If it hadn't been for Nolan Ryan, it would be hard to name five great moments in the Texas Rangers' 22-year history at Arlington Stadium. "I know two: the day it opened and the day it closed," says former Ranger coach Rich Donnelly. "The father-son-daughter game in 1983 was pretty good too." Built in '65 to house a Double A team and originally named Turnpike Stadium, this little park was forgettable, not a place fans visited to soak up tradition and atmosphere. Texas president Tom Schieffer called it "a backwater stop, the worst facility in baseball."
Now the Rangers have one of the best.
On Monday, with their 1994 home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Rangers will officially christen The Ballpark in Arlington, an open-air, natural-grass, 49,292-seat, asymmetrical, baseball-only masterpiece. It's another stadium that combines the look of an old-time ballpark with the latest fan-friendly features. But as Texas infielder Bill Ripken, a former Baltimore Oriole, says, this park is even more impressive than the prototype of this genre, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, because it's a much bigger structure.
Schieffer was the driving force behind The Ballpark, which was built at a cost of $190 million (including financing from a $135 million bond issue). Schieffer says he "gets goose bumps" whenever he gives a tour of the facility. It features a two-tiered grandstand in rightfield—the Home Run Porch—that's reminiscent of Tiger Stadium. The grassy bank beyond the centerfield fence is similar to the one behind the wall in left center at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. As at Fenway Park there's a hand-operated scoreboard built into the 14-foot-high leftfield wall.
When it came to the details, the Rangers made no concessions, even on concessions, where fans can feast on the kind of bratwursts (with secret sauce) made famous at Milwaukee's County Stadium. The stands are angled so every seat faces home plate. Each of the 67 private boxes is named for a baseball Hall of Famer (well, one is named for Ryan, who is not yet in the Hall), and a sepiatone mural of that legend adorns the outside back wall of the box.
Still standing a few hundred yards away is Arlington Stadium, which will be leveled by June to make way for additional parking. "I enjoyed playing there," Ranger closer Tom Henke says, "but it never gave you a big league atmosphere."
The move to a new park can elevate a team's play, as it did the Orioles' their first two months at Camden Yards in 1992. Says Ranger outfielder Gary Redus, "With nice surroundings, a nice clubhouse, the stands filled, it could carry us for a while."
Once a laughable franchise—Texas had four managers in six days in 1977—the Rangers now are a stable organization but one still thirsting for on-field success. Since divisional play began in 1969, they've never been in a postseason game. With a new park, realignment that weakened the American League West and an explosive lineup, the Rangers have their best shot to win a championship since arriving in Arlington in 1972.
"We feel we're going to be one of the next great sports franchises," says Schieffer.
The Ballpark in Arlington is a good start.