“Take me out to the ball game” is my blog on major-league ballparks and the wonders of witnessing America’s favorite pastime up close.
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Note from Bobby: I know you’ll enjoy this exceptional guest post from my son Brady, a 2014 preaching ministry graduate of Oklahoma Christian University and a lifelong fan of the Texas Rangers.
By Brady Ross
Most baseball fans vividly remember their first major-league game. For many baseball fans, it was the day they fell in love with the game. They can still recall the first time they saw the freshly cut green grass, and the first time they heard the crack of a bat or the pop of a glove resound throughout the entire stadium. They may not remember the final score, but they can certainly remember who was playing.
I can’t remember my first game. I can’t remember who was playing. I can’t remember the first time I sat in the sun for three hours, yelling my favorite player’s name, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch while I ate a hog dog for which I paid a few dollars too much.
However, I don’t resent this. In fact, I consider myself fortunate. Because for me, baseball was always a part of life.
I attended my first major-league game before my first birthday. I’ve heard the story repeatedly over the years: I didn’t make it through the national anthem before the tears started. I spent the rest of that day in the hospitality room at The Ballpark in Arlington, which had opened earlier that year. While I was there, Nolan Ryan happened to walk through the room. It was my first encounter with baseball greatness, and I only wish I could remember it!
From that point, it was all about baseball for my childhood self. I demanded that my parents call me Pudge, in honor of my favorite player, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, on my favorite team, the Texas Rangers. I wore shin guards and a chest protector around the house and dreamed of the day when I would take Pudge’s place as the starting catcher for the Rangers. My loyalty went to Pudge first, and the Rangers second. I wouldn’t watch the games if Pudge didn’t play. I still remember his backup’s name, Bill Haselman, only because it was my least favorite name to see in the lineup card each night.
I was devastated when Pudge left in 2002, and Pudge’s departure led to a period of rebellion in my life. I asked my parents to buy me a Yankees hat, and for a short time, became a Yankees fan. It didn’t help that we lived in Tennessee at this point, where we didn’t get the Rangers broadcasts anymore. This all changed in 2003, when we moved to Dallas — the heart of Rangers country. It was impossible to pledge allegiance to the Evil Empire when attending Rangers games was a highlight of the summer. I would beg my dad to take me to games whenever possible. Those of you who know my dad know that this would have been a huge sacrifice for him, but I’m thankful he chose to grant my wishes as often as he could!
After we moved to Oklahoma in 2005, we were no longer within 45 minutes of the Ballpark, yet my love for the Rangers and for the game of baseball as a whole kept growing. I joined my dad’s fantasy baseball league and placed third as a 12-year-old. My dad took our family to Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati in 2006, then to Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City in 2008. On a trip to Wisconsin and Utah in 2011, we managed to sneak in a trip to Coors Field in 2011. Also, as you can imagine, we managed a few trips to Rangers Ballpark every year, back when Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young were in their prime.
I could go on and on about my memories of baseball growing up. I could tell you about our 2009 trip to Rangers spring training, where I stood in line to get an autograph from Josh Hamilton, who was near one of the practice fields getting ready for the afternoon’s game. As I stood in line, I watched a pitcher on the field wearing the number 45 on his back running a pick-off drill. I wasn’t sure who he was, but I decided to get his autograph anyway. I could barely make out his signature on the ball: Derek Holland. Little did I know that he would pitch almost nine innings of shutout baseball in the World Series less than three years later.
I could tell you about the time we purchased tickets to Game 3 of the 2010 American League Championship Series to see the Rangers and the Rays play in Arlington on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I could confess to you that I sat in the upper deck holding back tears most of the game, imagining what it would be like to see the team with which I had grown up win its first playoff series ever. I fantasized about telling my kids and grandkids one day what it was like to witness that celebration in person. A Carl Crawford home run in the ninth inning ruined that fantasy, but victory still tasted sweet as I watched a Game 5 win at home in Oklahoma.
I could go on and on. I could tell you about meeting my hero, Pudge Rodriguez, before a late summer game against the Tigers and getting his autograph. I could tell you about sitting through a two-hour rain delay in 2011 to watch the Rangers beat Verlander and the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALCS. I could even tell you about my first kiss, which happened in Parking Lot N west of the home plate gate at Rangers Ballpark! So many of my best memories are wrapped up in this game and this team.
One of my fondest — and most recent — memories at Rangers Ballpark came April 11 of last year. I had been dating a girl named Mary for about a month and a half, but something inside of me was already telling me that she was the one. So, on a Saturday two weeks before finals, we made a quick trip to the Metroplex to see the Rangers play the Astros. She had never been to a major-league game before, and I hoped she would fall in love with baseball and the Rangers, just like I had.
To this day, I’m not sure if my dream came true, or if she realized that the Rangers and I would always come as a package deal. But her first game certainly was not her last!
In fact, we visited four stadiums together last year — Globe Life Park in Arlington (I still cringe as I type that name), Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
The last three were a part of a late summer trip, where she met me in Chicago and rode home with me at the end of my summer internship with the Naperville Church of Christ. We’ve already begun a tradition of purchasing a mini-bat from each stadium we visit.
We look forward to continuing that tradition after we’re married this summer. I knew I had found the one for me when she agreed to make part of our honeymoon a baseball road trip. After five nights at a resort on the beach in Mexico, we’ll come back to the United States, and we plan to visit Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., Petco Park in San Diego and Safeco Field in Seattle before returning back to Oklahoma.
I’m disappointed that we won’t be able to attend games at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles or AT&T Park in San Francisco — two of the top five stadiums that I would like to visit — but I ensured Mary that we will make a trip back one day to cross these stadiums off our list, and to finish our mini-bat collection!
In reality, baseball is a silly game.
Throwing, catching and hitting a white ball about the size of a rock has little bearing or effect on the big picture of life. I’ve been to hundreds of baseball games in my life, and with a few exceptions, I don’t remember scores or stats. What I remember is who I was sitting next to. Although it’s easy to get too high after a win, or too down after a loss, the pain rarely lingers longer than a few hours, and never longer than a few days. When I look back on my fandom, I don’t celebrate wins or mourn losses. Instead, I cherish memories made with family, especially my dad and brother, friends and my soon-to-be wife.
As I do this, I thank God for blessing me with these memories, and an avenue to continue to build relationships with the people who are important to me.
I’ve typed so much more than I planned, so, as a way of wrapping up, here are the 11 stadiums that I’ve experienced, ranked from my least favorite to most favorite. Keep in mind that even though one stadium had to finish last, I’ve never been to a ballpark that I didn’t enjoy or that I wouldn’t visit again.
Baseball is baseball, after all!
11. Coors Field – Colorado Rockies
10. Progressive Field – Cleveland Indians
9. U.S. Cellular Field – Chicago White Sox
8. Minute Maid Park – Houston Astros
7. Citi Field – New York Mets
6. Marlins Park – Miami Marlins
5. Great American Ballpark – Cincinnati Reds
4. Kauffman Stadium – Kansas City Royals
3. Busch Stadium – St. Louis Cardinals
2. Wrigley Field – Chicago Cubs
1. Globe Life Park in Arlington – Texas Rangers
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Your turn: How many ballparks have you visited? Which was your favorite? Your least favorite? Tweet me @bobbyross.
See a map of all the major-league stadiums at BallparkChasers.com.
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Coming soon: Fenway Frank? Dodger Dog? What ballpark hot dog ranks No. 1?