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After one last Opening Day, closing time is coming for the Ballpark

For the 26th year in a row, on Thursday, a sellout crowd at Globe Life Park saw the red-white-and-blue bunting hanging from the rails, watched the giant American flag brought onto the field, heard the roar of the jets flying over and saw the first pitch of another baseball season. But while Opening Day is always one of the most splendorous traditions in sports, in this case, a somewhat wistful feeling permeated amidst the pageantry.

Grand as they were, the festivities of March 28, 2019 carried a solemn undercurrent that will grow into a flood of nostalgia over the final 80 games of the erstwhile Ballpark in Arlington before the Rangers move to their new, retractable-roof home next door in 2020. These are the hallowed grounds where so many of us DFW folks nurtured our love for baseball, our frustration at watching an often-lousy ballclub and, for a few tantalizing moments, our joy at watching a truly special team chase championships.

The 2019 version of the Rangers isn’t likely to be one of those teams we remember fondly from a win-loss point of view, though, and thus, Globe Life Park will almost certainly will see its final pitch in the late-September regular-season finale against the Yankees. It strains credulity to entertain fantasies of seeing a few more games at the old ballpark; there will, in almost every universe in the multiverse, be no postseason for this club.

But if the Rangers do wind up with a losing record this year, it will be the 14th time in 26 seasons at Globe Life Park that the team finished below .500. More often than not, we came to a magnificent ballpark to see a mediocre ballclub, and that might be the finest endorsement one could make for the place.

The millions of fans who turned out for all those games couldn’t always hope to see greatness – though there was a two-year window from 2010-11, when every night was electric and the ballpark hosted six World Series games. Who can forget Neftali Feliz striking out Alex Rodriguez to send the Rangers to the Series in ’10, or Nelson Cruz blasting a walk-off grand slam down the left-field line in the ALCS the next year?

For that matter, who can forget that first game in 1994, when Van Cliburn and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s rousing “Star-Spangled Banner” provided a fittingly classy introduction at the neoclassical, retro-style ballpark with bas-relief stone panels decorating its massive, red brick arches? The welcoming quality when fans walked through the gates was just as important as what happened on the field.

Leave it to Rangers veteran Hunter Pence, who starred at nearby Arlington High School and UT-Arlington back in in the early aughts, to describe what the ballpark looked like to a local, baseball-crazed kid.

“I remember driving by and looking at the architecture when it was built and just being in awe of how beautiful it was,” Pence said before he played there in a Rangers uniform for the first time in an exhibition game Monday. “I was always, like, man, how cool would it be to go there and this is where I go to work? … That coming to fruition was pretty special.”

That’s the way I feel, too. For me, the Ballpark has been one of the most important places in my life since it opened. I went to the first exhibition game there, the first Opening Day, the All-Star Game in 1995 – I caught a Frank Thomas homer on the fly during the Home Run Derby after sleeping in line to get tickets – and then a decade later, I was lucky enough to get a seat in the press box as a sportswriter. I’ve covered hundreds of games there and been to hundreds more as a fan. It has always been a temple to me.

Unfortunately, the temple doesn’t have a roof. On especially hot summer days, you could barely sit down without wiping your seat with a wet towel lest you burn your thighs. The torrential Texas thunderstorms could cause trouble, too, resulting in many a long rain delay and sometimes even a terrifying lightning strike. (I’ll always remember Mike Napoli sprinting off the field when a thunderbolt cracked too close for comfort.)

So we will celebrate Globe Life Park’s farewell year, and if we’re being honest, we’ll probably get spoiled by the air conditioning across the street in no time. Get your outdoor baseball while you can, then, and maybe this year’s Rangers will give us a few more memories to take indoors next year.

“It’s going to be bittersweet,” Rangers slugger Joey Gallo said. “For me, personally … in ’15 we clinched the playoffs, we were celebrating here. I made my debut here. A lot of memories that we’ll never forget, and that’s one thing that is kind of important for us, is to try to go out with a bang and help the fans remember this place. It’s a special place and there were a lot of great things here.

“But we are excited to get a roof on our heads, too. It gets pretty hot here.”

Dave Sessions (@davesessions) is a freelance sportswriter based in Fort Worth. He was the Rangers beat writer at the Star-Telegram in 2007 and has been a frequent contributor to since 2011.

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