A search for improvements at the Rangers’ new ballpark
Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers and the newest major league ballpark in North America, arguably had the most challenging opening of any modern-day facility. It was slated to open its doors on March 23, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its first pitch for seven months. Remember COVID-19?
In fact, Globe Life had the dubious honor of hosting a postseason contest as its first baseball game. More in fact, Globe Life’s first game didn’t feature the team that plays there. It initially hosted the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, then the league’s Championship Series between the Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, then the 2020 World Series between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays. The Rangers didn’t reach the 2020 postseason. Remember any of that? I barely remember any of that.
All of this to say that it didn’t get the introduction it deserved. During that 2020 postseason, fans were asked to sit in pods of up to four seats to restrict the spread of germs. And while actual fans of the postseason clubs attended the games, the environment paled in comparison to true sold-out playoff baseball. Plus, I have to think the Rangers didn’t get to showcase the park in its full intended glory during that awkward and isolated postseason. They wanted a full house on a warm spring day. They wanted fans milling around the bars and shops surrounding the venue two hours before first pitch. They wanted liquored up, red- and blue-clad Ranger fans patrolling their new park. They didn’t get it that.
But when they did get it, they definitely had it. Because Texas was basically the first state to stop giving a damn about the pandemic, the Rangers had baseball’s largest first-week crowd by far with an attendance of 38,238. For comparison’s sake, the next-largest crowd during that first week was in Coors Field, where 20,688 watched the Rockies host the Dodgers on a Saturday night. The point: Rangers fans wanted to see their new ballpark shining like the blistering Texas sun reflecting off its warehouse roof, and they didn’t care whether or not their health was being jeopardized in the process.
I didn’t attend my first baseball game in 2021 until September, but it was at Globe Life Field. By this time the Rangers had fallen woefully out of postseason contention at 54-93. They were hosting the far better Chicago White Sox on a Saturday night. The attendance was 31,121. Not much better, but I was up to date on my vaccinations and, hey, at least there’d be some breathing room.
Plus, this was a trip I could make. I wasn’t ready to fly anywhere in summer 2021, but I could drive up to Arlington and get my first true glimpse at the newest park in the game. I was excited!
I was let down.
I’ve been asked multiple times what I look for most in a ballpark, and the answer is always some complicated list of things because there’s usually not one thing that I look for most. The truth is I want to get to the park easily and affordably. I want to see a strong variety of valuable food and beverage options, especially if they have local connections. I want to experience what it means to be a fan of the baseball team, from hall of fame displays to special concourse stands, and from mascots to songs. It shouldn’t cost too much for a ticket, a hot dog, and a beer. There should be a variety of viewing options, from standing room spots to specialty seating. The place should look nice. Colorful. Inviting. Reflective of the franchise that lives there.
So it’s a lot. Most parks hit at least a few of these elements well enough. A select group of parks do all of these things well or really well. Then a few parks fall short of nearly all of these things.
I didn’t expect the newest ballpark in America to be one of those parks, but Globe Life was the first time I visited.
Globe Life sits in the middle of the Arlington, Texas, entertainment district, which sits in the middle of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which sits in the middle of North Texas. In short, it’s a airline hangar ballpark in the middle of a location that resembles an airport in the middle of a location that epitomizes stopover America. I’m not trying to be mean to North Texas, or to Dallas-Fort Worth, or to the Arlington entertainment district. There are some truly great parts of the DFW area, from the super touristy mini-Nashville of Fort Worth’s Stockyard District to the gorgeous New Classical rehash of American Airlines Center in Dallas, home to the NBA’s Mavericks and NHL’s Stars. But the bulk of DFW is a network of roads connecting residential areas. Lots of people love this kind of tangled metro area because despite its scope it can feel suburban and comfortable. Globe Life is just like that. It’s comfortable. Hell, it’s an air-conditioned facility that replaced an open-air parl that sizzled in the summer heat. But does Globe Life’s comfort translate to “good ballpark”?
If there’s a current trend in ballpark design and development, it’s when a stadium anchors a massive multi-use district. The bulk of this trend takes the form of districts retrofitted into urban locations or previously under-developed but usable land, such as with Ballpark Village next to St. Louis’ Busch Stadium or even Gallagher Way beside Chicago’s Wrigley Field. But the two newest major league parks, Truist in Atlanta and Globe Life in Arlington, fully embrace the trend from the ground up. In both cases, restaurants, bars, hotels, shopping and even residential surround the anchor ballpark. Also in both cases, these 21st century districts are located in areas removed from more traditional urban locations. Globe Life has the isolated Arlington entertainment district, which also includes the mammoth AT&T Stadium and Six Flags Over Texas, while Truist is quarantined in The Battery, a hand-crafted neighborhood 30 miles north of Downtown Atlanta and almost completely unreachable for inner-city residents without their own transportation options.
In other words, there are reasons these ballparks are built, reasons these multi-use districts take shape around them. Are they nefarious? I can’t credibly say, but I can point out that since 2017 it’s become so much harder for specific populations of Atlanta baseball fans to watch their team in person. More to the surface, these districts mean big money. Ownership teams, big-money developers, and businesspeople are more than happy to invite fans to their districts three, four, five hours before first pitch. At The Battery, bars open plenty early and the streets are closed to vehicular traffic. At Globe Life, you can emerge from the Live! By Loews hotel and walk three minutes along a path and enter Texas Live! for drinks and food at several corporate-branded bars and grills. Okay, you will emerge for this. There are few other options for food and drink anywhere near the ballpark; in other words, you have to go to Texas Live!
Texas Live! is a two-level complex filled with spots like the Lockhart Smokehouse (barbecue), Troy’s (football player’s post-career bar), and PBR Texas (there’s a mechanical bull here). Everywhere serves alcohol. Everywhere has bites from burgers to nachos. Televisions show every game you’d want to watch at any time. Thousands of sports fans visit daily. It’s owned by The Cordish Companies, which also own Ballpark Village in St. Louis and Live! At the Battery in Atlanta. These people know how to coax baseball fans into extending the experience of attending a game by at least an hour or two. That’s the goal. Extend the experience.
This is all to say that, at least when I visited in 2021, Texas Live! was arguably the best thing about going to Globe Life Field. It packs energy, has a variety of eating and drinking options (OK, the beer is all macro, but that’s nearly the same at the park itself), and feels as much a Rangers venue as the stadium.
But it’s unfair to judge a ballpark on one visit, especially during its first season, and especially after it endured a challenging opening thanks to an unprecedented pandemic. And I should note that I enjoyed a few aspects of Globe Life the first time around, primarily the beautiful statues of Rangers legends Ivan Rodriguez and Nolan Ryan, and of the moment the team clinched its first American League pennant (a hug between relief pitcher Neftali Feliz and catcher Bengie Molina). So this week I drove up to Arlington to visit the Rangers play its second game of the 2023 season. They hosted my favorite team, the National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
I was hoping for some minor but notable improvements upon my second visit, about 18 months after my first. Anything major – say, a completely rehauled beer selection or fun and interactive experiences – would’ve been a nice surprise. Ultimately, I saw a few of those minor but notable improvements, though I feel Globe Life still has a way to go before it feels like an average or better ballpark.
In 2021, Globe Life’s top food offering was the Boomstick Dog, a 2-foot-long hot dog topped with onions, jalapenos and chili. Now, it’s a more than $40 hulkin’ beef rib by Hurtado Barbecue, which operates a vendor stand at section 101. Fort Worth-based Hurtado is among the top smokehouses in Arlington, so if you’re getting any food at Globe Life, go here. If you don’t want to pony up for the big rib (I recommend at least two people to share it), Hurtado also smokes up brisket and birria tacos. (FYI, they’ve added a Boomstick Burger to the food slate at Globe Life. This is a 2-foot-long monster with chili, yellow nacho cheese, jalapenos and onion rings.)
There is plenty of standing room at Globe Life, including along the first-level concourse with shelves to hold your food and drinks. The Karbach Sky Porch, way up by section 301, offers open-air viewing of the entire field with beer by AB-InBev-owned Karbach, based in Houston. The section includes enormous rocking chairs, though those are paid seats. You can stand at a high-top with a Karbach while watching the game, and for those with more than a couple friends looking for a place to hang, this works very well.
The beer selection at Globe Life is mostly macro (Budweiser and AB-InBev-owned beers, Grupo Modelo fare, etc.), but you can find Dallas’ Rollertown Beerworks at sections 101, 126, 140 and 205. You can find, among others, the New England IPA Juice Serum and kolsch The Big German, and they’re good, but you just have to look hard for it.
In 2022, the Rangers introduced Oatly Park at section 238. This is a Wiffle ball park for kids, made to resemble Globe Life.
For a nice visual, an array of Rangers jerseys for sale cycle through a tall display right near Hurtado Barbecue in the left field concourse.
Here are a few things I’d like to see in the future at Globe Life Field:
More Rangers. The advertised outfield dimensions reflect important dates in Rangers’ history. For example, the distance to deep center field is 407 because hall of fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez wore the number 7 on his Rangers uniform. But if you’re not a super-devoted Rangers fan, you may not even notice it let alone make the connection. I’d love an interactive history display, whether a wall of fame or franchise timeline, somewhere along the concourse so that people can better make that connection between what lives in the park and what’s historical context.
More character. On that note, the ballpark doesn’t scream “Rangers” to me, other than little splashes of red, white and blue, and the 1970s-style “It Is Baseball Time in Texas” sign over the center field concourse, which nods to the classic call by Rangers’ PA announcer Chuck Morgan. To me, that kitschy sign is the key to what Globe Life can be. Play up the kitsch quotient of Rangers baseball, the Texas of it all, and the team’s 70s roots. Give me more cowboy hats, more stars, more cattle, more lassos and yeehaws. Give me more pops of baby blue and funky serif fonts. Don’t just give me a nightly Dot Race, which is one tradition that tracks back to the 70s that still carries on at Globe Life, but give me the Dots all of the time. Put Dots all over the place. Give kids a scavenger hunt to find all of the Dots along the concourses. If Globe Life is the comfortable suburban facility of major league ballparks, go head first into that and make the place a comfortable playground for DFW families.
More local food. Arlington Eats at section 101 showcases local restaurants as rotating pop-ups, but I want more options like Hurtado Barbecue. Currently the notable brand names at Globe Life include quick-service Texas chicken chain Golden Chick, Texas ice cream chain Blue Bell, and national barbecue sauce manufacturer Sweet Baby Ray’s. Put more small local businesses in these featured spots. Also, give me easy access to Texas food favorites that are currently hard to find in the park. I’m talking chili, chicken fried steak and banana pudding.
Easier access to shuttles. If you park in the Arlington Entertainment District, you can get on a trolley that takes you to the park. Problem is I’m not quite sure where to get the trolley, especially if you park on the busy Randol Mill Road. Most parking options start at $20, even up to three or four large blocks from the ballpark, so a quicker and more certain way to the venue from the parking lot would be amazing.
Rangers fans should be happy that they now have an air-conditioned ballpark where they can watch their favorite team. But Globe Life lacks the personal touch and aesthetic signatures that most modern venues have in spades. Until more changes are made, visiting the neighboring Texas Live! for a ballgame will likely give you the same general experience as watching the product in person.
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