When the Rangers and Arlington announced a plan for the team to play in new, climate-controlled digs as early as 2021, it seemed too soon. Globe Life Park — formerly The Ballpark in Arlington, Ameriquest Field and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington — had just turned 22 and wouldn't be 30 before it was mostly torn down. Baseball is a game of history and tradition, after all. It's about dads taking their children to their first games and passing on their love of the sport.
Most kids who saw their first major league game at Globe Life Park will be too young to have children of their own by the time the wrecking crew takes the field.
That just doesn't seem very long for a stadium that was hailed as a marvel when it was built in the early '90s. And it's particularly ironic that the stadium was erected during what's become known as the Retro Classic ballpark boom. Along with Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Denver's Coors Field and Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Globe Life Park was among the best examples of a building style that integrated modern amenities with the classic features and feel of traditional jewel box style stadiums like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Globe Life Park is ersatz history that won't be around long enough to become literally historical.
It's not as though the field isn't appreciated. Critics liked it. Fans, despite withering July and August temperatures, like it, especially when the Rangers are winning. In 2012, the year after the Rangers made their second consecutive World Series appearance, the team drew 3.46 million fans to Globe Life Park, their most ever and the second-most in the American League. In 2013, they drew more than 3 million fans again and were again the second-most supported team in the American League. Given good baseball, people will come to see the Rangers in droves at their current stadium. So why are the Rangers turning Globe Life Park into parking lot before Nomar Mazara or Lewis Brinson hits free agency? One answer: America has other traditions besides baseball — the love of air conditioning and the habit of tearing things down to build new things, for example.
It's happening, says John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, because that's what we do.
It happened throughout the '90s and '00s, when out-of-fashion multipurpose stadiums in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Minnesota's Twin Cities came down in favor of baseball-specific stadiums. It's happening again as we get closer to 2020, with the Rangers and Atlanta Braves both set to ditch parks that opened in or after 1994.
"This is the American way. Creative destruction, right? Make it new," Thorn says. "In the case of Arlington, you've got a climate issue as you do in Atlanta and the retractable dome, which has been such a hit in Milwaukee, Arizona and Toronto ... it does seem like a pretty good alternative."
That the Rangers and Arlington are getting rid of something relatively new for something newer, Thorn says, speaks to the way of the world and the fact that Arlington is willing to put up $500 million to make sure that the Rangers don't leave for cozier confines somewhere like Dallas.
"The failure of the vision in Arlington was not because they built an old style ballpark. It is one of my favorite ballparks. I always enjoyed visiting Arlington," he says. "It seemed to me like a pastry tray assortment of other ballparks. Right field looked like one ballpark, center field looked like another park. I thought it was a pastiche. A delight. I really will miss this park."
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Globe Life Park's only major flaw is its susceptibility to heat, Thorn concedes, and the lack of development around the park makes it easier to knock it down and start over than retrofit the park with a roof. Old parks that have survived, like Fenway, Wrigley and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, are part of the neighborhoods they inhabit. They've been crammed into them in way that a new park could not be. If the Red Sox want a new stadium, they would need to move, Thorn says.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars are going to go into and have gone into the renovation of each of these parks," he says. "So the question in each case has been: Do you tear down and build new, probably relocating, or do you take advantage of a uniquely sited ballpark in a neighborhood that has grown up around the park and preserve the qualities [of the park]?"
For the Rangers, who've never played near a neighborhood populated by anything other than parked cars and roller coasters, that isn't an issue.
"It's a chicken or the egg story isn't it? Does the ballpark engender a new vibrant, economically bustling community, or do you place a ballpark in community that already has a vibrant economic life," he says. "I'm neither in favor of or opposed to this action in terms of history, aesthetics and public interest. I think it is in the public interest for the Texas Rangers to have a state of the art park and, if possible, to escape from the ravages of the heat in the worst months. Is something being lost? Sure. I think what's being lost is a terrific little ball park."