Everything in North Texas feels brand new. The roads are freshly paved. The high school football stadiums shine under their megawatt lights. The suburbs are littered with shopping malls, none of them more than 40 years old. There aren’t many trees, and even the grass has been planted, bought from Home Depot and laid out in lines and watered before the sun comes up and after it goes down each day. The oldest in-use buildings in both Dallas and Fort Worth proper were built after the Civil War. Both have been renovated.
Some historic buildings in Dallas (like the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot president John F. Kennedy from a sixth floor window) were build before the 20th century. These were very old buildings to me as a child. I grew up in the “old” neighborhood of a very rapidly growing North Texas suburb. Our house was built in the late 80s. It was, by the standards of almost every other city, new.
Door-to-door, my dad and I could make the drive to the ballpark in 28 minutes consistently. All the roads had numbered names. They were left over from Farm to Market culture. From my childhood home, you take 2499 to 1171 to 121 to 360. You exit at Division Street and you park in the back of what used to be the E lot. This is the only lot that will spit you back out after the game without having to sit in traffic which, I now understand, is clutch when you have taken your six-year-old daughter to sit in the Texas sun for four hours.
The Ballpark in Arlington was new then, too. It was built just before my family moved to Texas. It might as well have been built just for me.
The first stadium in Arlington, Texas was built as a tease. There was no Major League Baseball team in North Texas, and the city wanted one. They built a stadium that could house an MLB team in 1965, and within a decade had poached the Washington Senators, who became the Texas Rangers. But the park was dingy. “It was old,” I remember people saying as a child. That first stadium was 29 years old when the new Ballpark in Arlington was opened.
The Temple, we called it, because that is what the men on the sports radio we listened to dubbed it, and also because it felt clean, and right, and holy. At first, there was no sponsored name, only the money of George W. Bush, and the 29,000 fans who packed in there for its first game. My dad and I weren’t there, but we would be later.
Weirdly, I got sick every year, for a single day in early April. My dad would have to come get me from school. “You seem very sick,” he would say, and I would smile so big my face hurt. “Yes, I am extremely sick,” I would say, and we would go to the car and I would put on my jersey and my little hat, and eat the sunflower seeds and go to bless the team for its Opening Day. To welcome them to another blazing hot summer.
Here are some things I remember about what later became Globe Life Park: I remember the burn of the metal bleachers in the center field section on the back of my legs as I sat down for a day game. I remember the feel of the bases under my small feet, my dad standing on the side of the field waving me around after some home game. I remember the soft grass on the hill in center field that, despite all of my efforts, I never managed to snag a home run ball from. I remember that between the outfield wall and the barrier to the seats, there was a three-foot gap where you could absolutely drop the ball a player had so nicely signed for you on the field if you weren’t careful. I remember that the best way as a small blonde child to get a professional baseball player to turn around was to call him Mister.
It was a beautiful park to grow up in. The bricks were so red that they almost shone in the early evening in the Spring. The decorative roofs and the seats were green, a contrast built of baseball: the nice, bright green of the outfield and the coarse red of the dirt around the bases. The hallways were big. The entries were built for awe. You couldn’t see the field from the concourse. You got to be shocked by it, to turn the corner inside the dark, mist-fanned hallway and emerge into this holy space of games. Ain’t baseball great?
There are a lot of places I could say that I grew up, but The Ballpark in Arlington is the one that feels right. It was in that stadium that I was allowed freedom for the first time (my dad let me go to the bathroom by myself). It was in those seats that I experienced my first overt sexism, and later, my first catcalls. It was in those seats that I learned to keep a boxscore. There, I learned that losing hurts, and that there is absolutely, positively, crying in baseball.
This was the stadium that gave us Kenny Rogers’s perfect game. This was the stadium where the Texas Rangers saw their first pennant win, and their first World Series appearance. I went to two playoff games in the stadium (by that time, coming home from college to go) and most of what I remember is the roar. It was so loud in there. 52,000 people yelling, screaming, singing, losing. For fans of other teams, this must be normal. But to us it was novel, it was beautiful. My dad looked at me during the first inning when the crowd exploded for the first time. “Wow,” he mouthed, but I couldn’t hear him. It was too loud.
But generally, the Rangers were not that good. They were a team with a lot of youth, and a lot of promise, and a lot of years dubbed “rebuilding” three weeks into the new season. I found a parade of second-string players to fall in love with. I loved Gabe Kapler. I loved Hank Blalock. I loved Rusty Greer and Pudge. I loved guys who hit .240 and seemed to me like they tried really hard. I loved to eat a freezing cold lemon chill in the bottom of the sixth and have half of it be melted by the time I got it.
It is so hot in there. Ninety degrees yesterday on the seventh day of fall for the very last game in the ballpark that built me. It’s too hot. Players don’t want to come here. Fans don’t want to come here. It it important, the people who stand to make the money off of the game we want to watch say, that this team be given a retractable roof, that people be able to watch the game in air-conditioned bliss. The rich guys who made that argument are not the ones who had to foot the bill.
One of the things I remember the most about that stadium is the day we got to boo. Texas fans are nice. Our animosity usually takes the form of bless-your-heart backstabbing, not audible booing and taunting. Except for the day A-Rod returned. He had abandoned us, wanted out so badly that he would switch positions to get away. He was supposed to stay for a decade and instead after three good years, he went to the dreaded Yankees, a team I was taught to hate not because they were our direct rivals but because they represented everything the Rangers thought themselves not to be: rich, assholes, Northerners.
There was something else, though: A-Rod wanted to be Yankee. In interviews he talked about the pinstripes. He talked about the bright lights of Yankee Stadium. He talked about the constant press; he wanted to make it in New York, he said. And all that time, what he was talking about was a history, a legacy, of baseball.
That’s something the Rangers don’t have, or maybe, something they keep themselves from having.
Globe Life Park, as they are calling the new field, will be the Rangers’ third home stadium in 48 years. It is a team so accustomed to novelty that when home plate was dug up from the field on Sunday and carried out to its new home across the street, there was a protocol. They had done this before.
So many things will be new next year for the Texas Rangers. The field will have neither grass nor dirt. The new fancy roof will almost always stay closed no matter how many promises they make (There are very few days between April and October in North Texas when it is not 90 degrees). There will be no more hallowed “wind tunnel” to lift balls straight-away to center field with no warning.
Some things will stay the same. I am sure there will still be foot-long hotdogs and brisket tacos. I am sure they will still play the “Cotton Eye Joe” immediately after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as God intended. Many of the players will be the same, and so will the game they play.
The new stadium will certainly be nicer. It will have new amenities and fancy things no one knew they wanted. It will be better. But at what cost? This new stadium won’t be home for the players and it won’t be home for the fans. In a few years, everyone will have adjusted, but the history will still be cut short. And perhaps again, when the roots of the new stadium are lengthening and its history beginning to fill, and its gates start eliciting feelings not just of awe but nostalgia, it too will be traded for something new.
UPDATE: A previous version of this piece named the wrong great Rangers’ perfect game. Kenny Rogers, not Nolan Ryan, pitched a perfect game in The Ballpark in Arlington.