|More to Arlington than A-Rod|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: This is the 28th report card in Page 2's summerlong series rating all 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball.
ARLINGTON -- Every park looks good when it's packed to the rafters. Any rickety, fleabag joint can shine and sing if there's a late-summer pennant chase game going on. You can take the most sterile, cavernous, forsaken lump of poured concrete and put my team on the field, and I'll tell you the place is great. Shine the pure golden light of the sun, cue a zephyr from the south, and put my girl at my side, and I'll write spontaneous love poems to anywhere, even the Vet.
Under the right circumstances, I'm easy.
The true measure of a ballpark, though, is whether it can impress me when the elements are conspiring against it, when the crowd is thin, the home team is 20 games out, the skies are booming with thunder and flashing with lightning, and my beautiful wife is 1,500 miles away.
Last Saturday night in Arlington was like that: wet, windy, meaningless and lonely.
But the Ranger faithful (devoted parishioners at the First Texas Church of Alex Rodriguez) hung around and hung around, and the angry sky eventually eased up long enough to get a game in, and, in the end, The Ballpark in Arlington came off looking pretty good, ugly night and all.
1. Access: It's a suburban park, out west of Dallas. What do you do in the suburbs? You drive. (Lots of hotels nearby for out-of-towners, though, and you can walk from some of them.) Points: 2
2. Exterior architecture: They do things big in Texas. The place is a fortress, it's an Athenian palace. You know that scene near the end of "The Rookie" when Dennis Quaid stares up at The Ballpark and the music swells and your Adam's apple quivers? That scene works because this place is epic. It ain't easy, cozy, quaint, or even neighborhoody -- it's epic. 4
3. Interior architecture: When you're watching a game, you want small foul territories, seats in tight down the lines and over the right field wall, and lots of unifying lattice work on the facades that makes the place feel traditional (even though it's pretty new). The Ballpark has all that. When the rains come, or when it's too hot to think, and you're looking for some place to eat your chili dog under cover, you could do with some picnic areas, and maybe a steel-girder architecture surrounding wide concourses. The Ballpark's got that, too. It pulls off the intimate and expansive doubleheader. 4 (Would have been a 5, but the upper deck is too high up, and looking at the scoreboard on top of it is like sitting in the first row of seats at the movies -- a cruel and unusual workout for your neck.)
4. Tickets: You can get 'em, though they only sell them at some of the entrance gates, and if you stroll up to the wrong side of the park like I did, you've got a walk ahead of you (remember, the park is Texas-sized; bring water and trail mix). I spent $12 on an upper reserved seat between home and first, which felt a bit steep ... or was that just the stairs? The better buy would have been $13 for upper home run porch seats. 3
5. Seat comfort: The seats were fine, and they were wet -- you expect that in a rain delay. Here's what you don't expect: an usher wiping down the bleachers (not the field boxes, the bleachers) during each break in the storm. 4
6. Trading-up factor: Rain at a baseball game is the great democratizer. We are all -- rich and poor, front row and Uecker seats -- equal in the eyes of the rain gods. On another night, I'm sure the ushers would have worked the stubs a bit more carefully, but on Saturday, it was easy to move around, and good to feel part of the great unified throng. 4
7. Quality/selection of concession-stand fare: I've eaten a few meals at The Catfish Place in Nichols, Iowa. For $7.99 you got two deep-fried catfish, your choice of corn-on-the-cob or mac-and-cheese, cole slaw, apple sauce, and either tapioca or chocolate pudding in a paper cup. I get a happy, bloated feeling just thinking about it. The catfish and fries at The Ballpark aren't nearly as good as the stuff they were serving at The Catfish Place, I'm afraid. Then again, they weren't offering major-league ball in Nichols, either. 5
8. Quality of hot dogs: Clothes make the man and condiments make the dog. Get the Coney Island (what else did you expect in Texas?) and dress it up real nice in the freshest condiments I've seen and tasted all tour, including some very sweet, very red tomatoes. 4
10. Beer: You know what's good with beer? Smoked turkey legs are good with beer, sweet, succulent smoked turkey legs, the kind that you have to close your eyes to bite into, because it's not a bite, it's a journey, a journey to a wondrous, far-off place where beer isn't something you order, it's something that flows in rivers and streams, something just waiting to satisfy your thirst at the end of a long day. (The beer at Arlington ain't quite that good or free, but it ain't bad, either.) 4
11. Bathrooms: A crisp black-and-white floor tile scheme; bright, airy lighting; and a row of mirrors that seems to double the size of an already roomy room. The bathrooms at The Ballpark are a good thing. 5
12. Scoreboard: I don't know, it was up too high for me to get a good look. Seriously? Seriously it's a ... 3
13. Quality of the public address system: The sound is good, and they get the music thing about half right: organ music, yes; more Dave Mathews Band, no. 4
15: Price/selection of baseball souvenirs: The hot item when I was there was the Rangers poncho, as seen modeled here by Erin, a student at SMU, and a self-professed loyal reader of Page 2. 3
16. Friendliness and helpfulness of usher staff: The guy wiping down the bleachers was a quiet saint. Most everyone else I met was friendly, but stern, like we were playing out coffee shop roles in "Heat": Them: "You know, we are sitting here like a couple of regular fellows, and if I have to go out there and put you down, I'll tell you, I won't like it. But if it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, buddy, you are going down." And me: "There is a flip side to this coin. What if you do get me boxed in and I will have to put you down? 'Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We've been face-to-face, yeah. But I will not hesitate, not for a second." 3.5
17. Knowledge of local fans: I love the way they stuck around through the rain. I love the fact that the autograph-hounding kids knew Einar Diaz just by looking at his face. But by my count there were two John Rocker (who, you know, is busy not pitching for Tampa Bay these days) jerseys on folks in the stands Saturday night, and by my count that's two too many. 3.5
18. Seventh-inning stretch: "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is fine, but what really gets the people going is the hoedown fiddle thing that comes after. People were dancing shamelessly (and mostly badly) on the big screen, and I can't say why, but it was sort of charming. 4
19. Pre-and-postgame bar-and-restaurant scene: The drive in is a straight shot down a strip mall: Joe's Crab Shack, Hooters, Red, Hot and Blue (ribs), and other chain options. 3
20. Wild card: Let's not complicate this: Alex Rodriguez gets four ABs a night here. That's worth at least ... 7
TOTAL POINTS FOR THE BALLPARK IN ARLINGTON: 80