the Texas Rangers baseball club. Since Arlington Stadium, the team’s home since 1972, was considered inadequate as a major league facility, the construction of a new ballpark was a top priority. So Schieffer, soon to be named the team’s president, was named “Partner-in-Charge of Ballpark Development” in July 1990. To a large degree, the distinctive features of the new ballpark reflected his input.
Local pundits opined that downtown Dallas was the most likely locale for the new venue. Arlington mayor Richard Greene immediately went to work to promote a new facility to assure that the Rangers did not leave town. The issue was put before the Arlington voters, who overwhelmingly approved a public/private partnership backed by a half-cent sales tax increase. When it came time to choose a new location in Arlington, the park, simply called the Ballpark in Arlington, was built a mere 400 yards south of the old venue, which was razed to make way for parking.
David M. Schwartz was chosen as the design architect. Though Schwartz was based in Washington, D.C., and had never designed a baseball park, he had done some projects in Fort Worth that were well-received and subsequently did many more in North Texas. The Dallas firm of HKS, Inc., acted as the architects of record to carry out Schwartz’s design plan. On October 24, 1990, Schwartz’s ballpark model was introduced and represented a significant upgrade over its predecessor. The amenities included 122 double-decked private suites, a four-story office building to house the Rangers front office and other enterprises, a brick and granite outside frieze, as well as a year-round full-service restaurant and the Legends of the Game baseball museum (both of which later closed).
The surrounding area and landscaping included a Little League-sized park with 650 seats, nine color-coded parking lots, and a twelve-acre manmade lake (later named Mark Holtz Lake in honor of Ranger radio announcer Mark Holtz, an avid fisherman, who died in 1997).
Designed in the wake of a ballpark nostalgia trend, a number of features were deliberately evocative of older parks, including the right field home run porch that was inspired by the double deck in right field in Tiger Stadium at that time, the hand-operated scoreboard (later automated) at the base of the left field wall which was a nod to Boston’s Fenway Park, and external arches that reminded veteran fans of Chicago’s old Comiskey Park. Even old Arlington Stadium was not forgotten, as the foul poles and some of the bleacher seats were transferred to the Ballpark.
In reaction to the symmetry that characterized the circular multi-purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s, the playing field was deliberately asymmetrical, measuring 332 feet to left field, 390 to left-center, 400 to center, 407 to deep right-center, 381 to right-center, and 325 to right. The fence was fourteen feet high in left field, and eight feet high in center and right field. The “quirky” dimensions were a tribute to the idiosyncratic features of old ballparks that had been shoehorned into limited urban spaces that resisted symmetry.
Groundbreaking took place on October 30, 1991, at the approximate site of home plate (eventually, the playing field would be twenty-two feet below ground level and would feature Bermuda grass from a sod farm in Granbury). Among the participants were Bill Snider, chairman of the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority; Rusty Rose, Rangers general partner; Richard Greene, Arlington mayor; George W. Bush, Rangers general partner; Tom Schieffer, Rangers president; and Gib Lewis, speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Construction began on April 24, 1992, and the park was completed in time for the 1994 baseball season. The Ballpark cost $191 million with $135 million coming via bonds issued by the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority. The remainder came from the sale or lease of luxury boxes and seat options, loans guaranteed by the Rangers, concessions contracts, and city street funds.
The “soft opening” of the Ballpark was an exhibition game against the New York Mets on April 1, 1994. The grand opening, featuring Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony performing the national anthem, was the first regular season game on April 11. A sellout crowd of 46,056 witnessed the Rangers lose to the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 4–3.
The following season the All-Star Game came to the Ballpark, and 50,920 fans watched a 3–2 National League victory over the American League. On June 12, 1997, the Ballpark hosted the first regular season interleague game in major league history, as the Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants, who won the historic contest by a 4–3 score. After the 1997 season, the grassy slope beyond the center field fence was officially designated Greene’s Hill in honor of Richard Greene. Unlike its predecessor, the Ballpark played host to post-season baseball, as the Rangers won American League West division flags in 1996, 1998, and 1999. Unfortunately, they were not able to advance to the league championship series.
After 1999 the Rangers returned to mediocrity, and the Ballpark hosted no more post-season baseball games until 2010. On May 7, 2004, the venue’s name was changed to Ameriquest Field per an agreement with Ameriquest Mortgage Company. Three years later the Rangers negotiated out of this agreement, and on March 19, 2007, the facility was renamed Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. In 2010 the Texas Rangers were good enough to make it to the World Series against the San Francisco Giants but not good enough to beat them. Game 3 of the Series drew the largest crowd in Ranger history as 52,419 fans crammed the Ballpark. In 2011 the Rangers returned to the World Series but bowed to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The consecutive American League pennants did pay off at the box office, however, as the Rangers drew 3,462,780 in 2012, which remained the season attendance record through the team’s tenure at the Ballpark. The Rangers returned to the post-season that year, as well as in 2015 and 2016, but never returned to the World Series. So the Ballpark was never able to fly a championship banner. On February 5, 2014, the Ballpark was renamed Globe Life Park.
As much as critics raved about the park on its opening, the Ballpark went through numerous changes over the years. The audio and video systems were upgraded in keeping with changing technology. The various restaurants on each level were renamed and revamped. A Kid’s Zone was added to the first floor of the center field office building, and various seating sections were upgraded (no more benches in the bleachers) or reconfigured.
No matter how many changes were made at the Ballpark, the summer temperatures remained consistently oppressive. Climate-controlled parks had been constructed in other cities, but when the Ballpark was being designed, a retractable roof, though feasible, was cost-prohibitive. Also, the traditionalism that prevailed in ballpark design in the early 1990s militated against indoor baseball. Nevertheless, on May 20, 2016, the team announced plans to build a new air-conditioned stadium (eventually named Globe Life Field) with a retractable roof for the 2020 season. The news caught fans by surprise, given the Ballpark’s structural soundness, central location, and distinctive design.
While the Rangers played out the 2019 season and fans monitored the construction of the new stadium across the street, people who had played significant roles during the Rangers’ tenure at the Ballpark were enlisted to “count down” the number of home games left, from 81 to 0, by peeling off a large number in the second deck in left field.
The final Ranger game at the Ballpark was played on Sunday, September 29, 2019. After a ceremonial first pitch from Ranger great Nolan Ryan (who never played at the Ballpark), a sellout crowd of 47,144 witnessed a 6–1 Ranger victory over the New York Yankees. It was the 1,145th victory of the 2,081 regular season games played there. More than 66,700,000 fans (averaging roughly 32,000 per game) had witnessed same. The honor of peeling off the last number was given to Richard Greene, who had been inducted into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame earlier in the season. Also present in the same seats they had occupied on opening day in 1994 were George W. Bush, Tom Schieffer, and Deedie Rose, the widow of Rusty Rose.
Immediately after the game, Ranger greats Michael Young, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and Elvis Andrus (who was still on the team) took part in a ceremonial “last pitch.” The greatest players from the twenty-six seasons of the Ballpark history were introduced, and home plate was transported across the street to the construction site of the new park. Similar rituals had been conducted after the last game in 1993 at Arlington Stadium.
As of 2020 the Ballpark remained standing even though the Rangers were no longer tenants. The facility was still available for outdoor concerts, and the field was revamped to host the Dallas Renegades of the XFL Football League and the USL League One’s North Texas Soccer Club.
Dallas Morning News, September 29, 30, 2019. Gary Gillette and Eric Enders with Stuart Shea and Matthew Silverman, Big League Ballparks: The Complete Illustrated History (New York: Metro Books, 2009). Josh Leventhal, Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2000). Joe Mock, Joe Mock’s Ballpark Guide (Round Rock, Texas: Grand Slam Enterprises, 2001). Eric Nadel, Texas Rangers: The Authorized History (Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1997). John Pastier, Jim Sutton, Marc Sandalow, Michael Heatley, and Ian Westwell, Ballparks: Yesterday and Today (Edison, New Jersey: Chartwell Books, 2007). “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Historical Analysis,” Baseball Almanac (https://www.baseball-almanac.com/stadium/ballpark_at_arlington.shtml), accessed March 12, 2020. Kevin Reichard, “Saying Goodbye to Globe Life Park,” Ballpark Digest, September 28, 2019 (https://ballparkdigest.com/2019/09/28/saying-goodbye-to-globe-life-park/), accessed March 12, 2020. Phil Rogers, “Rangers Saying Goodbye to Beautiful Ballpark After Only 26 Years,” Forbes, June 11, 2019 (https://www.forbes.com/sites/philrogers/2019/06/11/rangers-saying-goodbye-to-beautiful-ballpark-after-only-26-years/#3df40acf24f3), accessed March 12, 2020. Curt Smith, Storied Stadiums: Baseball’s History Through Its Ballparks (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2001).
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