Opening Day at Rangers Ballpark brings change, fresh optimism

Posted Thursday, Apr. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- For baseball fans, Friday is Opening Day and all will once again be right with the world -- if they can manage to find a parking space at the ballpark.

The sun is expected to shine brightly Friday on Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where about 50,000 people are expected to attend the club's 2013 home opener against the Los Angeles Angels. For fans, the tradition of Opening Day can't be beat -- especially with temperatures expected to be mild and warm for the scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch.

But a word of warning to those who relish the festivities of Opening Day. This year, as soon as the parking lots open at 8 a.m., fans need to be prepared to show tickets before being allowed to park in Rangers lots.

Motorists without tickets won't be let in, under new club guidelines designed to ensure that there are enough parking spaces for those who actually intend to go to the game. The result could mean delays for those trying to get into the lots, and potentially longer lines of traffic than normal on roads in Arlington's entertainment district.

Last year, thousands of ticket holders on Opening Day had to park a half-mile or more away from the ballpark because an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people without tickets showed up just to tailgate. The new policy requiring tailgaters to show their tickets is designed to prevent a repeat performance.

"We've not ever seen that before. They just came to the parking lot to enjoy the atmosphere," said Public Works and Transportation Director Keith Melton, who said he believes the Rangers new tail-gating policy should help reduce some of the traffic and parking lot congestion seen during last year's home opener.

Team officials say the restriction will be in place all season, but likely will only be enforced on Opening Day -- and if the team makes the post-season.

But since the policy is new, club officials are still working out a few bugs. For example, what about fans who have arranged to pick up their tickets at a "Will Call" window? Club officials say they're generating lists of names of people who would need access to parking lots to pick up tickets, and will distribute those lists to parking attendants and supervisors.

Officials say they hope -- but can't promise -- the list-checking won't create long lines.

"Our best solution would be if everyone has their tickets in advance, but as we know that is not always possible," said Rob Matwick, Rangers vice president for ballpark operations. "We will use common sense and work with our guests."

New look

Fans have other options to avoid traffic hassles.

For those coming from the east, the high-occupancy vehicle lane will be open at Legends Way/Baird Farm Road, which provides vehicles with two or more occupants direct access to the Rangers' lots.

Once they arrive at the ballpark, fans will find several changes to the ballpark's physical look and some new offerings at concession stands.

A new row of seats has been added behind home plate -- shortening the foul ball space behind the catcher -- and a wall behind home plate has been removed as part of a renovation of the Capital One Club.

On Thursday, workers were busily preparing the ballpark for Opening Day. Bunting was already hanging from the center field office balconies. Workers were scheduled to paint a logo on the grass near home plate.

Behind the scenes, club officials celebrating the signing of shortstop Elvis Andrus to an eight-year contract extension.

Andrus, appearing in a press conference Thursday afternoon, said the deal -- reportedly worth $120 million -- wouldn't change his work ethic. He said the team's two World Series appearances -- neither of which resulted in a championship -- has brought the team closer together.

"I don't think I'm going to rest or sleep until I get a World Series," Andrus said. "I treat myself as a winner. Until I get a ring I won't sleep."

Good food, good time

In the concourses, fans who plan to eat at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington concession stands may want to bring along anti-acid tablets. The Rangers have expanded their offerings of oversize food, including a Beltre Buster burger that includes 24 ounces of beef and eight ounces of bacon -- enough food for at least four people, at a cost of $26.

Several new versions of the 24-inch Boomstick hot dogs are also available, as well as a 24-inch quesadilla named a "Murph-a-dilla," named after outfielder David Murphy.

Armed with food like that, how can fans have anything but a good time?

Heck, even the disappointment of Yu Darvish's near-perfect game being spoiled Tuesday night on the road in Houston will now be nearly forgotten. Instead, it's time to once again get comfortable in the classic ol' ballpark, while watching Adrian Beltre smash homers on one knee and chomping down dogs big enough to feed a whole family.

Arlington City Councilman Robert Rivera, who considers himself one of the city's biggest Ranger fans, said he's been to every opening day game since the ballpark opened. Friday will be no exception.

His tradition during every home opener is to go the top of the ballpark and look out over the city's changing skyline and to watch the thousands of fans pour in through the gates.

"The baseball season is just a very special time of year," Rivera said. "Standing at the top of the stadium and watching thousands of people come to this one place to officially start spring gives me such a sense of pride to be a citizen of Arlington. Every year I say to myself there is no place in the entire world at this very moment that I would rather be than right here right now."

As a child, Rivera said he would divide up his baseball cards by team and then place each team's stack on their home city on a map of the country he had spread out across the floor.

"It made me realize even as a child how fortunate we are to be one of the few cities in America to have a baseball team," Rivera said. "That is why I am so drawn to the game." Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock

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