by Karin Wheat
I have been a Texas Rangers fan all of my life. You can read about it in a story that I penned last year for Simply A Fan titled “Here Comes The Rain.” But this story is different. It’s not as much about my fandom for the team as it is my love for a ballpark.
The old Arlington Stadium (1972-1993) was never much to look at for Rangers’ fans, but it was maybe a fitting home for the team that is housed. While I have many memories of players I loved during that era, the only historical worth of that stadium was getting to see the great Nolan Ryan pitch. If I’m being honest, it mostly felt like we didn’t even have a “real” baseball team growing up. We were bad and our stadium was unimpressive. But all of that changed in 1994.
The Ballpark in Arlington opened for it’s first game on April 11, 1994 as the Rangers took on the Milwaukee Brewers. My family had split season tickets with some friends of ours, and on Opening Day, my brother Ryan and my dad went to see the new park. Ryan recalls getting out of school early to go see it. While I didn’t get to attend the very first game with them, my memories of seeing it for the first time are the same and still so vivid. I still remember the very first time of walking towards the park and seeing the beautiful brick facade made of Texas Sunset Red granite. It almost glowed as you came upon it. My eyes widened as I came closer, the sight of the equally stunning white frieze, depicting Texas history, contrasting against its red brick background. It was beautiful. The home porch stood tall, roofed to resemble Tiger Stadium. It is impressive now, but even more so as a young child, lifting my eyes to see it. The Ballpark in Arlington was a “real” baseball park, meant for a “real” baseball team, and time would deliver that too.
On October 4, 1996 I attended my first ever Rangers home playoff game with my dad and brother. Ryan says this is when we became a real baseball team. The atmosphere was electric, inciting feelings never experienced by Rangers fans before. Our seats were in the right field, beneath the home run porch. In the fourth inning, Juan Gonzalez (Ryan’s favorite player at the time), hit a homer near us. It was the fourth of his five homers that series. A few rows behind us, fans held letters spelling out “Señor Octubre” and it was in that excitement we felt it — we had arrived — we were a “real” baseball team, with “real” fans, and a “real” ballpark.
Most of my memories from The Ballpark in Arlington were from the earlier years, when my family had season tickets. Our seats were right by the Rangers’ bullpen and I still remember standing up, watching the pitchers warm up, listening for that loud pop in the catcher’s glove. And I have a vivid memory of watching Dennis Cook running out the door of the bullpen, across the perfectly manicured grass as he made his way to the pitchers mound. It was exciting to watch and the proximity to the players made me feel as though I were part of the team myself.
I remember April 19th, 1996 getting to see my Rangers slaughter the Orioles 26-7 after scoring 16 runs in the 8th. Never had a game been so fun and laughable.
Then there was my only World Series game to see – Game 5 in 2010. It was heartbreaking to see the Giants win it all and celebrate on our field, but I’ll carry the memories of that experience with me forever.
There are countless memories of buying cheap seats and sneaking down to the good seats with my brother. Extra inning games and walk-off wins. Plays at the plate (we need to bring those back.) Favorite players I loved to watch: Dean Palmer, Juan Gonzalez, Will Clark, Pudge Rodriguez, Rusty Greer, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre.
When I first learned a few years ago that the Rangers were getting a new ballpark to replace The Ballpark in Arlington, I was upset. If I’m being honest, I still am. Bias aside, it truly is one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen. And it’s where I saw my Rangers grow up into a real team. My most precious baseball memories are held within the confines of those stunning brick walls and all season long I have not been ready to say goodbye. But yesterday I did just that.
On a whim, I decided to go to the final game. Although difficult to think my beloved Rangers not calling it home any longer, this was baseball history and I wanted to bid farewell to the ballpark of my youth. Because my husband Ben is awesome, he stayed home with our kids and told me to go ahead by myself. I got a single ticket on the first base side by the right fielder and had the perfect view for the grand finale. There was a ton of pomp and circumstance surrounding it – introduction of the Rangers legends, Nolan Ryan throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, the Yankees’ RF Aaron Judge giving his batting gloves to a guy two rows behind me and the Rangers won 6-1! As the post-game celebration concluded, the Rangers picked up home plate and paraded it across the street to the new park, a fitting tribute that what’s old is new.
It was an amazing day. Perhaps greater things lie ahead in the walls across the street, in a building not as adequately adorned. Only time will tell.
September 29, 2019 – Karin outside Globe Life Park before the final game.
Karin resides in Plano, Texas with her husband Ben, who is a Red Sox fan. They have two beautiful children, Amelia (3) and Theodore (17 months). Karin spends her days at home raising their kids to be Rangers’ fans, much to Ben’s chagrin. Outside of baseball, Karin enjoys traveling, spending time outdoors, and eating delicious food, whether it be at a hole-in-the-wall her and her husband have recently discovered or an incredible meal her chef of a husband has created.
One of Karin’s favorite baseball quotes is from Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby when he said, “People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
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