ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Elvis Andrus has spent his entire career as a player in the Texas Rangers’ ballpark, from his debut as a 20-year-old shortstop to consecutive World Series and now being the team’s longest-tenured player.
Hunter Pence grew up in Arlington dreaming of what it would be like to play there while watching in awe the construction of the retro-style ballpark that opened in 1994, only days before his 11th birthday. He later parked cars there as a teen, his pay being hot dogs and game tickets, before the four-time MLB All-Star this year played with his hometown Rangers for the first time.
The stadium halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, first known as The Ballpark in Arlington, is down to its final homestand after more than 2,000 regular season games over 26 seasons. Kenny Rogers pitched a perfect game in the first summer there, and MLB’s first interleague game was played there in 1997. An All-Star Game was played in the Texas heat, and those two World Series were among 25 postseason games.
“It’s not that old. It’s still a beautiful stadium,” Mark Teixeira, whose MLB debut was with the Rangers, said when he returned this summer to be part of a nightly countdown to the final game. “It was home, and it was a special place. But then coming back here as a visitor, you have a different appreciation, and it’s one the best ballparks in baseball. I still think it’s one of the best ballparks in baseball.”
Before moving across the street next season into a $1 billion-plus air-conditioned stadium with a retractable roof, the Rangers have three games this week against the Boston Red Sox and then end the season with three games against the AL East champion New York Yankees.
The Yankees, who eliminated Texas from the playoffs after each of its first three AL West titles in the 1990s, were in the visiting dugout for what most consider the biggest moment in stadium history. Under Friday night lights in October 2010, the Rangers clinched their first AL pennant when closer Neftalí Feliz got former Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez on a called third strike for the final out in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
“That meant the most,” said slugger Josh Hamilton, the 2010 AL MVP who was also the MVP of that championship series.
“A moment that will never go away,” said Andrus, the two-time All-Star who is now 31 and wrapping up his 11th season. “Every time I see it, I get goosebumps and it brings a lot of great memories.”
Chuck Morgan has been the Rangers’ public address announcer for all but one season since 1983, with his trademark phrase “It’s Baseball Time in Texas” helping set up each home game from old Arlington Stadium to the current ballpark and in the future at the new place. He is credited with creation of the dot race, which has transformed through the years from simple dots on a scoreboard screen to actual people dressed as dots racing on the field.
“Prior to moving over here, we never had won everything,” Morgan said from his small office behind the PA booth. “That first time we won the American League West in 1996 was pretty special. ... But the ultimate greatest moment for me in Globe Life Park was when we clinched our first American League pennant.”
Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is one of four Rangers players who have had AL MVP seasons in the stadium. He was the MVP in 1999, after Juan Gonzalez was a two-time winner (1996 and 1998), and before A-Rod (2003) and Hamilton won their awards.
Adrián Beltré, the Rangers third baseman who retired after last season and is a sure-bet Hall of Fame pick when eligible, got his 3,000th career hit in Texas in July 2017. Rafael Palmeiro belted his 500th career homer with the Rangers in May 2003, four years before Sammy Sosa was with Texas for his 600th homer there.
“I still remember the first time coming here,” said Pence, whose first game in Arlington was a rookie with the Houston Astros in 2007. “I still remember the memories and the feelings and the excitement ... I still get the same thing from being a fan in the upper deck, of coming as a kid with binoculars, of when they built the stadium. Every time I come here, it’s a special feeling.”
Along with the two AL pennant clinchers, Hamilton was also part of the most difficult night at the ballpark. Texas firefighter Shannon Stone was at a game with his young son in the left-field stands in July 2011 when he reached out for a foul ball tossed his way by Hamilton, the boy’s favorite player. Stone fell headfirst about 20 feet onto concrete behind the outfield wall and was pronounced dead within an hour.
A statue just outside the home plate gate depicts Stone and his son, Cooper, and is inscribed “In memory of Shannon Stone and dedicated to all fans who love the game.”
Before Game 1 of the 2011 AL Division Series, 6-year-old Cooper returned to the ballpark to throw the ceremonial first pitch. His catcher was Hamilton, who shared hugs in his first meeting with the boy.
The Rangers’ final night game at the ballpark will be Saturday, with a special ceremony after the last out to turn out the lights.
Before the final game Sunday afternoon, the national anthem will be performed by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, which accompanied the late internationally renowned pianist Van Cliburn in a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the first regular-season game April 11, 1994.
After that 2,081st regular-season game there, the Rangers will dig up home plate and parade it across the street for a ceremonial installation at the new stadium. That will replicate what the team did in October 1993 after finishing its 22nd season at Arlington Stadium.
“This is certainly a bittersweet season for us that love this place and have spent 25 years here,” said Richard Greene, the mayor in the early 1990s who played a major role in getting the current ballpark to keep the Rangers in Arlington, and understands the decision for a new retractable-roof stadium now.
“We got behind the initiative, and wanted to make sure that once again that we kept ourselves as a major league city.”