Texas Rangers

Flashback Friday: A look back to the Rangers’ first Opening Day at the Ballpark in Arlington

Note: The City of Arlington and the Rangers are expected to unveil a plan for a new stadium Friday. We decided to look back to the Ballpark in Arlington’s first Opening Day in April 1994.

Texas Rangers fans stand as Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony play the national anthem for the first regular season game in the new Ballpark in Arlington in April 1994.
Texas Rangers fans stand as Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony play the national anthem for the first regular season game in the new Ballpark in Arlington in April 1994. Star-Telegram Archives

Sister Maggie Hession and Sister Frances Evans were the first fans through the gates yesterday as The Ballpark in Arlington made its official debut, and maybe it helped.

Although the Texas Rangers disappointed their fans by losing the first game in The Ballpark to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-3, at least the largest crowd in team history got to see some baseball.

With the 3:05 p.m. game delayed 50 minutes by rain squalls and the Rangers poised to bat in the first inning, the clouds finally broke, and sun spilled down on the sparkling field.

"We usually don't pray about the weather, but this morning at Mass we did ask for sun, " said Evans, 67, of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

The historic opener, a sellout, drew 46,056 fans, many of whom apparently took the day off from work or school to be part of the Opening Day festivities.

"I have tears in my eyes, " said Hession, 65. "This place is magnificent."

The two Fort Worth nuns are longtime Rangers fans who each year receive season tickets behind the visiting team dugout from an anonymous donor.

The home opener was marred by an accident when a Plano woman fell about 30 feet from a railing on the second level of Home Run Porch, the covered seating area in right field, shortly after the game.

Holly Minter, 26, was taken by helicopter ambulance to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, where she was in serious condition last night, a hospital spokesman said.

Fans started arriving for the opener about 10 a.m.

Hession and Evans came through the turnstiles after a 10:35 a.m. dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring officials of the Texas Rangers and the city of Arlington.

Pianist Van Cliburn's stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner on a grand piano parked atop home plate added to the ceremony befitting the ballpark's debut. After his solo, Cliburn stood and sang as the Fort Worth Symphony played the national anthem again from folding chairs set up in the infield.

"This was a thrilling experience, " Cliburn said. "Isn't it great to be an American?"

After workers wheeled away Cliburn's piano, Arlington Mayor Richard Greene threw out the first pitch - a fast ball in the dirt.

Rangers President Tom Schieffer, who managed much of the ballpark project, said the stadium is destined to become a "museum of memories."

"Grass is always green. Hope is always renewing itself, " Schieffer said in his ceremonial speech. "May you enjoy this ballpark half as much as we enjoyed building it."

Greene, who led the campaign to build The Ballpark, called it a historic day for Arlington.

"In the history of our city, there has never been a time when more people have more reason to celebrate the life of their community than today, " he said.

Trey Schwartz, 7, of Fort Worth, was one who got to celebrate. He got an excused absence from his principal at Southwest Christian School to be at the game.

"His principal said it was OK because he would be experiencing history, " said Trey's aunt, Audrey Phillips, who traveled from Washington, D.C., for the game.

The Arlington City Council attended, as did members of the sports authority, the municipal body that oversees the $190 million project. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison attended along with her husband, Ray, who works for the authority. Also in attendance were several members of Congress, including Rep. Martin Frost, whose district includes the park.

Arlington funded $135 million of the project with a half-cent sales tax increase that voters approved in January 1991. The Rangers contributed more than $43 million for the facility and pay a $3.5 million annual rent to the city.

George W. Bush, the Republican nominee for Texas governor and managing general partner for the Rangers, was on hand wearing his Rangers-logo cowboy boots. Gov. Ann Richards, who was in Washington to tout Texas defense projects, commented on the opener during a visit to the Pentagon yesterday morning.

"I'd love to be there, " she said. "You have to sometimes choose between fun and work."

Rain delayed the start of the game but it did not dampen enthusiasm among fans who huddled under umbrellas and slickers as organist Marcia Rogers played Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

The skies stayed clear after the top of the first inning, but the heavens didn't help the Rangers on the field.

Brewers catcher Dave Nilsson christened Home Run Porch with its first home run ball in the top of the fifth inning. First baseman Will Clark was the first man in Ranger Red to ding one over the fence.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman enjoyed part of the game from the balcony of his third-floor office in the building behind center field. A banner that read, "Good Luck Rangers on Your Field of Dreams, Troy Aikman, " hung nearby.

Retired Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan said he had far fewer traffic headaches than he experienced before the first exhibition game, April 1, when backed-up traffic almost caused him to miss throwing out the first pitch.

"I got here a bit earlier this time, " Ryan said.

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Schieffer thanked all those associated with The Ballpark and called it, "the most rewarding, exhilarating experience of my life."

He became teary-eyed when he remembered his mother, who died four years ago and, ". . . set a standard for us that we were never allowed to fail."

He also thanked the rest of his family - including his brother, CBS broadcaster Bob Schieffer, who is 10 years his senior. Their father died when Tom Schieffer was 10, and his older brother looked after him.

"I'm so proud, " Bob Schieffer said. "I know I sound like a proud father, and I guess I am."

The delayed start gave fans extra time to throng shops and stands in search of Opening Day souvenirs. Kent Churchill, 25, of Fort Worth, waited in line at the automatic teller machine to replenish his cash.

"I've spent $25 already, and I'll probably spend another $20, " he said. "After all, I've got to get a hat."

Jim Hall, 49, of Garland, waited 25 minutes to buy a program, but the stand ran out before he reached the front of the line. Rangers officials said they would restock the stand, so Hall stayed in line. He didn't get his program for another 40 minutes.

"Evidently they weren't planning on selling too many programs, " he said. "But I like the Rangers, and I want the souvenir."

Joe McCoy, 68, of Arlington, said he loves the new ballpark and has only one complaint.

"It's just a shame that The Ballpark can't pitch, " McCoy said, referring to the Rangers' bullpen problems.

Ken Nelson of Arlington said good grades won a trip to the opener for his 12-year-old son, Brandon, an "A" student at Ditto Elementary.

"He's doing so well in school that it's kind of a reward, " Nelson said.

It was the first time at The Ballpark for both.

"You can't help but love it, " Nelson said. Staff writers John Moritz, Chris Ave, Jan Jarvis and Mede Nix contributed to this report.