Jim Witt

June 10, 2014

Arlington should always be the Rangers’ home

When the lease expiring in 10 years, the city needs to be planning right now how to keep a team that’s been here more than 40 years.

I went to the Ballpark in Arlington (I’ll never call it Globe Life Park) on Saturday to see my first game since Opening Day. It brought back lots of memories.

I was thrilled a few weeks ago when the Texas Rangers announced that Tom Schieffer would be entering their Hall of Fame as a nonplaying member.

I was editor of the Arlington edition of the Star-Telegram in the early ’90s when The Ballpark was built, and that’s when I got the chance to know Schieffer, who was part of the ownership group formed by George W. Bush and Rusty Rose that bought the team from Eddie Chiles in 1989.

To keep the team in town, the people of Arlington stepped up to the plate and voted to tax themselves to build a ballpark to replace the dilapidated structure once known as Turnpike Stadium, which had become the home of the Rangers when they moved from Washington, D.C., and changed their name from the Senators for the 1972 season.

It was really a minor-league ballpark — where I once played when my team was in the high school playoffs — masquerading as big-league.

Former Mayor Richard Greene passionately led the charge to convince voters that building a new stadium and keeping the Rangers would be smart for the city, and he was certainly right.

Then, the team put Schieffer in charge of building it.

And what a job he did! I’ve been to a lot of baseball stadiums, and The Ballpark still ranks with the best even though it was built 20 years ago.

It was intended to be “retro,” with designer David M. Schwarz incorporating ideas honoring traditional old-school ballparks like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Ebbets Field, Comiskey Park and Tiger Stadium.

I remember the day Schieffer gave me a tour during construction. It was only about half-finished, but he took me out to where the Ranger bullpen was situated so I could see how intimate the place would feel for live baseball, even from the outfield seats.

He was a great salesman, because I went back to the office and immediately called to order season tickets right next to the bullpen!

Schieffer has done a lot of great things during his career — served in the Texas Legislature, ran for governor, was ambassador to Japan — but building The Ballpark in Arlington has to be his greatest achievement.

Maybe we should call it “The Ballpark That Tom Built.”

I hope you also read the story by Susan Schrock that ran on Page One a few Sundays ago about speculation that in 10 years, when the Rangers’ lease expires, they will be looking for a new stadium with a roof.

Let’s see … in 10 years Schieffer will be in his late 70s and Greene in his early 80s. Wonder if they’re up for doing it again?

And by the way, shouldn’t Greene be the next nonplaying inductee in the Rangers Hall of Fame? Mayor Tom Vandergriff (already enshrined) brought them to town, but Greene kept them here.

Speculation is that Dallas will swoop in and offer to build the Rangers a downtown stadium with a retractable roof like the one in Houston.

And even though the team will have been in Arlington more than 50 years when the lease expires, the idea that the Rangers would leave is not outlandish. The loyalty of the city probably won’t matter much when it gets down to dollars.

In the past, we could always count on Dallas fumbling when it came to courting the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys. But that’s not a strategy. The leadership in Arlington needs to be focused on doing whatever it might take to ensure that the team stays right where it belongs — not in Fort Worth, not in Dallas.

In Arlington.

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