Next year will be the Texas Rangers’ last season in Globe Life Park. This is the story of my first trip there, over twenty years ago.
The Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994, and in June of that year, my family and I made the two-hour drive from our home in East Texas to the sprawl of concrete that is Arlington, Texas. I’d been to a game in old Arlington Stadium, but I didn’t remember it. I was ten years old, and this would be my first official Texas Rangers game. (And yes, it’s Globe Life Park now, but it will always be The Ballpark in Arlington to me.)
As we walked toward the stadium, the red brick exterior held my gaze. I’d never seen a building so big. My dad went to the ticket booth to buy tickets. It was 1994, and you had to buy tickets like people did back in 1920 or 1940. It wasn’t like today, where you can buy tickets from three different apps or the team’s official website.
It’s funny to think how things stayed the same way for a long time and then they changed. I think it’s part of the appeal of baseball, the fact that on the diamond, not much is different than it was in 1920 or 1940. The scoreboards are bigger, there’s instant replay, but baseball is still the game your grandpa played.
As we walked into the park, an attendant handed me a wooden bat, about 28 inches long. It was a commemorative giveaway to celebrate Juan Gonzalez leading MLB in home runs in 1993. The barrel was painted black, the handle a natural wood. I still have it to this day.
My dad chose seats in the center field bleachers, beside Green’s Hill, the batting eye in the ballpark. That’s right, those seats in center field used to be metal benches. I’m glad we attended a night game. I can’t imagine the temperature of those benches on a day game in August. People probably left with third degree burns.
As we walked to our seats, the ballpark overwhelmed me. Large slabs of concrete held by giant metal beams surrounded me. People chattered, vendors yelled about beer and hot dogs, the smell of popcorn wafted over the crowd. And that field. It was so green. I came from the country. I grew up surrounded by green pastures full of cows, great seas of grass. But they were not this green. And the field was perfectly manicured, the border of the grass and dirt perfectly edged. The foul lines were crisp and white. It was like nothing I’d ever seen.
The Rangers were playing the Seattle Mariners, so ten-year-old Ben was losing his mind before the game even began. Like most kids in the 90s, Ken Griffey Jr. was my favorite player, and I was sitting in center field, right behind him. By this point, I’d already worn out Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball for the Super Nintendo. Now I was going to watch him play in person. To this day, I don’t know how my head didn’t explode.
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The game started, and from the beginning I could feel the game was different live. Despite the crowd, I could hear the pop of the ball in the catcher’s mitt. The loud crack of the bat traveled all the way to our seats in center field. Griffey was just twenty feet away from me, and he was a real person. He moved around, talked to his teammates, and stood around idly between plays. He wasn’t just a figure on the television, or a cartoon character in a video game.
I was rooting for the Rangers, but when Griffey hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, I cheered a little. It didn’t matter, though, because Griffey’s home run (and six RBIs) wouldn’t be enough to stop the Rangers.
Texas hit five home runs. At my first Rangers game I could remember, I got to see Pudge and Juan Gonzalez hit back-to-back home runs. And then there was Jose Canseco. Remember, this is pre-Juiced Canseco, pre-all-the-drama Canseco (but post-ball-hit-him-on-the-head-and-became-a-home-run Canseco. He hit three home runs. Three! It felt like every time he came to bat the ball left the yard. In fact, it wasn’t until after I went to a few baseball games that I realized it was unusual for a player to hit three home runs in one game. Or for the Rangers to put up 17 runs in a single game.
So, to summarize my first Rangers game–brand new ballpark, commemorative bat, Ken Griffey Jr., gobs of home runs, two dozen runs, and the greenest grass I’ve ever seen. I already loved baseball, but after this, I was obsessed.
The Ballpark in Arlington was beautiful and I never wanted to leave. I’ve been back dozens of times, but that first time will always be special. Comment below to tell us about your first trip to a Rangers game.