Before Tom Schieffer got down to the task of designing a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers, he spent a lot of time visiting old and new ones, some in places where the national game had been played for more than 125 years.
His purpose was to gain insight and understanding of the greater meaning that seemed to be an integral part of the whole experience of witnessing a major league baseball game.
Not that Tom wasn’t already a big baseball fan — he was and has always enjoyed talking about how his family had experienced the kind of bonding that can occur while sharing time together in the special setting of a great ballpark.
So in 1990, when the team’s managing partners George W. Bush and Rusty Rose handed him the assignment to represent the Rangers owners in developing a new home for the team, it was an opportunity of a lifetime.
Today, he says it was the most satisfying and rewarding experience of his life.
Considering that he later became a decorated U.S. ambassador to two foreign countries, that’s quite a statement.
My first meeting with Tom was in my City Hall office. It lasted for a couple of hours, and I count it as one of the most memorable days in my 10 years as Arlington’s mayor.
Until that day, I had spent most of the preceding months fending off persistent media inquiries of what would become of Arlington when the Rangers moved to the east, where a new stadium would be built.
My persistent response was to say that was not going to happen — that the team’s future was going to unfold right where it should, in the city that had brought major league baseball to the region almost 20 years earlier.
Until that meeting with Tom, plans to replace old Arlington Stadium had been developed without a team representative to work with.
Now we had exactly the person we needed, someone who understood what it would take to craft a public-private partnership to make something very special happen for both the team and its host community.
Tom would later say it worked because we believed in each other.
I delivered a lot of material demonstrating Arlington’s capacity to support a new ballpark to Tom that day.
In the following few months, I gained an understanding of what he wanted to achieve.
From his study of ballparks, he described a vision for a place that would be modern and fan-friendly in all the ways it should be, but most of all he wanted it to be an important place.
It would be a tribute to the rich history of the Great Game and yet a unique statement that would be true to Texas heritage. It would be a place where the game was played like it should be, outside on real grass on glorious summer days and nights.
The finished product exceeded our expectations. Arlington and the entire baseball world got to celebrate like never before.
He summed it up in a speech he gave on Opening Day at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 1994: “I realized somewhere along the way that ballparks are museums for memories. They are the backdrop for people to play out the most touching moments of their lives. They are the places where the grass is always green and hope is always alive.”
This past week we learned that Tom Schieffer will be inducted into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame, a recognition earned through incomparable compassion and commitment for a lasting legacy shared with us all.