Opening Day at Rangers Ballpark brings optimism and changes for fans

Posted Friday, Apr. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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

The sun is expected to shine brightly on Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, where about 50,000 people will attend the 2013 home opener against the Los Angeles Angels.

For fans, the tradition of Opening Day can't be beat -- especially with mild and warm weather forecast for the 1:05 p.m. first pitch.

But a word of warning to those who relish the festivities: As soon as the parking lots open at 8 a.m., fans need to be prepared to show game tickets.

Motorists without tickets won't be let in -- a new club rule designed to ensure that those who intend to go to the game have a place to park.

The result could mean delays for those trying to get into the lots and potentially longer-than-normal traffic lines on roads in the entertainment district.

Last Opening Day, thousands of ticket holders had to park a half-mile or more away because 10,000 to 20,000 people without tickets showed up just to tailgate. The new policy 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.

He said the new tailgating policy should help reduce the traffic and parking congestion seen last year.

Team officials say the restriction will be in place all season but will likely be enforced only on Opening Day and during any postseason games.

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 will call?

Club officials say they're generating lists of people who will need access to parking lots to pick up tickets and will distribute the lists to parking attendants and supervisors.

Officials say they hope -- but can't promise -- that 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 ways to avoid traffic hassles.

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

Once fans arrive, they will find several changes to the ballpark's look and 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 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 hanging from the center-field office balconies. Workers painted a logo on the grass near home plate.

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

Andrus, appearing at a news conference Thursday afternoon, said the deal -- reportedly worth $120 million -- won't change his work ethic. He said the team's two World Series appearances -- neither of which resulted in a championship -- have 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 concession stands may want to bring antacid tablets.

The Rangers have expanded their offerings of oversize food, including a Beltre Buster burger that includes 24 ounces of beef and 8 ounces of bacon -- enough food for at least four people -- for $26.

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

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

Heck, even the disappointment of watching Yu Darvish's perfect game slip away in the ninth inning Tuesday in Houston will now be nearly forgotten.

Instead, it's time to get comfortable in the classic ol' ballpark while watching Adrian Beltre smash home runs on one knee and chomping on hot dogs big enough to feed a whole family.

Arlington 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.

Today will be no exception.

His tradition during every home opener is to go to the top of the ballpark to look out over the city's changing skyline and watch 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 his baseball cards by team and place each team's stack on its home city on a U.S. map spread out on 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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