This weekend marks the last for Texas Rangers baseball at Globe Life Park, the team’s home for the last 25 years.
For those who became a Texan-by-choice after 1994, or if you are one of that uncomfortably large group that hadn’t even been born yet, Globe Life Park was once known simply as The Ballpark In Arlington.
Just two months before the new stadium opened, I’d left my longtime radio home at 103.7 KVIL for Newsradio KRLD. At the time KRLD was located inside an old building on the Carpenter Freeway in Dallas. Assuming that cavernous structure had ever had any better days in the first place, those days were far behind it. So far in fact that prior inhabitants had nicknamed the abandoned studio I adopted as my office “The Tomb”, due to its eternally dank vibe and general clamminess.
Ever get the feeling you’re being watched? I felt that one night while working late, and turned to see a rat the size of a small throw pillow sizing me up from the shadows.
Admittedly, rats aren’t that uncommon in broadcasting – but they generally confine themselves to ownership or the executive suites.
Soon thereafter KRLD outbid WBAP for the Rangers’ radio broadcast rights, and rumors began circulating that we were to move our entire operation to the new baseball stadium. When the whispers were confirmed the staff practically did cartwheels in the parking lot. The rat was to stay behind, although I’m sure he too was ready for new digs. Not only was the Ballpark facility a quantum leap forward in terms of broadcasting and production capacity, it was also destined to be a sales tool – designed to woo prospective advertisers both with KRLD’s enormous audience reach and in terms of that view.
Oh, you’re thinking of advertising with us? Great! Why don’t you bring your family to our corporate suite this weekend and we’ll talk about maybe buying an even bigger schedule!
It worked like a charm. Last time I looked, the call letters “KRLD” remain engraved above what used to be the station’s main entrance – at 1080 Ballpark Way.
Our back door opened directly into Vandergriff Plaza, which meant we could pretty much come and go from our offices into the ballpark and back again as we pleased. Believe me, we did. One memory all of us who were there at the time share is batting practice prior to the Major League All-Star Game of 1995, when Mike Piazza drove a ball over the visitor’s bullpen in deep left center off the windows of our conference room. The shot took a chip out of the frame, 580 feet from home plate.
Then there was the year the Rangers staged a fantasy camp at the Ballpark. Attendees got to know and play with the likes of Ferguson Jenkins, Garlord Perry, Jim Kern, Danny Darwin, Oddibe McDowell, and a host of other Texas greats.
We were allowed to use the team lockers and facilities, and the great Joe Macko brought out one of his prized keepsakes – Babe Ruth’s legendary 54-ounce bat. Chuck Morgan announced the games – and Nolan Ryan, who’d had a heart attack only weeks before, kept his promise to show up and meet everyone.
I think I hit a measly .166 over three days, but it might have been a matter of pure intimidation. I mean, Jim Sundberg behind the plate. You can’t hit when you’re worried about wetting yourself. Plus, Jim “Mudcat” Grant fined me $20 in kangaroo court for using the clubhouse whirlpool after I tore a quad chasing a fly ball. How many people can say that?
When KRLD first went to the Ballpark, I was still doing a daily talk show – and every morning my producer Daryl Beeson and I would sit in the empty seats beyond Greene’s Hill and plot the day’s lineup.
Imagine that setting for your first meeting of the day. Sitting there with a cup of coffee, watching the dawning sun begin to stream through the portals of left field’s upper deck, high above the out-of-town scoreboard – and the only sound is the chirping of the water sprinklers.
When your office is in a ballpark, it’s impossible to go to work in a bad mood.
Speaking of presidents, there was the day Jimmy Carter visited our studios while Ernie Banks was there – and it was the former president who sat enthralled listening to the ballplayer’s stories, not the other way around. Like an 8-year-old, filled with marvel and wonder, completely speechless. Banks? He was his always-affable, magnetic self – with the same earnest invitation.
Let’s play two!
The place had that effect, even without a roof or air conditioning. Even without a surrounding neighborhood. For years it needed none of that, even when the team struggled. Once you were inside, it was the Field of Dreams. We had the partial season-ticket pass, too. Out on Home Run Porch. Where were yours? We filled a whole row with our Pony League team more than once, and I’ll be you and yours did too. We all brought our gloves, including the coaches – because just maybe that would be the night someone would get a ball.
We all came to know the ticket-takers and ushers on almost a first-name basis. Sisters Maggie and Francis, the two nuns whose faith in the Rangers took a backseat only to their devotion to God. Remember Zonk? You can still hear his drum, can’t you? Remember John Hunter? Probably not – but if I say hawwwwwwwwwt dawwwwwwwwwgs, a whole generation will – instantly.
So many memories, but this might be my favorite Ballpark memory of all. Even better than the night my oldest son and I attended Game 4 of the 2011 World Series.
Many years earlier, Nolan and his 5th Grade class had gone to Arlington for Six Flags Day – the annual event end-of-school that attracts every yellow bus in Texas from Brownwood to Bonham. A day or two later, I got a call. Nolan and a couple of buddies had snuck out of Six Flags and over to the Ballpark for a few hours before returning in time to catch the school bus back home.
“I heard you left Six Flags and went to the Ballpark without permission today”, I thundered when he got home. Yes, he replied. He and a couple of other 12-year-olds had gone AWOL, and used my access code to get in the stadium. There, he continued, they’d gone up to Friday’s Front Row Sports Grill on top of Home Run Porch and had lunch.
“Why???“, I demanded.
To which Nolan replied, “Because the food is better there.”
I called his school back the next day and told them: there was no arguing with sound logic.
Yeah, later on they decided to call it Globe Life Park – but to me, it was always The Ballpark. And though I’m sure Globe Life Field will be wonderful, The Ballpark always will exactly that.