Rangers' redone outfield plaza sweet on fan comforts

ARLINGTON -- Modernizing Rangers Ballpark has been a point of emphasis for Rangers Baseball Express, the ownership group led by Bob Simpson and Ray Davis that took over in August 2010.

Last off-season, a new video board and sound system highlighted approximately $13 million in upgrades. This off-season, the team is spending about $12 million to renovate its Vandergriff Plaza in the center field area with a Batter's Eye Club, a two-story restaurant/sports bar, more concession stands, a new visiting bullpen and an indoor area for kids.

The project is 65 percent complete, and is expected to be finished by March 20. That is plenty of time before the Rangers host an exhibition game against the Diablos Rojos del Mexico of the Mexican League on April 3. The Rangers open the 2012 season at home vs. the Chicago White Sox on April 6.

"We're right on schedule and right on budget," said Rob Matwick, Rangers executive vice president of ballpark and event operations. "We're very pleased to see where we are."

The project's biggest challenge was the short time frame. Work began on Oct. 31, only two full days after the World Series, and has continued with six- to seven-day work weeks by crews from Manhattan Construction.

A mild winter has certainly helped the process, too.

"If we would have had the winter we had last year, that would have made things more difficult," said Wesley Weaver, a senior project manager at Manhattan Construction. "The little bit of rain we've had hasn't set us back. It's just been a great effort between us, the subcontractors and the Rangers."

The Rangers wanted to make the center field plaza more fan-friendly. There will be no more aluminum bleachers, which have been replaced with actual seats. There are also covered decks with open seating for fans to avoid rain on those rare days and the sun during the hot summer days.

The two-story restaurant/bar is open to all fans, as well, and features studios for Fox Sports Southwest and ESPN radio. The Batter's Eye Club will be reserved for group rentals, and as an individual seating area for select games.

Matwick, along with other Rangers representatives, toured 15 ballparks last season to gain a better understanding of what other teams were doing to accommodate fans. The trend has been to build more open areas where fans can watch the game and socialize.

Matwick saw the Batter's Eye clubs at stadiums such as Wrigley Field and the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

"We're just trying to stay ahead of the curve, or at least even with everybody else," Matwick said.

As for the kids, the wiffle-ball field is gone, but the new indoor area will have several interactive games, including a climbing wall and slide. The indoor facility can entertain up to 100 kids at a time, and will be available to rent during road trips and in the off-season for birthdays and other celebrations.

Matwick said one notable interactive game will have a 14-foot "T," the Rangers' logo, that lights up when kids jump up and down on "home plate."

"The theme we went with is backyard baseball, and backyard Texas-type games," Matwick said. "It's going to be a more traditional play area."

Matwick also said that the new heightened railings should be completed by the end of the month. Matwick doesn't feel that fans' sight lines will be affected greatly, comparing it to watching a game behind the home plate netting.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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