There were plenty of reasons for Tom Hicks to smile, but as the elevator opened and let him out at the clubhouse/field level he only half-nodded before shuffling past me and vanishing down a long concrete corridor. You'd think that the owner of a team that's been the surprise of baseball would be in a better mood. Winning is supposed to wash away the bad memories.
But even if winning doesn't make the man happy, there can be no doubt that money always turns his frown upside down. Which made his quasi-dyspeptic puss even stranger. That day I saw Hicks outside the elevator was the same day that a corporation named Ameriquest agreed to pay him $75 mil over 30 years to morph The Ballpark in Arlington into something called Ameriquest Field in Arlington. (See what they did there? That's called subtlety.)
Now that averages to only about $2.5 mil per year, but for a guy who's still recovering from the Pay-Rod fiasco, Hicks should have pulled a Dave Chappelle and screamed, "I'm rich, bitch." Instead, he looked like a hack comic who'd just been booed offstage, and I think I know why. He was scared. He was scared because he's finally learning.
Let me explain. Most of the time, or at least over the past few years, Hicks and the Rangers operated without regard for media relations. That is, they made moves without understanding that the potential journo fallout could be just as damaging to their cause as the moves themselves. Hicks and Co. were like Butch minus Sundance's wisdom--they'd stand at the edge of the cliff, the water far below, and worry about drowning without understanding that it was the fall that would likely kill them. But crash into those rocks enough times and even someone as curiously oblivious as Hicks figures out that making that jump can cause you serious damage.
In this case, Hicks had to be freaked that he'd get beaten up by the local media for pimping out his stadium to a corporate concern. And he was right. His pen had barely touched the contract before some of my peers attacked him in print and on the radio. My favorite came from Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway, who also hosts an afternoon drive-time show on ESPN radio. "I'm still wiping the grease off the bottom of my boots from that Friday afternoon lube job Hicks gave the city of Arlington," Galloway wrote in the paper. The indignation, Galloway told me via e-mail, was born from "a long-standing belief that when tax dollars pay for a yard or arena, the name of the place should mostly reflect something about the city...why do I need to promote jacklegs from California?"
He gets points for using "jacklegs" in a sentence, but not necessarily for sincerity. See, Galloway, fellow Star-T columnist Jim Reeves and the rest of the journos who criticized the name change will tell you that they did so out of conviction. But I'm not buying it. And here's where things get weird, because I'm going to do something I almost never do. I'm going to make Tom Hicks feel better. I'm going to pull back the curtain and let everyone in on a secret.
More often than not, we don't care. We fake the funk. We're funk fakers.
We pretend to care, and we're good at pretending, but most of the time we hack out a story or pontificate on the air because that's our shtick. We argue because that's what we get paid to do. One way or the other, yes or no, for or against. We're professional debaters.
This is how we operate. Steroids. Advertisements on jockeys. Offensive mascot nicknames (Redskins, Fighting Irish, Cocks, etc.). Find a hot topic and I'll find you a journo who could just as easily zig as zag. Part of the brilliance behind ESPN's PTI is that Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have abandoned the pretense. They switch up their stances each show, if not each minute, and make no apologies for it. But that's new school, and most of us are still stuck in the past, pretending to be men of principle when we're really just bored and waiting for happy hour.
As issues go, this name-change thing was a readymade column. All they had to do was switch "Ballpark in Arlington" with "Joe Robbie Stadium" and attach some generic headline like "a rose by any other name." Add water, mix, let stand one minute--presto, instant opinion.
Reeves and Galloway told me I'm wrong, and I respect the hell out of them, so maybe I am mistaken. But my gut tells me I'm right. When I asked why there wasn't a similar push to call the American Airlines Center something else, Reevo said that was different because the AAC has always been the AAC. "The ballpark has a name that's grown on all of us," Reeves said. "It could have been incorporated into the new corporate name: Ameriquest Ballpark in Arlington. That would have kept the essence of what we had." Galloway, meanwhile, said he's always protested that, too, calling it the ADD (Arena Downtown Dallas). But I found a column of his from a few years ago where he used the proper name. Then, he's getting old now, and he forgets things, so I'll forgive him.
Either way, I'm not sure those arguments work as a defense for everyone getting all fired up. Because those exact points were used in Denver a few years back when they slapped Invesco Field in front of Mile High. The reporters there tried to be outraged, too. But I don't think it ever bothered the fans or the public at large as much as the media would have liked to believe, because the citizenry went about doing what they'd always done--calling the stadium whatever they wanted to call it. In Philly, they tried to label the new football stadium Lincoln Financial Field. The fans said screw off and dubbed it the Linc. And that was that. Which made all those columns and all those radio shouting matches kinda pointless. Even here, the reaction among non-media types has been "Eh, we'll call it what we want." See where I'm going here? This concept was beaten to death long before it found its way to Texas, but it's easier to repeat history than to pen your own. And besides that, we have to write about something, so why not recycle a faux issue?
The truth: The whole ballpark naming fervor was contrived. The only thing that bothered me about the name change was getting "Ameriquest" right--a gargantuan task considering I'm the world's worst speller. That and I'm lazy, and calling it "The Ballpark" was just easier. I suspect, deep down, most of my contemporaries felt the same way--more inconvenienced than truly outraged.
But I can't blame them. This is what we do--take stances, pick sides, write columns. That last part is the key.
And, yes, I'm aware of the irony here.
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