Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Ballpark at Arlington

The official name of the Texas Rangers’ home park is Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Honestly, I could swear they used to call it The Ballpark at Arlington, but it could be that I’m confusing it with Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Nevertheless, last night it became the 28th major league stadium I’ve visited, and the 18th among the current 30. That 18 is down from the 19 I had checked off following my August trip to Milwaukee, Minnesota, Kansas City and St. Louis. Of course, the reason for this is that both New York teams have new stadiums this year. In fact, since the Mets and the Yankees have yet to play regular season games in their new homes, it could be argued that the count still stands at 20.

But, that’s a moot point. The Mets and Yankees will play their home openers April 13th and 16th, respectively, and I’ll have ample opportunity to visit at least one, if not both, of these new parks this year. But, this post is about last night’s enjoyable visit to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where Texas was hosting the Cleveland Indians.

I arrived at the park about two hours before the game’s scheduled 7:05 start time, so that I could take in all that this modern baseball venue has to offer. It was 83 degrees and sunny, by far the nicest weather I’ve experienced since probably last September. The temperature held pretty well throughout, dropping to only 73 by the completion of the game at approximately 10:20. Unfortunately, the attendance was a pretty unimpressive 22,829, especially considering how pleasant the weather was and the fact that this was their second game—and first night game—of the season.

I seem to have a thing for happening upon dollar hot dog nights, as Rangers Ballpark had a similar special as the one at Minnesota last summer. However, where Minnesota asked that each customer limit themselves to two $1 dogs, and the special was only good for the first couple thousand sold, Texas only had a limit of five per customer per trip to the concession stands…as if we needed any more evidence that the Lone Star State is all about being bigger and “better” than everywhere else. Believe it or not, someone actually told me that they built the state capitol in Austin to be exactly one square foot larger than the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC.

I took full advantage of this bargain and ate five hot dogs, three prior to the game and two more about half-way through. These dollar hot dog nights are pretty much the only times I eat hot dogs at the ballpark, as I simply refuse to pay four dollars or more for an item that it takes five of to fill me up. Beer, on the other hand, is an item that I’m generally willing to overpay for. After all, if I would have to pay $4.50 for a soda or a bottled water, why not pay a few more dollars to alter the state of my mind a little? I wasn’t expecting much, however, considering this was Texas—not exactly the nation’s capitol of craft brewing.

After bypassing a number of beer vendors selling only Bud Light and other typical offerings—as well as a couple of “Beers of the World” stands that featured Heineken, Corona and Red Stripe in addition to mostly American selections—I found my way to a “Beers of Texas” stand. Again, not expecting much, I purchased a 24-oz. Texas Red for $8.50. It was nothing impressive—maybe a hair better than Killian’s Red—but, considering the weather, it kind of hit the spot. When I arrived at my seat with the amber-colored brew, a couple nearby asked me where I got it, then complained that the Rangers said they were reducing the prices of concessions this year, but apparently had reneged on this promise.

Later, I tried another craft-style offering called ZiegenBock Amber, which was a slightly better value at $7.50 for 22 ounces. A poster advertising this beer at the concession stand claimed “Only Texans get it”, but the lady who sold me the beer—after I told her I wasn’t from Texas—said she’d make an exception. I guess the advertising slogan was correct, though, as I was slightly less enamored with this one than with the Texas Red. As I found out later, ZiegenBock is an Anheuser Busch product available only in Texas.

The design of the stadium was as impressive as many of my favorite newer venues, including Camden Yards, PNC Park, Miller Park and the new Busch Stadium. The concession areas were uncongested and I never had to wait in line at the rest room, although the relatively smallish crowd certainly contributed to this. My seat was down the first base line, as I opted for a different perspective than my usual view—when you’re buying one ticket you can sit almost anywhere—from behind home plate. The seat provided a similar vantage point to that which I enjoyed in my last trip to Camden Yards about five years ago. I sat in the fifth row, basically directly behind where the ball girl sits—and I had an excellent view of the game action as well—with the seats in this section turned about 45 degrees so that they were angled to face the pitcher.

One aspect that I was less than impressed with was the Legends of the Game Museum, which required a $6 admission. My first thought was…what legends? However, it appeared that the exhibits paid tribute to more than just the home team, but considering I had recently—less than two months ago—spent three days in a row at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and it was getting pretty close to game time when I discovered the museum, I decided to pass. I learned later that the exhibits include over 100 items on loan from the Hall of Fame. So, in hindsight, I really can’t criticize the $6 price, but having been at other stadiums that have nicely done areas that celebrate their teams’ all-time greats, I’m feeling a bit put off by the required admission.

In the game itself, the Rangers once again had tremendous success against one of Cleveland’s dual aces, roughing up Fausto Carmona for six runs on seven hits and two walks in five innings, en-route to an 8-5 victory. Texas’ attack was paced by two monster home run blasts by Nelson Cruz, who could well be on his way to becoming the team’s next emerging offensive star, following last year’s breakout seasons by Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler. It’s too bad that they can’t occasionally produce such a talent from the ranks of their pitching prospects.

When Texas catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the game due to an injury in the 8th inning, I was reminded that, not only does he have the longest name in baseball history, but backup Taylor Teagarden is no slouch in that department himself. The two team up for possibly the strangest pair of names among the ranks of major league catching duos.

Due to my leap back into fantasy baseball this year—and the fact that I otherwise had no real rooting interest in either of these teams—I found myself pulling for Cleveland’s relievers to accomplish a different type of hold than the kind that appears in the box scores. Trailing by three runs—and twice seeing that deficit extended to four, then subsequently reduced to three again—I was desperately rooting for them to keep their team within three through eight innings. They granted me my wish, which gave me the opportunity to witness one of my fantasy relievers, Frank Francisco, vie for his (and my) first save of the season. Francisco entered the game to a song that I can best describe as Dominican electronica—a far cry from “Enter Sandman” or “Hell’s Bells”—then looked more than a little shaky in his successful effort of closing out the second victory of this young season for the home club.

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