Hall of Memories: My Farewell to the Ballpark in Arlington

At the end of the day, it’s just a building, but to me and many others it’s a hall of memories. We’ve seen wins and losses, eaten ridiculous food, felt our legs stick to those green seats in 1 million degree weather in July, chased foul balls, heckled opposing players, listened to Chuck Morgan’s perfect voice, clapped along to Zonk’s drum, begged for a ball from the guy with the fishing net, chased homers onto Green’s hill, watched countless firework shows, and trudged out the gates to the salutations of friendly ushers and into the gridlocked traffic. We’ve called it the Ballpark in Arlington, Ameriquest Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Globe Life Park. We’ve watched that dumb bell in left center ring for home runs in the Ameriquest days, and we’ve watched guys who couldn’t put down the dumbbells (hi A-Rod) hit monster home runs. We’ve cheered for racing dots and Sam Houstons and Davy Crocketts.

But, for me, my memories of the Ballpark will always be connected to family. In the late 1990s, when I was a kid, my family had partial season tickets. This was back when those were relatively affordable and our seats were amazing. Third row, just past first base. We went to probably ten games per season, even though we lived in Tyler which is a two hour drive from the ballpark.

I remember everything about these trips. We’d leave about 3:45 or 4 to make sure we got to park in time for batting practice. We’d pack a cooler full of food and water, which you could bring into the park to avoid paying stadium prices, we’d grab some extra baseballs and sharpies in case a player was signing autographs and we’d pile into my mom’s Nissan Quest minivan.

Batting practice was the best, these behemoths clobbering home run after home run and my brother and I joining the other kids racing between the bleachers to grab the baseballs. Guys like Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, Will Clark, and more were blasting them deep into the seats for the Rangers. And then the opposing team would take their turn and we could see a legend like Ken Griffey Jr. hit a few into the upper deck. Then we’d head down to the baselines to see who was signing. Often it was a guy like Scott Sheldon, a lifelong utility player, signing. Sheldon was such a mainstay down the first baseline that we even built up a rapport with him. He felt like a friend. And I’ll never forget watching the game on TV when he played all nine positions in one game. It felt like a friend of ours was breaking a record or something.

Once I remember Cal Ripken Jr. signing autographs and the line snaking up the stands and into the concourse. We were disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to get his autograph until a random connection my mom had from high school showed up. He was working at ESPN and grabbed our baseballs, took them down to the field to Cal who signed them, and then took them back. It was amazing.

By the sixth or seventh inning of every game there was only one thing on our mind: The Big Kahuna. These days the ballpark only has a generic ice cream cookie sandwich, but back then they sold the Big Kahuna, a chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream mixed with chocolate syrup in the middle. I’m certain if I had one now I would think it was fine, but back then it was the world’s finest delicacy.

The game always ended well past our bedtimes so when we got to the minivan we’d change into our PJs and I’d lay across one bench seat and my brother would lay across the other. We’d fall asleep to the sounds of Eric Nadel calling the final innings or, if we got to stay until we saw “Hello Win Column” flash across the scoreboard, the postgame show would help us relive those exciting moments. When I was small enough, my dad would pick me up from the seat when we got home and carry me to bed. I’d fake like I was still asleep, which only made it more obvious that I was awake.

As the years passed, ticket prices went up, the team quality went down, and we gave up our tickets. Trips to the park became fewer, but I still watched as much as I could. The team in the mid-2000s was terrible, but I didn’t care. I watched teams led by Hank Blalock or David Dellucci or, most consistently, Michael Young struggle and fight to get wins in the Texas heat. It never really occurred to me that the the Ballpark in Arlington would one day host World Series games. Watching the Rangers became more about trying to finish the season as the team with the most home runs in the league or some other insignificant, but fun, stat.

As I went to college in 2009, getting to regular season games was harder, but we made it a priority to attend as many playoff games as we could. It seemed like every game I went to for the next five or six years was epic, from the first playoff game in over a decade to the 2011 AL Pennant-clinching win over the Tigers, to Game 163 in 2013, to the Odor punch in 2016, my memories were almost exclusively related to the major events on the field. The joy of a regular season game with the family was forever changed, it became all about the product on the field.

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The only wreck I’ve ever been involved in happened on I-30 on the way to the Ballpark. I still made it to the game.

The last few seasons have been weird, especially knowing that the Rangers will be moving and that the team isn’t really competing. Now the sights, smells, and sounds bring back memories combined with dread. There’s an overwhelming feeling that I must take advantage of the time I have. I need to recreate those feelings, I need to eat the generic ice cream cookie sandwich despite the fact that it’s not a Big Kahuna, I need to take pictures, I need to fit in all these nostalgic experiences while I can. It’s the opposite feeling one should get whilst attending a baseball game. Going to a game is as much about having three hours to just sit and watch and enjoy as it is about the score. At a baseball game, you let the memories come to you. Baseball isn’t for thrillseekers.

The Rangers will play next season in what promises to be a brilliant new park. I’ll love being able to go a game without worrying about melting through the seat. But it won’t bring back those memories of my childhood. It won’t remind me of the time my brother and I convinced our parents to stay until the last inning in a blowout because we believed the Rangers could win. Sure enough, they pulled off a huge comeback and won and we couldn’t have been more excited. I can’t really find evidence of this game because in my mind it was the world’s most important game and everyone remembers it, but in reality it was probably only a small comeback in July that I’ve turned into an eight-run-ninth-inning-division-winning victory in my head. The new park will make those memories for my future children, but the “old” one will always contain mine.

Perhaps it’s fitting that this ballpark goes out on top. We never got to see it decay. We never had to write off out-of-date features as “character.” Instead we can write these tributes to its beauty and its splendor and you can go out and see for yourself without having to imagine how it must have looked in its glory days. The Ballpark will forever be glorious, but not because of the aesthetics, instead it’s glorious because of the events and the people and the memories that it housed for its quarter-century lifespan.

 

2 thoughts on “Hall of Memories: My Farewell to the Ballpark in Arlington

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  1. I enjoyed reliving the great memories of the ballpark. Old Arlington stadium has some great memories too, especially seeing Nolan Ryan pitch so many classic games.

  2. This was great! It reminded me of things I haven’t thought of in years. Though our family didn’t go as often as yours did, I still remember the Big Kahuna and seeing my boys’ favorite players. Thanks for reminding me!

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