Number of games seen: 12, plus 1 tour
First game: August 3, 2002
Most recent game: September 29, 2019 (final game ever)
PHOTO GALLERY at bottom of page
By: Cole Shoemaker
Written in 2011-2014, updated in 2019, ratings updated yearly when necessary
It’s 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, 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, The Ballpark in Arlington is the prototypical “faux retro” ballpark.
Where design quirks and asymmetrical dimensions at Camden Yards (1992) and Progressive Field (1994) are a function of the site, all of the quirks, nooks, and crannies at The Ballpark in Arlington (1994) are synthetic, derived from the whims of the P.R department. Placed in suburbia, the retro architecture and old-fashion features are not crafted around an urban or neighborhood context. There is no escaping the stage-set sensibility of this place, in what has always had a “retro theme park on an island” feel. This is probably the primary reason The Ballpark in Arlington was not as well-received as its 90s contemporaries.
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.
In the early 2010s, 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. A number of new climate enclosed restaurant spaces opened, the centerfield plaza was renovated, the food got marginally better, and they made small improvements in their premium seating options.
Unfortunately, the oppressive climate won the day, the Globe Life Park will see its last days in 2019, soon to be replaced by a retractable roof ballpark next door.
Even for an open-air park, Globe Life Park is poorly suited for the Texas heat in the first place. The mezzanine club concourse is not climate controlled and there is a lack of shaded seating throughout the main seating bowl.
It is also 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, and the suspect sightlines.
At the end of the day, the functionality and amenities don’t compare well across Major League Baseball, and the Rangers did not succeed in their overarching vision of The Ballpark in Arlington.
But 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 aesthetically one of the most unique parks in baseball.
But did the Rangers’ goal of building a super ballpark village complex succeed in the way they envisioned? No way.NEXT - Setting