Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Texas - 2012 Edition

“I’m in hell!” – Morgan Freeman
“Worse: You’re in Texas!” – Chris Rock
-- Nurse Betty

The Yankees will fly out of Boston late Sunday night and head to the Dallas area, to take on the Texas Rangers in what Texas native Molly Ivins – frequently sarcastically – called The Great State. Example: “In the Great State, you can get 5 years for murder, and 99 for pot possession.” (I once sent the late, great newspaper columnist an e-mail asking if it could be knocked down to 98 years if you didn’t inhale. Sadly, she never responded.)

The Yanks-Strangers series starts Monday night, 7:05 PM Eastern Time (6:05 Central Time). The Tuesday and Wednesday games are 8:05/7:05 starts. I’m doing this now so, in case you want to go, you might get a lower airfare.

Disclaimer: I have never been to the State of Texas, and thus I have no firsthand knowledge of what the ballpark is like. Nevertheless, I would like to make it easier for Yankee Fans to visit.

Before You Go. It's not just The South, it's Texas. You should be prepared for hot weather, and keep yourself hydrated.

That said, the website of the Dallas Morning News is suggesting day temperatures around 80 and nights around 60, but with thunderstorms possible for Tuesday night. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is not predicting rain during the series, but agrees with its regional rival paper on the temperatures.

Getting There. It is 1,551 miles from Midtown Manhattan to downtown Dallas, and 1,576 miles from Yankee Stadium to Rangers Ballpark. So unless you want to be cooped up for 24-30 hours, you... are... flying.

Nonstop flights from Newark, Kennedy or LaGuardia airports to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport will set you back over $2,000 (round-trip), but single-stop flights, usually stopping (possibly also changing) at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, could cut it to under $1,400. If that’s too much, and you want to wait until the next Yankee series – and thus order tickets after your next payday, in the hopes that your flight will be cheaper – you’re out of luck, as this is the only series the Yankees will play in Texas this season. Yet another thing that Interleague play has futzed up.

So, if it’s a choice between being cooped up or spending that much dough, what is being cooped up going to be like? Amtrak offers the Lake Shore Limited (a variation on the old New York Central Railroad’s 20th Century Limited), leaving Penn Station at 3:45 PM and arriving at Chicago’s Union Station at 9:45 the next morning (set your watch back 1 hour, Central Time). Then switch to the Texas Eagle at 1:45 PM, and arrive at Dallas’ Union Station (400 S. Houston Street) the following morning at 11:30. It would be $330 each way, and that’s with sleeping in a coach seat, before buying a room with a bed on each train.

Dallas is actually Greyhound’s hometown, or at least the location of its corporate headquarters: 205 S. Lamar Street. If you look at Greyhound buses, you’ll notice they all have Texas license plates. So how bad can the bus be?

Well, it’ll be cheaper: $366 round-trip. But it won’t be much shorter. You’d have to leave Port Authority at 3:45 – but that’s not PM, like on the train, that’s AM, and after boarding that bus in the middle of the night, Saturday-into-Sunday, you’d go down I-95 and have to change buses at Richmond, Virginia on Sunday afternoon, before going through Nashville, Memphis and Little Rock, before arriving in Dallas at 5:15 PM Monday, by which time the gates would already be opening for the first game of the series.

Oh... kay. So what about driving? As I said, over 1,500 miles. I would definitely recommend bringing a friend and sharing the driving. The fastest way from New York to Dallas is to get into New Jersey, take Interstate 78 West across the State and into Pennsylvania, then turn to Interstate 81 South, across Pennsylvania, the “panhandles” of Maryland and West Virginia, and across the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia into Tennessee, where I-81 will flow into Interstate 40. Take I-40 into Arkansas, and switch to Interstate 30 in Little Rock, taking it into the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, a.k.a. “The Metroplex.” In Texas, I-30 is named the Tom Landry Freeway, after the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach.

Once you get across the Hudson River into New Jersey, you should be in New Jersey for about an hour, Pennsylvania for 3 hours, Maryland for 15 minutes, West Virginia for half an hour, Virginia for 5 and a half hours (more than the entire trip will be before you get to Virginia), 8 hours and 15 minutes in Tennessee, 3 hours in Arkansas, and about 3 hours and 45 minutes in Texas.

Taking 45-minute rest stops in or around (my recommendations) Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Charlottesville, Virginia; Bristol, on the Virginia/Tennessee State Line; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Little Rock and Texarkana, Arkansas; and accounting for overruns there and for traffic at each end of the journey, and we’re talking 31 hours. So, leaving New York at around 10:00 on Sunday morning (thus avoiding rush-hour traffic), you should be able to reach the Metroplex at around 4:00 on Monday afternoon (again, avoiding rush-hour traffic and giving you time to get to your hotel).

And you will be getting a hotel. Fortunately, Rangers Ballpark is in Arlington, midway between the downtowns of Dallas and Fort Worth. Well before either the Rangers or Cowboys set up shop in Arlington, Six Flags Over Texas did so, as the original theme park in the Six Flags chain (celebrating their 50th Anniversary last year) and so there are plenty of hotels available nearby. They’re also likely to be cheaper than in downtown Dallas.

Officially, Rangers Ballpark (formerly known as The Ballpark In Arlington and AmeriQuest Field) is at 1000 Ballpark Way, off Exit 29 on the Landry Freeway. It sits right between Six Flags and the new Cowboys Stadium. Across Legends Way from the ballpark is a parking lot where the original home of the Rangers, Arlington Stadium, stood from 1965 to 1993. (It was a minor-league park called Turnpike Stadium before the announcement of the move of the team led to its expansion for the 1972 season.)

Here’s another reason why you may prefer to drive: Public transportation is not available to the ballpark. Dallas has built a subway and light rail system, and it has a bus service, but neither of these goes anywhere near the ballpark. I read somewhere that, at 365,000 people, Arlington is the largest city in the country with no public transportation at all. If you went to the Metroplex by any way other than driving yourself, you’ll have to rent a car.

Tickets. The Rangers averaged 36,382 fans last season, not surprising since they were on their way to their 2nd straight Pennant (the only Pennants they’ve ever won). Official seating capacity is 48,194, boostable to over 52,000 with standing room. That means over 12,000 tickets should be available, so getting them should not be a problem.

The Rangers have a peak price (at least, the highest available on the Ticketmaster website) of $100. (Normally these prices I’m quoting would be a little lower, but the Yankees make “Premium Pricing” kick in. I’m presuming the Red Sox and fellow Texans the Houston Astros do as well.) Some seats on the lower level can be had for $74. Foul line boxes are $59. Outfield seats on the lower level (bleachers, they could be called) are $38, although the upper deck in right field is an “All You Can Eat Porch,” presumably with food taken care of, for $53. Upper Boxes are $23, and Upper Reserved are just $18.

Be warned: A lot of these seats are listed as “Obstructed View.” This ballpark opened in 1994, and the plans for Camden Yards, if not the finished product, had to have been available. There is no excuse for a ballpark built after 1992 to have obstructed-view seats. Trying to look like one of the pre-World War II (or even WWI) ballparks can, after all, be taken too far.

Going In. Most likely, you’ll enter at the northwest corner of the stadium, which is the home plate entrance. The ballpark faces southeast, although the structure prevents you from seeing out. It’s just as well: Although Dallas has some interesting architecture, downtown is 17 miles from the ballpark, and you couldn’t see it from there anyway.

The Center Field Sports Park is a fan interactive area located in Vandergriff Plaza. The interactive area includes a Wiffle Ball Park, Tee-Ball Cages, a Speed Pitch, a Pitching Cage, and picnic tables. Token machines are located in the park, and age restrictions apply to some activities. The Center Field Sports Park opens 2 hours prior to game time and remains open through the middle of the 7th inning during April, May, and September weekday games and through the top of the 9th inning during June, July, and August games. The Center Field Sports Park will also close early for post-game fireworks shows.

Food. Along with the usual ballpark fare, the Rangers, going back to their early days at Arlington Stadium, were known for their nachos, as one might expect in Texas. As one also might expect in Texas, they have barbecue stands, and lots and lots of beer, including the hometown brand, Lone Star Beer.

Team History Displays. The Rangers, having now been around for nearly 40 years, have a bit of history. And while they never won a Pennant until 2010, or even qualified for postseason play until 1996, rarely have they been terrible. For the most part, they’ve been just sort of there, just another stop on a team’s schedule, and nothing to get excited about. But they have had their moments, ranging from the sublime (the no-hitters and strikeout milestones of Nolan Ryan) to the ridiculous (sending 18-year-old Houston area native David Clyde to pitch in 1973, when he clearly wasn’t ready, and wrecking the arm of the top pick in the draft).

The Rangers have a team Hall of Fame, which is open to ticketed fans during home games, and during ballpark tours. There are currently 14 members: Pitchers Ryan, Charlie Hough, Ferguson Jenkins, and former Yankees John Wetteland and (ugh) Kenny Rogers; catcher Jim Sundberg; infielders Toby Harrah (the last active Washington Senator) and Buddy Bell; outfielders Tom Grieve, Rusty Greer and former Yankee Ruben Sierra; manager Johnny Oates (another former Yankee), broadcaster Mark Holtz, and Tom Vandergriff, longtime Mayor of Arlington (1951-77) and “the Father of the Texas Rangers.”

At the start of this season, the Rangers dedicated statues of Shannon and Cooper Stone, the father and son involved in a tragic incident last season. All-Star Ranger left fielder Josh Hamilton saw the Stones in the stands, and tossed a ball up to them. But Shannon, a 39-year-old firefighter, bobbled it, and fell over the railing to his death. His son Cooper was just 6, and saw the whole thing. He was wearing a HAMILTON 32 jersey. The Rangers invited Cooper and his mother Jenny to throw out the ceremonial first pitches at a Playoff game last season, and dedicated the statues on Opening Day, as a symbol of the bond between fathers, sons and baseball.

A highway near the ballpark is the Nolan Ryan Freeway. Keep in mind, though, that Ryan only pitched for the Rangers for 5 seasons, and while he is regarded as a Texas icon, he was from the Houston area, not the Dallas area. Oates (Number 26) and Ryan (Number 34) have had their numbers retired. Those numbers are on the outfield wall. The center-field “batter’s eye” is known as Holtz Hill, and a statue of Vandergriff stands behind Holtz Hill on a part of the Ballpark’s concourse called Vandergriff Plaza.

Prior to 1965, the Metroplex was home to 2 teams in the Class AA Texas League: The Dallas team had several names, including the Spurs in the 1920s and ‘30s, the Rebels in the ‘40s, and (this will shock people from the Philadelphia area) the Eagles in the ‘50s, before becoming the Dallas Rangers in 1958; while the Fort Worth team was called the Panthers in the 1900s, ‘10s and ‘20s and the Cats from 1932 onward. In 1959, the Class AAA American Association admitted both the Dallas Rangers and the Fort Worth Cats. In 1965, Mayor Vandergriff had a 10,000-seat stadium built in his city, and it became home to a single team, the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs, with the idea that 2 teams, both having attendance problems, would not help the region get an expansion or moved team at the major league level; but one team, drawing from the entire area, would. It worked, and as Bob Short announced he would move the “new” Washington Senators to the area for the 1972 season, Turnpike Stadium was expanded to 20,000 seats, then 35,000 in time for the Rangers’ arrival, and finally to 43,000 seats in 1978.

The city offered to name the expanded stadium for Vandergriff, but he said it should be named for the city, and he threw out the first ball for their first game and broadcast for them for 3 years. He later served a term in Congress (elected as a Democrat, defeated by noted right-wing nut Dick Armey) and as a County Judge (elected as a Republican), and died at age 84, living just long enough to see his team play in its first World Series.

Note that the original Texas Rangers, the lawmen for whom the team (and the legendary Lone Ranger) were named, have their own Hall of Fame and Museum, in Waco. It’s 100 miles south of the Dallas area, so if you want to see that, you’ll need a car.

Stuff. The Rangers have team shops throughout the Ballpark, and also in downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth. The usual array of caps, jerseys, T-shirts, jackets, and baseball equipment are available. However, aside from a retrospective of their 2010 Pennant season titled “It’s Time!” there are no team DVDs for sale.

During the Game. If you were going to a Dallas Cowboys game, I would advise you against wearing New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and especially Washington Redskins gear. Under those circumstances, the stereotypical aggression of Texans may come into to play. However, wearing Yankee gear in Rangers Ballpark will almost certainly get you no more than a little verbal. And, this being a stadium, you're gonna get searched, and so is everyone else, so Texas' infamously lenient gun laws will be rendered useless. You're not going to get shot.

Rangers Ballpark opened in 1994 with the idea of reflecting old-time parks. They have a whattayacallit on their roof that’s supposed to resemble the one from the old Yankee Stadium (officially a frieze but we’ve always called it a “façade”). The general shape of the stadium is also supposed to evoke the original Yankee Stadium, although the field distances aren’t exaggerated. That upper deck in right field, complete with support poles, was intended as a tribute to Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The use of green as the park’s main color may be a tribute to the oldest remaining ballparks, Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago (although Fenway’s seats are red, green is the main color for the rest of the park).

Like its predecessor, Arlington Stadium, Rangers Ballpark offers no protection from the searing Texas heat. As a result, most home games are played at night (until the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball era began, the Rangers were one of the few teams that ever played Sunday home games at night), and, like Arlington Stadium, it is a hitters’ park. This is particularly true to right field, where the pole is just 325 feet away, and the upper deck appears to overhang the lower one (there’s that Detroit similarity).

The Rangers’ mascot is “Rangers Captain,” a horse dressed like a cowboy. On his page on the team website, Captain’s Corral, he is listed as follows: “Bats: Both. Throws: Smoke.” He has also been known to “throw down” with opposing mascots, including T.C. the Minnesota Twins’ bear, the Mariner Moose, and Junction Jack, the jackrabbit from the cross-State Houston Astros.

You know how the Yankees have "The Great City Subway Race"? And the Mets have the plane race? The Orioles have a Hot Dog race? The Nationals have the Presidents' Race? The Pirates have the Pierogi Race? The Brewers have the Sausage Race? The Rangers have the Dot Race.

The... wha-at? The Dot Race. It appears to have predated all of the preceding, although there seems to be some dispute as to who did it first, the Rangers or the A's. Originally, at Arlington Stadium, three dots -- red, green and blue -- would race around the scoreboard in the middle of the 6th inning. Now, they have live-action racing dots. Each fan is given a coupon that has one of the three colors. A coupon with the winning color can be taken to a Texas store to purchase... a new car! No, just kidding, not a new car. Okay, how about a steak dinner? Nope. Okay, how about a free hot dog at a ballpark concession stand? Nope. You win... a bottle of the race's sponsor, Ozarka bottled water. Oh. Joy. All that money in Texas, and that's the best they can do?

It is with great regret, and some queasiness, that I report that the Rangers’ regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is the nauseating “Cotton Eye Joe.” And in an apparent effort to make the Whatever They’re Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim’s “Rally Monkey” look mature, the Rangers have adopted the “Claw and Antlers” gesture. Utility infielder Esteban German saw a home run, and held his hands in a claw-like position. (That sounds like something to do with dexterity rather than strength.) A stolen base led German to hold his hands to his head, his fingers attempting to look like the antlers of a deer or a moose. (Now that sounds like it could represent strength, at least if it’s a moose, though a deer can be speedy.) A foam “antlers” hat soon followed, and became a big seller. ‘Scuse me while I roll my eyes.

After the Game. Dallas has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to crime, but you’ll be pretty far from it. Not only is the Ballpark not in a bad neighborhood, it’s one of those ballparks that’s not in any neighborhood. As long as you don’t make any snide remarks about the Cowboys, safety will not be an issue.

The only bars I could find that have been mentioned as catering to New Yorkers are the Cape Buffalo Grille, at 17727 Addison Road in Addison, north of Dallas, 28 miles northeast of Rangers Ballpark; and Humperdinks, at 6050 Greenville Avenue in north Dallas. That’s far from your base, even if your hotel is in downtown Dallas, but the former is an established home for fans of the football Giants, described by one as “a lifesaver for people from New York and New Jersey”; the latter seems to be the local home of Jet fans.

Sidelights. Despite their new rapid-rail system, Dallas is almost entirely a car-friendly, everything-else-unfriendly city. Actually, it’s not that friendly. It’s a city for oil companies, for banks, for insurance companies, things normal Americans tend to hate. As one Houston native once put it, “Dallas is not in Texas.” In fact, most Texans, especially people from Fort Worth (and, to a slightly lesser extent, those from Houston) seem to think of Dallas the way the rest of America thinks of New York: They hate it, and think it represents all that is bad about their homeland. Until, that is, they need a win. Or money.

As I said, Cowboys Stadium is close to Rangers Ballpark; in fact, it’s 7/10ths of a mile. You could walk between them. If you don’t mind losing 5 pounds of water weight in the Texas heat. The official address is 925 N. Collins Street, and the Cowboys offer tours of this Texas-sized facility, which will make the new Yankee Stadium seem sensible by comparison. Don’t bother looking for the former home of the Cowboys, Texas Stadium, because it was demolished in 2010. If you must, the address was 2401 E. Airport Freeway, in Irving.

The Cowboys’ first home, from 1960 to 1970, was the Cotton Bowl, which also hosted the Cotton Bowl game from 1937 to 2009, after which it was moved to Cowboys Stadium. It also hosted some (but not all) home games of Southern Methodist University between 1932 and 2000, and some games of soccer’s 1994 World Cup. But it’s old, opening in 1930, and the only thing that’s still held there is the annual “Red River Rivalry” game between the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma, every first Saturday in October, and that’s only because that’s the weekend when the Texas State Fair is held, as the stadium is in Fair Park. While it doesn’t seem fair that Oklahoma’s visit to play Texas should be called a “neutral site” if it’s in the State of Texas, the fact remains that each school gets half the tickets, and it’s actually slightly closer to OU’s campus, 191 miles, than it is from UT’s, 197 miles. Next-door is the African-American Museum of Dallas. 1300 Robert B. Cullum Blvd., in the Fair Park section of south Dallas. Bus 012 or 026, or Green Line light rail. Be advised that this is generally considered to be a high-crime area of Dallas.

The NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and the NHL’s Dallas Stars play at the American Airlines Center, or AAC. Not to be confused with the American Airlines Arena in Miami (which was really confusing when the Mavs played the Heat in the 2006 and 2011 NBA Finals), it looks like a cross between a rodeo barn and an airplane hangar. (Like Greyhound, American Airlines is HQ’ed in Dallas.) 2500 Victory Avenue in the Victory Park neighborhood, north of downtown. Bus 052 or Green Line to Victory station.

Before the AAC opened in 2001, both teams played at the Reunion Arena. This building hosted the 1984 Republican Convention. To New York Tri-State Area fans, it is probably best remembered as the place where Jason Arnott’s double-overtime goal won Game 6 and gave the New Jersey Devils the 2000 Stanley Cup over the defending Champion Stars. It was demolished in November 2009, 5 months before Texas Stadium was imploded. The arena didn’t even get to celebrate a 30th Anniversary. 777 Sports Street at Houston Viaduct, downtown, a 10-minute walk from Union Station.

The Major League Soccer club FC Dallas (formerly the Dallas Burn) play at FC Dallas Stadium, at 9200 World Cup Way in the suburb of Frisco. It’s 28 miles up the Dallas North Tollway from downtown, so forget about any way of getting there except driving.

If there’s two non-sports things an American knows about Dallas, it’s that the city is where U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, and where Ewing Oil President J.R. Ewing was shot on March 21, 1980. Elm, Main and Commerce Streets merge to go over railroad tracks near Union Station, and then go under Interstate 35E, the Stemmons Freeway – that’s the “triple underpass” so often mentioned in accounts of the JFK assassination. The former Texas School Book Depository, now named The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, is at the northwest corner of Elm & Houston Streets, while the “grassy knoll” is to the north of Elm, and the west of the Depository. Like Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and the area surrounding it in Washington, the area around Dealey Plaza is, structurally speaking, all but unchanged from the time the President in question was gunned down, an oddity in Dallas, where newer construction always seems to be happening.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot in Dallas and died, while John Ross Ewing Jr. was shot in Dallas and lived. Where’s the justice in that? J.R. was shot in his office at Ewing Oil’s headquarters, which, in the memorable opening sequence of Dallas, was in the real-life Renaissance Tower, at 1201 Elm Street, Dallas’ tallest building from 1974 to 1985, and in real life is the HQ for Neiman Marcus and Blockbuster Video. Bank of America plaza is now the tallest building in Dallas, at 921 feet, although not the tallest in Texas (there’s 2 in Houston that are taller).

The real Southfork Ranch is at 3700 Hogge Drive (that’s pronounced “Hoag”) in Parker, 28 miles northeast of the city. (Again, you’ll need a car.) It’s not nearly as old as the Ewing family’s fictional history would suggest, built in 1970. It’s now a conference center, and like the replica of the Ponderosa Ranch that Lorne Greene had built to look like his TV home on Bonanza, it is designed to resemble the Ewing family home. It is open to tours for an admission fee of $9.50.

The Dallas area is also home to 2 major football-playing colleges: Southern Methodist University (SMU) in north Dallas, which, as alma mater of Laura Bush, was chosen as the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library (scheduled to open in 2013, on, naturally, September 11); and Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth.

SMU has produced players like Doak Walker, Forrest Gregg, Dandy Don Meredith, and the “Pony Express” backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James (both now TV-network studio analysts), while TCU has produced Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Jim Swink and Bob Lilly. Both schools have had their highs and their lows, and following their 1987 “death penalty” (for committing recruiting violations while already on probation), and their return to play in 1989 under Gregg as coach, SMU are now what college basketball fans would call a “mid-major” school. Ironically, TCU, normally the less lucky of the schools, seriously challenged for the 2009 and 2010 National Championships, but their own “mid-major” schedule doomed them.

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Texas is a weird place, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is no exception. But it’s a pretty good area for sports, and it even seems to have finally embraced baseball as something more than something to do between football seasons. If you can afford it, go, and help your fellow Yankee Fans make the Rangers feel like they’re in Yankee Stadium. After all, as I’ve said before, RANGERS SUCK! Especially when they wear blue shirts. Whatever the sport, whatever the country, the only Ranger in a blue shirt who doesn’t suck is the Lone Ranger!

But remember to avoid using the oft-heard phrase “Dallas sucks.” In this case, keep the truth to yourself!

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