5/1/09 at Rangers Ballpark

Several years ago, when MLBlogs switched over to WordPress, a bunch of my blog entries were lost, including this one from Arlington. Thankfully I had saved all the photos, along with the text from my original entry, so this was easy to recreate. Enjoy!

I’m in Texas! Yeeeee-HAW!

1_zack_outside_rangers_ballpark_05_01_09

I usually announce my trips ahead of time, but every once in a while it’s fun to just GO.

I woke up in New York City at 5:45am, took a quick flight to Philly, took a longer flight to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, jumped in a cab, avoided getting ripped off by the driver who first neglected to turn on his meter and then made up a ridiculous fare, checked into the cheapest motel in the western hemisphere (I had to sign a waiver saying I won’t have visitors after 10pm), gathered my stuff for the game, raced to the ballpark, and got there 20 minutes before the gates were going to open. But not just any gates…

2_rangers_season_ticket_entrance

Rangers Ballpark, like several other stadiums, opens extra early for season ticket holders. (Season ticket holders even have their own entrance, which you can see in the photo above.) It’s not as simple as some places where you just need the season ticket itself. Oh no. Here in Texas, you also need to present a “season ticket holder ID card,” which I obviously didn’t have. The good news is that every season ticket holder is allowed to bring a guest. The guest still needs to have a ticket for the game, but it can be a generic box office ticket — like the one I had. Therefore, my only challenge was to befriend a season ticket holder and convince that person to escort me inside. Did I approach the hardcore autograph collectors at the front of the line? No. Did I strike up a conversation with the men wearing baseball gloves right behind them? DUH!!! No way. I picked out a couple of old ladies in the middle of the line, one of whom was carrying cookies in a tupperware container.

“Excuse me,” I said, “is there any chance you guys could do a small favor for a New Yorker who hates the Yankees?” They both laughed and one of them pointed out the fact that I was “wearing the right hat.” I was good to go. It was THAT easy. They even fed me a cookie . . . literally. The lady took the cookie out of the container, told me to open my mouth, and then shoved it in. I’m a charmer, what can I say?

Anyway, I now have a new favorite stadium. From now on, whenever someone asks me what the best stadium is for ballhawking, the answer will not be “Camden Yards” or “AT&T Park if there weren’t as much competition.” The answer will forever be “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.” Period.

No, I didn’t set any records yesterday, but this place has endless opportunities and potential. For starters, season ticket holders get inside two and a half hours early. Look how empty it was after 25 minutes:

3_left_field_early_bp_05_01_09

Check out the gap behind the outfield wall:

4_left_field_gap_05_01_09

It was glove trick heaven! There were gaps everywhere as you’ll see in the following photos, and not only that, but stadium security does not care AT ALL if fans try to retrieve balls that drop down there. The downside to the incredible opportunity to retrieve baseballs is that there were several other guys — all grown men who looked to be at least 40 — with devices of their own. Here’s one of them, going for a ball in the left field bullpen:

5_failed_cup_trick_05_01_09

This guy ended up failing in his attempt to reel it in. His contraption (which included a mini ice cream helmet) was great at picking up balls that were directly below him, but when the balls needed to be knocked closer, he was helpless.

I ended up snagging the ball in the photo above, and it was my second ball of the day. Five minutes earlier, I had grabbed a home run that landed in the empty bleachers in left-center field. I think there was one other fan in that section at the time. He was about 60 and never moved from his spot.

I only managed to get one more ball during the first empty half-hour, and there are two reasons for that:

1) The Rangers didn’t throw any balls into the crowd (and I don’t blame them).

2) The three other guys with devices had every section covered.

As for that third ball that I snagged, it was a slicer hit by a Rangers lefty into the totally empty seats along the left field foul line. The skill in snagging it came from knowing that the lefty was going to aim for the opposite field, but seriously, if I hadn’t been there to grab that ball out of the seats, it probably would’ve sat there for at least 10 seconds. That’s how empty it was. Most of the fans (and there weren’t many at that point) were clustered near the dugouts. Then you had a few in left field, one or two in left-center, and a few more in right. Unbelievable.

For some strange reason, the Rangers stopped hitting at around 5 o’clock — right around the time that the rest of the fans were let inside. That definitely cost me a few balls, but it gave me a chance to wander over to right field and take a photo of the incredible gap:

6_right_field_gap_05_01_09

I’d only been to one other game at this ballpark. It was back in 1999 and I have photographic proof. I snagged nine balls that day, including a Lee Stevens foul ball during the game that I caught on the fly. I remember it well, yet I had no recollection of all the gaps or the general awesomeness of the stadium. Oh, and I should give an example of how laid-back security is. When I was going for that ball in the left field bullpen, an old usher walked by after a few minutes, took a peek at my dangling glove, and said, “Does that thing work?” He wasn’t going to yell at me or confiscate it. He was genuinely interested, and he watched for a minute as I slowly moved the ball closer. Then, after he left, another usher walked by and said, “I don’t think you’re supposed to be doing that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“They need that ball to warm up with,” he said.

“Well, that ball was just hit into the bullpen,” I told him. “It was a home run. I don’t think the team even knows it’s there.”

“Oh, okay,” he said and walked away.

BEST. BALLPARK. EVAR.

Okay, back to right field . . .

After the Rangers finished hitting, there was a ball sitting in their bullpen:

7_ball3936_in_the_bullpen

In the photo above, Did you notice the gap in center field? Truly incredible. Anyway, the mini-helmet guy was at it again. He ran up to the second deck, which overhangs the bullpen, and began lowering his contraption from there! I can understand security being laid-back about fishing for balls in a gap behind the outfield wall . . . but from the second deck?! And in such a visible spot? Apparently, it’s all good in Arlington, so the guy went for it and failed once again. The ball was a bit too far out for him. I waited patiently until he gave up and raised his unit. (I think “unit” is a healthy alternative to “device” and “contraption.” Gotta expand the ballhawking glossary. Any other suggestions for cool/unique ballhawking words?) Then I flung my glove out, knocked the ball closer on the first try, and reeled it in. Mwahaha!

“I saw some guy doing that on TV!” shouted a nearby fan.

“That was probably me,” I said. The fan didn’t seem to get it.

Now, are you aware of the batter’s eye situation at this ballpark? If you’ve watched enough “Baseball Tonight,” then you’ve probably seen fans running out onto the grassy berm in center field for home run balls. In New York, if you run out onto the batter’s eye, you get tackled, arrested, thrown in jail, banned from the stadium, and fined about $1,500. But here at Rangers Ballpark, it’s perfectly acceptable during batting practice AND games. In the following photo, look at all the fans lined up along the side railings, waiting for a ball to be hit (or thrown) there:

8_batters_eye_during_bp_05_01_09

You can’t hang out there all the time. You can only run out when a ball is on the way, and in case you’re wondering if you get in trouble if you run out for a ball that ends up falling short and not reaching the berm, the answer is no. You basically can’t get in trouble in this stadium. No one checks tickets. It’s the ultimate playground. (The downside, at least for a New Yorker like me, is that I had to listen to country music blasting throughout BP, but for the record, I do actually own a few country songs, just like I do root for a few guys on the Yankees.)

Back on the left field side, one of the “unit” guys was using a glove trick to get another ball from the bullpen. First he swung the glove back and forth, and then he let it fly:

9_rangers_glove_trick_attempt

I have no idea if he ended up getting this ball. It’s not like this was the only ball to be had, so I didn’t stick around to watch.

After the White Sox began hitting, I got Matt Thornton to throw me a ball in straight-away left field. I was in the front row, and despite the fact that he was only 50 feet away, he managed to airmail it about eight feet over my head. It was so high above me that I didn’t even bother jumping. I just started climbing over the seats, and I barely grabbed it before some middle-aged man got there. Less than a minute later, the same man bobbled a home run ball that conveniently plopped down into my empty row, so I grabbed that one too.

I used my glove trick to snag my seventh ball of the day from the gap in left-center. As I was setting up the rubber band and Sharpie, I was planning to give the ball to the kid standing above it, but his mother was so snotty and made such a big fuss about NOT letting me into the front row (and accused me of “stealing the ball from a child”) that I handed it to another kid instead. And then I told her why.

My eighth ball of the day came via the glove trick in left field. Look how badly the word “practice” was stamped onto it:

10_ball3940_screwy_practice_stamp

That was it for batting practice. Nothing at the dugout as the Sox came off the field. Nothing during pre-game throwing. When I asked Josh Fields for his ball, he said, “How many do you need?!” I have no idea how he would’ve seen me get any balls since he’s an infielder and I was snagging all my balls in the outfield, often in gaps that the players couldn’t see.

The funny moment of the day came right before the game started. The last few Sox were stretching in shallow left field, and there were a few Sox fans standing in the front row, shouting for autographs. Several rows back, a man decked out in Rangers gear got annoyed that these fans were still standing and blocking his view, so he shouted, “They’re not comin’ to see you guys! They’re done!” One of the Sox fans — a really fat guy with a beer and a goatee — looked back and yelled, “I’m gonna get me a kiss! You watch!”

Check out this photo I took during the lull before the game:

11_pregame_crowd_05_01_09

Do you see the Samsung ad on the outfield wall? See how that last section of seats is right next to the grassy batter’s eye? Well, that’s where I sat for the entire game. This was my view straight ahead . . .

12_view_during_game_05_01_09

. . . and this was my view to the left:

13_view_during_game_05_01_09

Outstanding!

I was all set to jump over that railing and run out there and catch a home run, but there were no home runs to be caught. The only long ball of the night was hit by Rangers leadoff man Ian Kinsler in the bottom of the first inning. Mark Buehrle (I saw his previous start on 4/25/09 at U.S. Cellular Field) looked shaky early on, falling behind by three runs after three innings, but he didn’t allow another run and ended up improving to 4-0 on the season.

Final score: White Sox 4, Rangers 3.

(Keep reading past the stats for important info about the next two games.)

STATS:

8 balls at this game

120 balls in 15 games this season = 8 balls per game.

584 consecutive games with at least one ball

154 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball

3,940 total balls

I’ll be in Arlington for the final two games of this series. I don’t have a ticket next to the batter’s eye for tomorrow’s (May 2nd) game, but I’m going to try really hard to sit there anyway. Look for me. I’ll be wearing my obnoxious/yellow Homer Simpson t-shirtTomorrow night…Sunday, May 3rd…the game will be THE Sunday night game of the week on ESPN, and I *do* already have a ticket next to the batter’s eye, right above the edge of that Samsung ad. Look for me. I’ll be wearing my Waldo shirt.

Are you with me?

Yellow shirt tonight…Saturday, May 2nd.
Waldo shirt tomorrow…Sunday, May 3rd.

The weather is kinda iffy at the moment. I’m hoping for BP. This stadium is too good. I don’t want to be reduced to begging for balls. Not here. There are truly TOO MANY ways to get balls. I was paralyzed by the options when I first ran inside yesterday. You can snag balls everywhere. No area is off limits. Even the protective screen behind the plate is low, in case you’re dumb enough (like I was in ’99) to come here and go for foul balls. This place was built for ballhawking. Wow, wow, wow. Okay . . . gotta go.

2 comments

  1. raytheaustralian

    Love Rangers Ballpark. Very relaxed atmosphere. Probably because everyone is armed and everybody knows it. Getting warmed up for the season opener ? Not long now. Get out there Hample and give me some laps !!

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