Looking back at what made the ballpark special

September 23rd, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Former Rangers president Tom Schieffer expressed it quite eloquently when he dedicated the Ballpark in Arlington 25 years ago and spoke about the true meaning of a ballpark.

“They are the backdrops for people to play out the most touching moments of their lives,” Schieffer said. “They are the places where sons remember their fathers, where mothers make their children’s dreams come true, where husbands and wives first dated. They are places where the grass is always green, and hope is always alive.”

That is the essence of the ballpark now known as Globe Life Park, a magical world of brick, grass, granite and steel that rose high out of the North Texas prairie to lift a Major League franchise to a new level of excellence and provide an infusion of hope for the fanbase.

When the Rangers opened the doors to the Ballpark in Arlington in 1994, it transformed the franchise immediately.

“When you look back, the Rangers had progressed to the point where we were a Major League team that could draw two million fans and be a mild contender,” said Tom Grieve, who was the general manager at the time. “We were headed in the right direction. People in Texas were excited about baseball and the Texas Rangers. But to take it to the next level, we needed the Ballpark. Not only was it beautiful and a place people couldn’t believe belonged to the Texas Rangers, it enabled us to generate the revenue that allowed the team to be successful.”

This is the ballpark where Ivan Rodriguez forged a Hall of Fame career, Adrian Beltre recorded his 3,000th hit and Juan Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez and Josh Hamilton earned Most Valuable Player Award trophies. This is the ballpark where Kenny Rogers threw a perfect game, Rafael Palmeiro (500th) and Sammy Sosa (600th) hit milestone home runs and Gary Mathews made a catch in center field that defied description.

This is the ballpark where Will Clark and Michael Young stared down pitchers with a bat in their hands and a gleam in their eye, where Rusty Greer, Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus came of age as players, and Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli brought fans to their feet with their postseason exploits.

This was the ballpark that was supposedly tough on pitchers, but where Ken Hill, John Burkett and Bobby Witt; Rick Helling, Aaron Sele and Darren Oliver; and C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison all proved much tougher in the heat of a pennant race and postseason play.

Globe Life Park was where the Rangers won five division titles and two American League pennants.

“For almost two decades now, this place has been my second home in the Metroplex,” Young said. “I’m going to miss it. I’ve got so many incredible memories and lessons learned here. From big postseason games to interaction with fans, this ballpark will always hold a special place in my heart.”

Once played there, the ballpark was never forgotten.

“It was an incredible place,” Ivan Rodriguez said.

“I still get goosebumps coming here, even now 25 years later,” former pitcher Jeff Zimmerman said. “I pinch myself that I got a chance to play in this wonderful venue in front of these amazing fans. Every day was the greatest day of my life, I was just living a dream. Never a bad day in this beautiful, wonderful place.”

Globe Life Park is now getting ready for the Last Homestand. After Sunday’s game against the Yankees, the Rangers will symbolically transfer the franchise across the street to Globe Life Field, the $1.2 billion state-of-the-art facility with air-conditioning and a retractable roof to protect fans from the summer Texas heat.

The dubious perception was that Globe Life Park could not do that without a roof. That conveniently overlooks the fact that the Ballpark -- after months of meticulous and thorough study -- was originally engineered to take advantage of proper air flow and wind currents to maximize fan cooling and comfort. That was also before there were too many renovations to the building -- for good or bad -- that disrupted the carefully constructed pattern.

“I think early on in 1994-95, people thought, ‘Wow.’ It was a pretty special place,” said Chuck Morgan, the voice of The Ballpark. “But I think the fact that is so hot here in the summertime makes it a difficult place for the fan experience. But on a great Texas summer night, this is one of the greatest places to watch a game in the country.”

To focus too much on the heat meant being unable to appreciate much, beginning with the pastoral setting on the hill above Mark Holtz Lake and the arched brick and granite exterior that lit up the Arlington sky at night. There was the Home Run Porch in right, the out-of-town scoreboard in left, Greene’s Hill and the elegant office building beyond center field. There was an immaculate deep green playing surface tended to by head groundskeeper Dennis Klein and his hardworking grounds crew.

The architect was David Schwarz, and it was built by Manhattan Construction Company. Former mayor Richard Greene was the driving force in keeping the Rangers in Arlington, and it was Schieffer and Jack Hill -- working on behalf of managing partners George W. Bush and Edward “Rusty” Rose -- who oversaw the entire project.

“What we were trying to do when we built the ballpark was recapture that warmth and character that existed in the old ballpark that had gone away in the ‘70s with the multipurpose facilities,” Schieffer said. “We wanted to build a ballpark. It’s a place where people can have a warm and memorable experience, a place where memories are made, and that’s what we wanted it to be. We wanted there to be a feeling of attachment to the ballpark, because that’s what happened at old ballparks.”

The ballpark was built on time; it hit the $191 million budget and was paid off in 8 1/2 years. It opened on April 11 with a profound and stirring rendition of national anthem performed renown pianist Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony.

“I remember the night flying from Spring Training the year we opened,” former third baseman Dean Palmer said. “I remember it like yesterday, the bus came straight here and walking out here, it was dark and the ballpark was all lit up, the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen.”

The Rangers began the season with high hopes because of the new ballpark and new red-trimmed uniforms that were a big hit. Texas had finished second in the AL West the year before, and Grieve said in Spring Training, “We expect to win the division.” The Rangers were in first place for much of the season and the average attendance was 40,374 per game.

But the season came to an abrupt end on Aug. 11 because of the players' strike. The Rangers ended the season in first place, but with a losing record. Division titles were not awarded to anybody, and Texas would not average that many fans per game for another 18 years.

The Rangers hosted the All-Star Game for the first time in 1995, with the National League rallying for a 3-2 victory on a hot summer night.

From 1996-99, the Rangers achieved the success predicted for the new ballpark when they won three division titles over four years. Although Texas lost in the divisional round each year to a Yankees team in the middle of a dynasty, the ballpark had truly transformed the franchise with record-setting attendance, revenue and merchandise sales.

“This was the first place this franchise had success,” Morgan said. “We had some great players and great games at the other place, but in here, we had the first taste of postseason play.”

The sign of the Rangers changing fortunes was reinforced in 1998, when the Bush-Rose ownership group, which had bought the team in '89 for $84 million, sold it to Dallas businessman Tom Hicks for $250 million. The huge jump in the value of the franchise was mainly because of the ballpark.

“I hope young Rangers fans realize how big the jump was from minor league Arlington Stadium to the Ballpark,” broadcaster Eric Nadel said. “The sheer enormity of the concourse at the new park just floored me on Opening Day in 1994 when we had a rain delay before the game, and it seemed like 50,000 people were all able to take shelter there.

“I think the Ballpark came of age in 1996, when the Rangers hosted their first playoff games and the crowd stayed on its feet from national anthem to last pitch on Friday night and then again on Saturday at noon.”

The beginning of the end for the Ballpark though may have come in 2000 when an ill-conceived private club was installed above the lower bowl behind home plate. The club certainly offered considerable luxuries and amenities as well as a new source of revenue.

But it also changed the wind patterns by blocking the opening between the lower and upper decks. Previously the prevailing south winds would exit through that opening. Instead the glass-enclosed club created a swirling effect as the wind would circle back into a jet stream toward right-center field.

The ballpark, designed to be fair for pitchers and hitters, became a sluggers’ paradise almost on the same level as Coors Field. It would be a dozen years before more renovations fixed the problem and the wind currents reversed. But the ballpark had difficulty shedding the stigma.

It also didn’t help that the naming rights to the ballpark were sold in 2004 to a Southern California sub-prime mortgage company. Although the selling of naming rights had been anticipated from the beginning, nobody expected the company to hang a giant victory bell in honor of its logo out in the left-field seats.

The company went out of business a few years later, the bell was removed and the name reverted to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That’s what it was called during the two most glorious years in franchise history.

The Rangers won their fourth division title in 2010, and this time the Yankees didn’t stop them. Texas won the ALDS against the Rays and advanced to the AL Championship Series against New York.

The Rangers won three of the first five. Then, on Oct. 22, 2010, before 51,404 fans, the Rangers clinched their first AL pennant with a 6-1 victory. Reliever Neftali Feliz struck out Alex Rodriguez for the final out and jubilantly jumped into the arms of catcher Benji Molina as Nadel proclaimed on the air, “The Rangers are going to the World Series!”

It remains the most iconic moment in Rangers history.

“My biggest memory here was Game 6 against the Yankees in 2010,” Hamilton said. “This organization had never won it before and just to know we did it here, that moment was probably the biggest moment, it meant the most. You play for a city and represent as city, this is the city and to know that you helped in some way to get them to where they wanted to be and the organization to where it wanted it to be, is pretty fulfilling.”

The Rangers won back-to-back AL pennants in 2010-11 during a 14-year stretch when Major League Baseball determined home-field advantage for the World Series would go to the league that won the All-Star Game. The AL won in 11 of 14 years.

Two of the three they did not were the years in which the Rangers went to the World Series, allowing the Giants home field advantage in 2010 and the Cardinals in ‘11. That certainly was a factor, and Texas is still waiting for its first World Series title. But those October nights of 2010-11 were still captivating for Rangers fans.

“All my memories are here,” Andrus said. “A lot of great memories, especially the two World Series and my debut, those are going to be my top three for me. For me it was a dream after playing in Double-A to go to this ballpark. I knew if I wanted to make my dream come true, that’s the place I want to play in. Making that happen was amazing.”

The name for the ballpark changed again in 2014 when the rights were bought by Globe Life and Accident Insurance. The McKinney-based company, with deep roots in Texas and not Southern California, has proven to be a more stable and engaged partner for the Rangers and will carry those naming rights over to Globe Life Field.

Just about everything will be taken across Randol Mill Road while the future of the former Ballpark in Arlington remains unknown. Once the last baseball game is played, the park will be reconfigured for football and the XFL will begin play there in February. Instead of Ron Washington, Jeff Banister or Chris Woodward, the man in charge on the field will be former OU football coach Bob Stoops.

The long-term future will be decided by the city and the Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based business with an excellent reputation for developing urban entertainment districts. Texas Live! was their latest success story, and the hope is something lasting will be developed at the Ballpark that keeps the exterior architecture intact.

Whatever happens, it will be a long time before people forget it was a ballpark, a temple for baseball, a place that will remain deeply lodged in the soul of the franchise and the hearts of Rangers fans everywhere.

“I’ve never been a part of something like that and I think the others who were a part of it can say the same thing,” Schieffer said. “The Ballpark in Arlington was a special place and always will be. I think we built a building where someone will come there every night for the first time and leave with a lasting experience they will never forget. We built a ballpark.”