20 years of memories: Rangers’ ballpark ages gracefully

04/12/2014 6:04 PM

11/12/2014 4:41 PM

For 20 years, The Ballpark in Arlington — also known by a couple of corporate names, including its current moniker, Globe Life Park — has played host to millions of fans over thousands of games. During those two decades, the ballpark has engendered innumerable memories in those who have walked through its gates. All of us have indelible moments we’ll never forget there. We all have a unique set of stories to tell about the place, but some of those moments were so special we all remember them. Here’s our list of the 20 greatest moments in the first 20 years of the ballpark.

1Feliz strikes out A-Rod to clinch AL pennant

(Oct. 22, 2010) The Texas crowd roared like never before. The flashbulbs added illumination to a full moon. The Rangers had a 6-1 lead in the game and a 3-2 lead in the series. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was at the plate — how perfect was that? — and he and his team were down to their last strike. When Neftali Feliz got A-Rod looking, it seemed as though every moment in franchise history had been a prelude to that one pitch. Longtime broadcaster Eric Nadel shouted, “The Rangers are going to the World Series!” into the microphone and then yielded for 36 seconds to the soundtrack of a joyous crowd screaming and fireworks detonating. Nadel later said he was so overcome with emotion with “the way the ballpark exploded” that he didn’t think he could have found the words. Anyone who was there would understand why — the ballpark was a living thing that night.

2Kenny Rogers’

perfect game

(July 28, 1994) Perfect games are so rare in baseball that neither Fenway Park nor Wrigley Field, both of which are at least 100 years old, has ever seen one. Only 23 pitchers have thrown perfect games. Depending on how you do the math, you’d have to go to 10,000, maybe even 50,000 games, before the odds would say you should have seen a perfect game. But if you were one of the lucky ones who went to the ballpark to see Kenny Rogers pitch against the Angels two weeks before the baseball strike, you saw history. Rogers only needed 98 pitches to retire all 27 batters that night; he struck out eight and cruised through the first six innings. Rogers took all three batters in the seventh to full counts, and then struck out the last two batters of the eighth. Rogers had done everything he needed to throw a perfect game, but he needed help in the ninth. That’s when Rusty Greer, playing center field, made an all-out diving catch on a Rex Hudler line drive to left-center that looked certain to fall for a hit. Greer’s hustle saved the day as Rogers got the next two outs in quick succession. Rogers remains the only Ranger to throw a perfect game.

3Welcome to

the Ballpark

(April 11, 1994) On Opening Day 1994, the gates to The Ballpark in Arlington opened, ushering in a new era of Rangers baseball. Gone was the steel-and-concrete, erector-set mishmash of Arlington Stadium — which had its charms but in many ways barely qualified as a big league ballpark — and in its place, a beautiful brick edifice that merged classic baseball architecture with modern amenities. It’s easy now to take for granted the flourishes that were unique when the ballpark opened — the office building in center field, the massive Home Run Porch in right field, the huge scoreboard atop the porch’s roof, Greene’s Hill in center field. Even the asymmetry of the stadium was a shock to fans and players who were just getting over the “cookie-cutter” days. With such a classy new home, the Rangers needed someone more than the average crooner to perform the national anthem. So they turned to Van Cliburn, one of the world’s most celebrated pianists, and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. The 1,500-plus Star-Spangled Banner renditions at the ballpark since then have never matched the majesty of that one.

4Holland steps

up in Game 4

(Oct. 23, 2011) Derek Holland wouldn’t have been many people’s first pick for a World Series hero in 2011. He entered his Game 4 start against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 5.27 ERA in that postseason and hadn’t pitched more than five innings in any of his three playoff starts that year. Manager Ron Washington nonetheless gave the 25-year-old lefty the ball with the Rangers down two games to one. And Holland answered the call, delivering one of the most authoritative performances any Rangers pitcher ever had in a game of such magnitude. Holland threw 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball, allowing only two hits and walking two. He struck out seven and worked 1-2-3 innings in the seventh and eighth. By the time he left after his 116th pitch in the ninth — after briefly begging Washington to stay in the game — Holland had the Rangers crowd on its feet. Said Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler: “Considering the circumstances, this is probably the best-pitched game this organization had ever seen.”

5First World Series win

(Oct. 30, 2010) Somehow the Rangers managed to shoehorn 52,419 fans into the ballpark for the first home World Series game in franchise history. Scalpers were selling tickets for astronomical prices, with many seats going for more than $1,000 apiece, but most Rangers fans who were there would say they got their money’s worth. The stadium erupted when Mitch Moreland had the at bat of his life in the second inning. On the ninth pitch of the at bat from Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez, Moreland lined a three-run homer to right field to give Texas a lead it would not relinquish. Josh Hamilton tacked on a solo homer and the Rangers held off San Francisco for a 4-2 win. Unfortunately for the Rangers, it was their last victory of the series. The Giants won the next two in Arlington to clinch the championship.

6Cruz’s walk-off

(Oct. 10, 2011) In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, the Rangers carried a 3-3 lead into the 11th inning before loading the bases with no outs and Nelson Cruz at the plate. The Tigers were clearly in trouble, with the infield and outfield in and no hope of winning if Cruz could single, hit a fly ball or walk. Cruz, who had already tied the game with a huge homer in the seventh inning, had something more spectacular up his sleeve. Against Ryan Perry, he fell behind in the count 0-2 on two foul balls — one of them a drive into the second deck that he pulled too far left — then laid off a pitch outside the strike zone. On the fourth pitch of the at bat, Cruz crushed a ball down the left-field line, just fair, for the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history and a 7-3 victory. Cruz went on to win the ALCS MVP award with six homers in six games, going 8 for 22 (.364) for the series.

7All-Star Game

(July 11, 1995) Low-rent Arlington Stadium had never been good enough for Major League Baseball to host an All-Star Game there, but in 1995, baseball’s best came to Arlington. The biggest stars in town that year were the Dodgers’ Japanese rookie pitcher Hideo Nomo, who started for the National League, and the Orioles’ Cal Ripken, who was closing in on Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played and would break it that September. The game itself was rather pedestrian for a Midsummer Classic — a 3-2 NL victory decided in just 2 hours, 40 minutes. And the MVP wasn’t a future Hall of Famer, though several played in the contest. Florida’s Jeff Conine, who never played in an All-Star Game again, won the trophy for his go-ahead solo homer in the eighth inning. The NL had only three hits in the victory.

8First Rangers home playoff game

(Oct. 4, 1996) It took the Rangers 25 seasons to get there, so when the team finally reached the postseason and came home for Game 3 tied 1-1 with the Yankees, nothing in franchise history could compare with the atmosphere that permeated the ballpark. A pumped-up crowd of 50,860 crammed into the stadium. Juan Gonzalez had already hit three home runs in the first two games of the series and he had more heroics to go. In the fourth inning, Gonzalez ripped a ball down the left-field line that just curled foul; it was so close that somebody set off the home-run fireworks prematurely. Gonzalez, who had a flair for the dramatic few Rangers have ever matched, worked his way to a full count and then poked one to right to set off the fireworks again. The night unraveled for the Rangers, though, after Darren Oliver carried a 2-1 lead into the top of the ninth. Oliver allowed back-to-back singles, and closer Mike Henneman, charged with getting a three-out save with men on first and second, could not deliver. The Rangers lost 3-2 and didn’t win another playoff game until 2010.

9Gonzalez punctuates stunning first half

(July 5, 1998) Juan Gonzalez’s 1998 season may not have been the greatest individual performance in Rangers history — though it’s in the conversation — but the first half of that season almost assuredly surpasses anything any Ranger accomplished before the All-Star break. Gonzalez had been on an RBI tear from the start that year — he was on pace for an astounding 225 at the end of April — and while his numbers fell back to more human levels as the season continued, he entered the final game before the All-Star break with 97 RBIs. Against Seattle ace Randy Johnson, Gonzalez blasted a pair of two-run home runs to push his RBI total to 101. He finished with 157 RBIs that year and was named the AL MVP.

10First home postseason win

(Oct. 16, 2010) When the Rangers reached the postseason for the first time since 1999, they could only hope their awful playoff luck wouldn’t continue. Texas won its first playoff game in 1996, then proceeded to lose the next nine in a row, all against the New York Yankees. Rangers fans had never had the luxury of seeing a home playoff win, and even in the 2010 AL Division Series, Tampa Bay won both games in Arlington. In came the Yankees, and once again, they drove a dagger into the Rangers’ hopes in Game 1, winning 6-5 as the Rangers blew a late lead. But the home losing streak couldn’t last forever, and in Game 2, Texas jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three innings. Given their history, the Rangers could have been excused for worrying about another late-inning, postseason collapse against the Yankees, but this time, the bullpen held tight. After Colby Lewis left in the sixth, five relievers held New York scoreless for the final 10 outs.

11Sosa’s 600th

(June 20, 2007) Sammy Sosa’s presence on a bad Rangers club — Ron Washington’s first — seemed like a gimmick, especially when Sosa had spent the previous year out of baseball and the year before that struggling to stay above .200 in Baltimore. Still, Sosa only needed 12 home runs to become just the fifth player in history at the time to join the 600 club. Sosa also began his career as a Ranger back in 1989, so bookending his prolific career in Arlington made sense. The slugger got off to a strong start in 2007, hitting seven homers in April, but his production waned in May, when he hit only three. Then, he went on a 24-day home run drought before he got No. 599 in Cincinnati. Sosa had perfect timing for the 600th — he hit it at home, against his old team, the Cubs, off a pitcher wearing his old No. 21 (Jason Marquis). He launched a ball into the Rangers’ bullpen in right-center field, did his trademark hop across the plate, and etched his name into history.

12Palmeiro’s 500th

(May 11, 2003) Rafael Palmeiro hit more homers (130) in the ballpark than anywhere else in his illustrious career. So many of them sailed into the right-field Home Run Porch that it could have been named after Palmeiro. But one homer in particular stands out: the 500th of Palmeiro’s career. He became the 19th player in major league history, at the time, to reach the milestone when he ripped a drive down the right-field line off Indians pitcher David Elder. Before the next batter, the Rangers unveiled a sign on the outfield wall honoring Palmeiro and his feat. It would have been a safe bet to assume Palmeiro’s name would have adorned the ballpark for perpetuity, that his number would be retired and he would be in the Rangers Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Alas, Palmeiro waved his finger at Congress, denying he used steroids, and then tested positive for steroids.

13The “Greatest

Comeback Ever”

(June 8, 1995) How memorable does a regular-season baseball game in June have to be before the victorious team sells T-shirts commemorating the win in the gift shop a day later? The shirt read “Hallelujah,” with a picture of the team deliriously greeting Rusty Greer after his 10th-inning walk-off home run. Beneath the picture on the shirt, it said “Greatest Comeback Ever.” An announced attendance of only 20,425 fans had dwindled to a few thousand by the bottom of the eighth inning, when the Royals led 9-1. Somehow the Rangers managed to send 10 men to the plate in that inning, scoring six runs and giving those hardy fans a reason to stay a little longer. In the bottom of the ninth, Benji Gil hit a two-run homer to tie the game. Never before had the Rangers tied a game after trailing by eight. But the real magic came in the 10th inning, when Greer led off with a drive to right field for an improbable 10-9 win. Greer had dozens of clutch hits at the ballpark, but none so satisfying as that incredible shot.

14Taking it two

games at a time

(Aug. 25, 2001) The longest game in the ballpark’s history, between the Red Sox and Rangers, lasted 6 hours, 35 minutes — nearly three hours longer than it takes to fly from Boston to DFW. The Rangers pulled out a win in the 18th inning, loading the bases before Bill Haselman beat out a double-play grounder to score Chad Curtis for an 8-7 victory. Haselman had taken over at catcher for Ivan Rodriguez, who managed to survive the first 16 innings behind the plate. Keeping score at this game required a lot of paper and ink: Boston used 20 players and Texas used 21. The teams used a total of 17 pitchers, who threw a combined 626 pitches. The game featured a total of 127 at-bats, 29 hits, 20 walks and 61 runners left on base.

15Scoreboard watching

(Sept. 27, 1996) Few nights in the ballpark had such a surreal feeling as this chilly evening, when the Rangers began the day with a 3 1/2-game lead on the Seattle Mariners. Texas’ magic number was 1. The Rangers hosted the California Angels, while the Mariners were at Oakland in a game that started two hours later. All the Rangers had to do was win to pop the champagne. Whatever happened in Oakland wouldn’t happen before the Rangers’ game was over anyway, right? Fittingly for a team that had struggled through nearly 25 years without a single postseason berth, things didn’t happen according to plan. The largest crowd in ballpark history at the time, 46,764, was ready to celebrate, but the Angels tied the game in the top of the seventh and the score was still knotted entering the 13th inning. By then, everyone in the stadium’s attention had drifted to the manual out-of-town scoreboard in left field. The A’s scored six runs in the seventh and held an 8-1 lead going into the ninth. Everyone waited for that “9” next to the score to turn into an “F” — and when it did, the crowd stood and cheered as the Rangers had finally clinched a playoff berth. The fact that Texas lost in the 15th inning that night is a mere footnote in club history.

16Michael Young’s

2,000th hit

(Aug. 7, 2011) For most of the 2000s, Michael Young filled a near-constant presence in the Rangers’ lineup, playing in an average of 152 games in 13 seasons with the club. Day in and day out during his heyday, the Rangers could count on Young to deliver hits — more than 200 in six of his seasons in Texas. When Young became the 46th player in MLB history to collect 2,000 hits, no one was surprised. He did it with two infield hits against the Indians in his 1,621st major-league regular-season game.

17Canseco muscles up

(June 13, 1994) Say what you will about the steroid era — at the time, it energized and excited fans who had never seen so many gargantuan muscle men hit so many monster home runs. No player embodied that ethos better than Jose Canseco, the poster boy for PEDs before we knew what that acronym stood for. So while we have to add a massive asterisk to Canseco’s exploits, we can’t deny how impressive they were back then. In the ballpark’s first season, Canseco became the first Ranger to hit three home runs in the new stadium. He went 5 for 6 with eight RBIs as Texas downed the Mariners 17-9. His homers that night traveled an estimated 1,282 feet. One of them, a 480-foot blast that bounced off the Target sign on the back wall of the visitors’ bullpen, was the longest homer in Rangers history until Josh Hamilton surpassed it in 2010.

18Let the interleague games begin

(June 12, 1997) Regular-season interleague baseball is a daily formality now, but it was a bold, unprecedented change when it was introduced in 1997 as part of baseball’s efforts to bring back fans after the 1994 players’ strike. The first interleague game in MLB history took place at a sold-out ballpark in Arlington, between the Rangers and San Francisco Giants. The Rangers lost 3-1 and the Giants still have their number: Texas is just 10-20 against the Giants all-time, counting the five-game World Series loss in 2010.

19Matthews learns to fly

(July 1, 2006) Over the course of 20 seasons at the ballpark, the Rangers have made thousands of highlight-worthy plays. But no single play ever had more of a “did you just see that?” factor than Gary Matthews Jr.’s ridiculous catch in center field, when he robbed the Astros’ Mike Lamb of a certain home run. Lamb crushed a ball just to the left of dead center, between the 404- and 400-foot signs in front of Greene’s Hill. Matthews was playing the left-handed Lamb to pull toward right field but got a perfect jump and sprinted back to the wall. When he reached the warning track, Matthews leaped and pushed himself up with his right foot. The bottoms of his shoes were 4 feet off the ground, and he somehow made a spinning catch and returned to earth. Willie Mays and Bo Jackson never made a finer play.

20Pudge says goodbye

(April 24, 2012) Rangers fans had the luxury of watching Ivan Rodriguez, arguably the greatest catcher in baseball history, play 605 games at the ballpark. “Pudge” played for four other teams from 2003-09, returned to the Rangers briefly in 2009 and then finished his career elsewhere, but he always considered himself a Ranger. At the age of 40, Rodriguez officially announced his retirement before a sellout crowd that gave him a massive standing ovation. Among the dignitaries who spoke in the ceremony were Nolan Ryan, whom Pudge once caught; Tom Grieve, who signed Rodriguez as a teenager in 1988; and several teammates. Rodriguez had been slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but he surprised fans by crouching behind the plate and throwing the ball down to second base, where he dashed the hopes of so many would-be base stealers, one last time.

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