*Note: Now updated for 2013 renovations.
August 18th 2008: Lexus Club seats
June 26th 2010: Lower Infield seats
October 15th 2011 (game 6 ALCS): Upper deck box
August 11th 2012: Upper deck reserved
August 12th 2012: Premium Infield seats
May 18th 2013: Lower Infield seats
By: Cole Shoemaker
Its always fascinating to look back at how a facility was presented when it opened. In 1994, the Rangers didn’t just build a ballpark. They built a ballpark Mecca. They built a ballpark Disneyland. No ballpark so vehemently claimed they were the best before or since.
“It blows you away. I’ve never seen a ballpark like it, not even Camden Yards,” a fan states in the first opening day program. “The euphoria over The Ballpark in Arlington is understandable,” team officials assured.
They believed this ballpark would truly stand apart in history because it was part of a larger concept. It was the first of the retro ballparks to have extra features such as museums, youth ballparks, amphitheaters, and excessive kid related activities. It was also a piece of art.
Part of the appeal was that the main “visionary”, David Schwartz, had never designed a sports facility and “wasn’t even much of a baseball fan.” He was simply a great architect.
“We wanted to build a great place to play baseball,” President Tom Schieffer said. “But we also wanted to build something that would become the center of the community.”
But the ballpark wasn’t built into a community. It was going to be a community. They tried to create their own virtual baseball city.
“I kept asking myself what makes Wrigley so special,” Schwartz said. “I finally realized that Wrigley is special because it is part of a neighborhood. If we wanted a Wrigley atmosphere, we would have to add attractions that would draw people to the area.”
So at least they got the concept down. But after over 15 years of round criticism, I think the consensus is that it hasn’t come close. It was supposed to be more elaborate than Camden Yards, Jacobs Field, or Coors Field, but it is never mentioned in the same conversation. And that’s because the Rangers’ Ballpark has created no ballpark village. And if it wasn’t supposed to create one, it’s just not one. It’s just not the same as Wrigley or any of the urban retro parks. It is a monumental structure in the middle of nowhere without a context.
I always picture Rangers Ballpark as kind of like a theme park on an island. It’s a neighborhood park without a neighborhood. It’s not mentioned with the first retro jewels because it’s an entirely different animal.
Considering the retro movement is all about the context in an urban community, this is arguably the first “retro cookie cutter”. It has really become a symbol of something that’s now frowned upon in ballpark design. People therefore argued that all its synthetic quirky dimensions and retro elements were forced and out of place, because they were not in unison with its context, like Camden Yards. This is a suburban ballpark trying to be urban. There’s no escaping that it looks like a contrived theme park, within walking distance of a Six Flags theme park.
Despite all of this, Rangers Ballpark compensates by having a wonderful, extremely ambitious, architectural design. It’s the only ballpark that attempted to be an aesthetic masterpiece above all else, to the point where much of its phoniness can be forgiven. It’s the only structure in the majors that attempts to stand out as a building first and a ballpark second. At the very least, the ballpark is a piece of architecture worth analyzing in its own right.
The exterior is one of the nicer retro facades, and I actually like the faux urban enclosed interior. The interior design is a distinctive change of pace: its like you are in a self-contained ballpark village, a city separated from all else. It may be contrived, but it feels surprisingly well drawn together and authentic. I’m in the minority here, but I’ll expound on what makes Rangers Ballpark so beautiful a bit later. The truth is, aesthetically, they did build a ballpark Disneyland.
Also, out of all the early-mid 90s teams that opened new retro ballparks, the Rangers seem most intent on enhancing their ballpark in the coming years, perhaps because of the team’s success and it wasn’t initially as well recieved as the others. While it will take a colossal development project to fix the ballpark’s main flaw, the location (which the city of Arlington has an interest in doing, but it won’t come out of the Rangers pocket), the Rangers are perpetually taking baby steps in creating a better ballpark experience. A number of new climate enclosed restaurant spaces are opening, the centerfield plaza was renovated, the food is getting better, the scoreboard is new, and they are making small improvements in their premium seating options.
Unfortunately, its logistically impossible to fundamentally change a couple of the structural flaws that would lead to a huge jump in the ratings, like the closed concourses, obsolete premium seating model (extremely weak, non-climate enclosed club level and large inventory of suites), and the suspect sightlines. But the Rangers are trying, especially in terms of addressing the heat issues. By the way, I’m guessing it must be structurally impossible to renovate and enclose the Lexus “club level,” because that should be item #1 on the agenda, and we haven’t seen any enhancement out of the $35 million spent from 2011-2013 on the ballpark on that level. I hope I’m wrong, as more is on the table for 2014-2015.
Despite my various complaints, including how they replaced the Legends of the Game museum and how the structure is not built conducive to its climate, it is a good ballpark. Visually, I think the ballpark personifies its Texas culture unlike any other. Representing the region is about all you can ask for in any good ballpark design, and Arlington succeeds in a wonderfully novel fashion, avoiding “Dallas urbanite” aesthetic you might have expected after Baltimore and Cleveland opened, building a distinctly self-contained “Texas” ballpark. Again, in some ways, Rangers Ballpark is the most unique in baseball.
But did the Rangers’ goal of building a super ballpark village complex succeed in the way they envisioned? No way.NEXT - Setting