For the first home opener since 2006, someone other than Ron Washington was introduced as the Texas Rangers manager.
Jeff Banister walked out onto the field to a loud ovation and then deliberately made his way down the first base line, fist-bumping players on his way toward home plate. With his slow pace, he appeared to be following the advice he had given his just-turned 13-year-old son, Jacob, on their way to Dad’s new office.
“Jacob rode in with me,” Banister said, “and I told him, ‘Look, enjoy this one, because this is special.’”
When the Banisters arrived at Globe Life Park at 7:45 a.m., there were tailgaters already in place.
“Cars lined up,” Banister said. “It was great. … It goes to show the passion of the baseball fans. It is important.”
Banister said he recognizes that the decisions he and the coaching staff makes affect not only players, but also fans and every member of the organization, including ushers and ticket-takers.
“It’s everybody involved, and that’s proof when you see people show up energized and ready to go,” Banister said. “That adds a little extra energy in my step.”
Newly elected Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) — with the “R” standing for right-hander — threw out the pregame “Texas Toss” to Rangers Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez. The governor was followed to the mound by a former president — President George W. Bush, who accompanied retired U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicholas Bradley for Bradley’s ceremonial first pitch.
The 43rd president and Bradley became friends through the President George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Warrior Open golf tournament that benefits wounded veterans. Bradley, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was injured during an IED explosion in 2008.
Bush, no stranger to first pitches, advised Bradley to “aim high.” Bradley’s pitch was a tad low, but Bush called it a strike.
“He did well,” Bush said. “This is a guy who’s had 16 operations on his throwing arm. So it was awesome to be out there [with him].”
Bradley, who played baseball from age 5 through high school, said he wasn’t very nervous on the mound.
“Surprisingly,” he added. “I think the president took all that off of me when he walked out there with me. It’s an honor because I served under President Bush my entire eight years. I didn’t feel too much pressure other than ‘aim high’ and ‘don’t bounce it.’”
Bradley’s catcher was Rangers coach Bobby Jones, also a veteran.
“It’s a dream come true for me,” Bradley said. “Any chance you get to do anything with another veteran, nothing compares to that. It was an honor.”
Just a fan now
Former President Bush, who was the Rangers’ managing general partner before becoming governor of Texas, said he does not miss being a baseball executive.
“I’m able to enjoy the game as a fan,” he said. “I can remember those August, 102-degree days when the game started, and we’re about eight games out and we’re trying to market the team. It was a great experience, but the seasons ended up being really long. So I’m much more suited to be a fan.
“Someone asked me about being the commissioner of baseball. I don’t think I was ever in the running, but I’m not sure which would have been harder — [dealing with] 535 members of the House and Senate or 32 baseball owners.”
Look … up in the sky
An apparent early start to the national anthem by the U.S. Air Force Band of the West left fans waiting at least 10 seconds for the traditional Opening Day flyover at the end of the anthem.
But a commercial airline filled the gap as it flew beyond the right field scoreboard, sparking a few laughs from players on both teams before two F-16s buzzed the ballpark.
Santa in April
Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is a Rangers fan. And he loves to pose for pictures with children outside and inside the stadium.
No sooner had Santa removed a small bag from his trunk — of his car, not his sled — than he was approached by six children asking if he would pose for a photo with them. Santa happily obliged, then reached into his bag and handed each of the kids a candy cane.
Rick Swyhart — “Santa Rick” — lives in south Arlington when he’s not at the North Pole, and he and Mrs. Claus, who also goes by Pat, have had the same seats at Globe Life Park for the past 16 seasons.
Santa Rick has done the Santa routine for eight years, beginning when a friend suggested he would be a good one while, at the same time, his hair and beard started turning white. He attends games in his white Rangers home jersey, with “SANTA” on the back and the uniform number double zero. There is a small “H” in front of each zero. That’s a very Santa-y “HO HO,” of course.
Santa Rick makes appearances at malls, schools, churches, libraries, homes, and even the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.
Of course, being Santa, he had to share a cute kid story: “There was a little boy last year who I asked, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ He said, ‘Sour cream.’ I stopped and asked, ‘Sour cream? What are you going to do with that?’ He said, ‘Put it on my taters. It’s very good.”
“You never know what kids are going to say,” Santa Rick said with a merry old chuckle. Or whom you’re going to see at the ballpark.
Staff writer Stefan Stevenson contributed to this report.