ARLINGTON — A 26-year-old beauty was given final divorce papers Sunday. Reasons cited for the split union included heat exhaustion and a need for a new start.
Born as The Ballpark in Arlington, it later took the name of Globe Life Park (no relation to Chan Ho). But the Texas Rangers — who grew up from awkward teen years under the Ballpark’s care — are moving on, having already arranged a union with a new suitor with a retractable roof. It’s actually Park’s more flamboyant sister Globe Life Field, who promises to be a lot cooler and keep visitors covered from the elements.
The Rangers came close to everlasting bliss with the Ballpark, coming a pitch short of a first World Series title and having several other near misses.
Still, the parting was hard on those who had adopted the Rangers and the Ballpark as their family. Thousands were lined up at noon Sunday for a 2:05 start to pay their last respects.
Sunday, the high points came when Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan threw out the first pitch to a standing ovation, and in the top of the sixth when former president and one-time Rangers managing general partner George W. Bush was introduced.
Bush said in a television interview that building the stadium “showed our commitment to the fans. This is a fabulous ballpark.”
The Ballpark brought legitimacy to the Rangers. It was no longer a remade Triple-A Arlington Stadium. It was beautiful as all true baseball stadiums are, lovable for its quirks such as the indentation for the Rangers bullpen in right field where the fence juts in from a 407 mark in center to 377, then suddenly back again.
Van Cliburn played the national anthem for the Ballpark’s opening. Phil Garner, the manager of the visiting Milwaukee Brewers in that opening game, said that it was the best national anthem he had ever heard. Figuring he’d been in professional baseball for 30 years at 200 national anthems a season, that’s a pretty good anthem.
Driving through traffic in the Metroplex and Waco on the way to the venue’s final series made me almost wish I had stayed home and watched on TV. But talking to folks at the ballpark changed my attitude. Plus, I got to say hi to longtime Yankees announcer Michael Kay — back from a stint on the vocal cord injured list — and listen to former manager Buck Showalter talk some ball.
Another guy, whose name I can’t pronounce, much less spell, was a good conversation. Where else can you talk to a man who speaks English and Japanese and covered major league baseball?
Longtime broadcasters John Stirling (Yankees) and Eric Nadel (Rangers) both commented on the hot September breeze.
“You’ve got that Sirocco wind,” 81-year-old Stirling said Saturday, comparing the hot wind that blows into the open booths to one originating from the Sahara Desert. He’ll be happy to be in the AC next year.
Nadel, a radio play-by-play man for 41 years with the Rangers, took a break Saturday night and ventured into the air-conditioned press box for half an inning to cool down. The hot air was blowing into the booth, he said, noting that’s where normally the hot air is blowing out.
The wind was blowing in decidedly Saturday, where Yankees slugger Aaron Judge’s high-flying blast had him giving a low-five congratulations to the first-base coach and ending up having to hustle for a triple as the wind knocked it down like a Jeff Burroughs blast in Arlington Stadium.
It’s the lower-flying balls that benefit from the jet stream created when the Rangers enclosed an area behind home plate to become a ritzy restaurant selling cognac and other high-priced drinks. It added, in my experience at least, to the heat index by several degrees. Judge blasted a low line drive into the left-field seats Sunday.
Judge said earlier that he’ll miss the park.
“It’s a good place to hit,” he said after noting some home runs hit there and the loyal fans close to the action. “I’ve always thought it was cool to hear stories from guys saying, ‘Hey, I played the last game in that stadium. ... So now I’ll get a chance to tell some of the younger guys about playing (here).”
But it’s a different kind of cool to be there. Every fan who was asked about it said the new park would be more appealing because of the AC.
The temperature was in the mid-90s for both late September night games, and up to 94 for Sunday’s finale. It isn’t what players are used to as October approaches.
“You’re expecting it to be a little chilly. It’s 95 degrees,” Judge said. “That can play to the Rangers advantage a lot of times. It’s an adjustment.”
Still, over the years, writers chronicled the Rangers having many summer letdowns that some tied directly to the sapping Texas heat. The temperature for their night games often topped the daytime high for other areas and the day “get away” games when teams were finishing a visit were brutal.
Former Rangers first baseman Will Clark, one of several honored at the closing ceremonies, talked about the grind of taking batting practice every day in the Texas heat.
When the 1995 All-Star Game came, the workouts during the day saw the temperature in the camera area — a brilliantly designed concrete box — at 115 degrees. As the workout ended, all the players bolted for the AC except Cal Ripken Jr., who patiently signed autographs for every fan who wanted one for 45 minutes. If anyone deserved a rest that day it was Ripken in the middle of his record-breaking consecutive-games streak.
Among the worse memories of the not so ol’ ballpark was buying some playoff tickets for the “all you can eat” section only to be told upon arrival that it wasn’t all you could or even cared to eat for playoff games. So I had to eat some crow for friends who were looking forward to eating a lot of bad-for-your-diet ballpark food.
I probably made up for the difference over the years with “dollar dog night,” when hot dogs were just a dollar.
I had hoped going into the visit that the new park — rising up under the Texas sky — will come with better cheese on the nachos. For a time the Rangers, who I think invented the ballpark nacho, fell short in that category. But fans can find love, and decent nachos, again.
Someone sitting near me had some nachos and commented how good they were, and I had some too. The nachos were back.
The ballpark experience can come back too. It remains to be seen if the new facility has some of the magic of the old. I remember my brother Kenneth calling the shot when Nelson Cruz ended a 2011 playoff game against Detroit with a grand slam and the delirious crowd exiting the stadium.
I took some time to drive around the rising Globe Life Field and to ponder what brings change in this crazy mixed-up world.
Right now, the new stadium doesn’t look so hot. But come spring, who knows?