Richard Greene

March 22, 2014

Why Rangers fans love spring training

Surprise Stadium gives an up-close game experience.

This newspaper has the best sports writers in the business, and they’ve done a great job keeping baseball fans apprised of how the Texas Rangers are looking on the field in their spring training preparation for the upcoming season.

Having just returned from Surprise Stadium in the Arizona desert, I have assigned myself the duty of explaining why the preseason games outside the foul lines of the diamond are so exciting.

I sometimes hear — obviously not from fans deep into the culture of the Great Game — comments such as, “What’s the big deal about spring training — the games don’t even count, do they?”

Well, yes and no. While they won’t factor into the 162 games of the regular season, we do get an insight into how things may work out once Opening Day rolls around.

Answers to the questions about what kind of stuff the pitchers are going to have, how the big guns look at the plate, and whether the young guys ready for “the show” all may be found in the ballparks of spring.

But, let’s start at the beginning of the experience of the ticket holderes. The first thing that is different is the size of the ballpark itself. The one where you will find the Rangers is less than one-fourth the size of their home in Arlington.

That’s pretty typical across both the Grapefruit League in Florida and the Cactus League in Arizona, where capacity ranges from about 5,000 to 15,000 seats.

What that means for fans is the quintessential up-close-and-personal experience with men so talented that they count themselves among the very few in the entire world who can do what they do — excel at the most difficult game in all of sports.

Fans also find something else that all by itself is worth a road trip of more than a thousand miles or an airplane ride plus hotel rooms, meals and all the rest.

It’s a chance to get player autographs, a brief chat and maybe a picture with the arm of a future hall of famer around your shoulder. The whole atmosphere at a spring training game is relaxed, informal and inviting.

Players are very accommodating during warmups before the game, and they hang around after it’s over, often making their way along the railing in front of the seats where eager youngsters and some oldsters stretch out their autograph books, balls, caps, programs and whatever else they want signed.

Ticket prices are family-friendly. All the seats have backs and are arranged down the right- and left-field lines, behind home plate and with even the back row so close to the action that you feel right in the game.

Or, you can spread your blanket on the deep green grass of the sloping lawn above the outfield wall and hope you will be the one who catches a home-run ball. That alone would make your day one never to be forgotten.

Along with our 10-year-old granddaughter, my wife and I and our son and his wife had maybe the best location of all. That’s because right behind us was a family of six from North Texas who let their children, ages 2 to 8, decide where they wanted to go for spring break.

It was an immediate answer: to see the Rangers at spring training! It was thrill for us to listen to their excitement, and it was clear from their baseball chatter that all of them were serious baseball fans. Yes, even the littlest one.

Opening Day in Arlington is March 31. We’re more than ready.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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