Monday, June 15, 2009

Justin's Review: Rangers Ballpark at Arlington

Ballpark Design: Probably the most impressive thing about the design of Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is how Texas it feels. I don’t think that any stadium we’ve seen yet has done as good a job capturing the aesthetics of the state its located in through architecture as well as Arlington. The iconic office building that acts as the backdrop behind centerfield is probably the most notable example of this, with a façade and balconies hanging off of it that make it look like it came right out of an old Western movie. The roof over the upper deck, the separate section of stands in right field, and even the ice cream stand in center field all make it very clear what part of the country you’re in. The stadium has other positive aspects, aside from its impressive architectural style. While the concourses are not open to the field, they are extremely wide, with picnic tables and other areas to eat scattered throughout them. The large, open area behind center field, filled with baseball related games for kids and a bunch of food stands, is well designed, with a great area to look over the visiting bullpen. The upper deck concourse was also great – like many other stadiums, it wasn’t open to the field, but unlike others, it was extremely wide and open to the outside, offering fabulous views of the surrounding area (including the Cowboys gigantic new stadium nearby). Some negatives – the upper deck was extremely far set back from the field (almost as bad as Shea Stadium used to be), and from our initial seats at the front of the upper deck near the right field foul pole, it was very hard to see the ball. The immense size of the upper deck also took something away from the overall look of the stadium – while the oufield, with the office building and everything else, had a very unique and old-town look, the largeness of the rest of the stadium contrasted and made the place feel much more utilitarian. Finally, due to the closed concourses on each level, there were few places you could stand and watch the game if you weren’t in your seats. Overall, it’s a good-looking and well designed ballpark, but a few flaws drop it from being towards the top of the list of stadiums we’ve seen so far. B+

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: Definitely the biggest flaw in this stadium. Like in Houston, the primary video screen is almost comically small. Furthermore, it’s position on the roof of the right field pavilion ensures that nobody in the right field part of the upper deck or the large right field pavilion can see it. They’ve tried to help with an extremely small video screen in the left field wall, but it’s so small that it’s nearly completely useless. The other scoreboards are not much better – the balls and strikes count, as well as the line score, are located on the matrix board directly below the main video screen, where it cannot be seen by a large part of the stadium, and where the numbers are also extremely small. The auxiliary boards that give the count are not much better, leaving us struggling to keep track of what was happening at times. Another matrix board, in straightaway centerfield above the office building, was actually pretty good, but only gave information on what players had done in previous at bats. If that were used for the line score and count instead, it would help many of the problems related to scoreboards. The sound was not much better – from our seats in deep right field, we had trouble hearing it at times, although it sounded much better when we moved behind home plate towards the end of the game. The out of town scoreboard, located in the left field wall, only showed 4 games at a time, and while it did give info about outs, who was batting and pitching, and such, it seemed to only update every 20 minutes or so. D

Food/Drink: While not quite as impressive as Houston or Tampa’s selection, there was a great variety of food at Rangers Ballpark, and the variety was scattered throughout the ballpark (including in the upper deck, where many stadiums have only the basics). One unique thing I tried was “hot peanuts”, which are more or less what they sound like. They were actually pretty good, although after about an hour, they were no longer hot and were just normal peanuts. They also had an impressive variety of beers, with “Beers of the World” and “Beers of Texas” stands scattered throughout the ballpark. B+

Fans: The fans showed up, they were loud, in to it, and clearly knowledgeable. Finally, some great fans – probably the best we’ve seen since Philly. Granted, it was a Friday night interleague matchup between two first place teams, but either way, we were impressed. Even after the Rangers took a big lead, few people left (although it was fireworks night, which may be partly responsible), and the stands stayed loud. However, they did do the wave - but they were the first fans we’ve seen to get the entire stadium to do it, which at least looks cool. B+

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Unfortunately, because of our tight schedule, we didn’t get to spend any time in Dallas, and I’ve never been there before, so I’m not going to give it a grade. The stadium itself is located in Arlington, which is clearly a suburb and makes no attempt to be a real city. Nearby is the Cowboys’ new stadium and a Six Flags (as well as the hotel we stayed at). While there’s not a lot there, it’s not completely isolated. Still, not a particularly exciting location for a stadium. City: N/A; Neighborhood: D

Game: The Rangers beat the Dodgers 6-0 in the biggest blowout we’ve seen up to this point. Hank Blalock hit the only homerun of the game, and despite the shutout, the Rangers pitching wasn’t particularly impressive. Vicente Padilla only got through 5 innings, allowing 4 hits and 3 walks, barely surviving without allowing a run. The bullpen was better, but the Rangers still only struck out 4 hitters in the whole game. The Dodgers were even less impressive, with two costly errors contributing the Rangers scoring. C

Overall Experience: There is no question that Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a great place to watch a game. While it doesn’t quite feel as modern or fan friendly as some of the other new ballparks, the atmosphere that the stadium itself has and the energy brought by the fans makes it a great ballpark. Next time, I’d like to sit in the lower deck so I can see the ball better, but other than that, I have few complaints. B+

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