Friday, July 29, 2011

Rangers Baseball

As many of you may know, I am not a sports guy. Occasionally I follow a hot football playoff series, Super bowl, Pennant race or Series but I’m not a dedicated fan. I don’t live for seeing a certain team in the lead or get in heated conversations about who has the best talent or struggle under the delusion that my life revolves around the machinations of a bunch of overpaid jocks who’s main talent is the throwing, hitting, catching of an object covered in leather or running into each other in the hopes of disabling the other human being.

OK, my real problem with viewing professional sports stems from a distinct dislike, almost abhorrence to standing in line for anything. I refuse to wait in a parking lot queue and hunting for that elusive parking space which doesn’t require hiking shoes and a canteen to get to the stadium. Or a drive-thru line or waiting outside of a restaurant holding that ridiculous vibrating and/or talking plastic disk annoyingly announcing, “Your table is now available.” I have poured over the lengths of checkout lines to gage how much sooner I could get checked out. Usually resulting in getting behind the lady with all the coupons and sadly watching the other customers I thought I was going to beat, leave before me. OK, I’m a convenience snob.

I have attended a game or two in my past. Usually with a diehard sports fan who can quote me statistics and can answer the Diamond Vision trivia question of who won the Heisman trophy for 1989. This has usually involved a free ticket because they couldn’t convince anyone else to go with them. This too is the result of a deep-seated trauma of always being the last guy picked for the team. I know I’m not the preferred choice, just the last one.

That said, my family is well aware of my quirkiness in this area and we have dodged this bullet on several occasions. Once in awhile, someone has a senior moment and they ask me along to a game. In this instance, my daughter was asked by her boss, Tracie, to accompany her and her betrothed, Barry, to a Rangers Game. Tracie has season tickets and asked Nicole along. OK, the free ticket requirement has been met and, although she is my daughter, I’m still wondering if she didn’t pick me because all her other friends weren’t available. Old feelings die-hard.
Fan adding to the ambiance

There is another wrinkle I forgot to mention. This is a really nice, modern, outdoor stadium. No covered or rollback roofs. Nope, this baby is an open-air stadium. Let me remind my audience, this stadium is in  Arlington, Texas in the middle of what could be another record year for days with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees.

When Nicole approached me about this about two weeks earlier, I noted the weather trend was warming and the forecast was triple digit. I broached the subject over a dinner we were having and I was assured the seats were under an upper deck and we would experience cool gentle breezes wafting from the facilities overhead fans.  After all, it was a “night game” and wouldn’t start until 7 in the evening. We would be kicking back in our seats and even be able to enjoy an ice cream in a cup in the shape of a batter’s helmet. In the days before the game, I was conjuring up visions of foot long hotdogs, fries and a refreshing ice filled drink enjoying one of America’s favorite pastimes.

Let me set the stage. On the appointed Sunday, the temperature at 7 p.m. was 101 degrees with about 45% humidity. Built in 1994 and costing about $191 million, Texas Rangers Stadium (formerly Ameriquest Field) is a 270 acre facility that took two years to build and can hold about 49,000 people. Attendance that night was about 23,000. We had really great seats on the 13th row up from the right center field wall, well under the upper deck and far away from any railings.

That was Dianna’s requirement since the second fall of a spectator  while trying to retrieve a ball thrown up to him by Josh Hamilton, a player for the Rangers. Yeah, like I was going to be reaching out into space to snag the winning run or something. It would most likely glance off my hand and wind up in the capable hands of some smug Little Leaguer who would then scoff at my feeble attempt. He might even add insult to injury by feeling sorry for me and handing it back just in time for the JumboTron to catch the moment for all to see.

But I digress. Here, seated in the place where the Giants took the trophy to the city by the Bay for their first time, in 2010. Tim Lincecum was wicked on the mound, Edgar Renteria broke a scoreless duel with a three-run homer in the seventh inning and San Francisco beat the Texas Rangers 3-1 in a tense Game 5 on a much cooler Monday night last October. Well, I got hungry.

The Rangers fare is typical of the 21st century baseball stadium. Hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, soft drinks and beer, lots of beer, interspersed with tall and cold gaily-colored Margaritas. Then there are the “other” food choices. Like Nolan Ryan beef sausage, Texas steak sandwiches, Blue Bell ice cream and pretzels large enough to feed four people. Fans can order gourmet dishes like a watermelon, feta and arugula salad (Really?) or a slider with oven-roasted veggies, tomatoes and Boursin cheese spread. The menu read like something you’d see on the Food Channel. I’m sure all of this has the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval.

There’s even a specially designed beer dispensing system that fills specially designed cups with beer though a hole in the bottom. This way, vendors won't have to pour the beer by hand (God forbid!), which can cause spills or foaming. The hole is kept closed by a flat magnet, and the cups are recyclable. How cool is that?

I am a bit of a traditionalist so Nicole and I started off with a good old hot dog (She bought). A nice foot long version, not overdone and very tasty. And why can’t anybody come up with a hot dog bun that has a hinged side that holds together once it’s accepted the dog. Although I have to admit, once I doused the dog with a layer of onions and relish, I may have exceeded the performance envelope of the bread. Still, can’t somebody do something about that? We can send men to the Moon but…..

While waiting for our dogs, I couldn’t help noticing the folks walking by with heaping boxes of these huge sweet potato fries. The term “fries” is not descriptive enough. We’re talking beautiful orange potato “wedges”. Think miniature churros. After downing my dog, I ran back and ordered up a batch of sweet potato fries. Herein lies the problem (refer to paragraph two). I had to wait in line, a long line. And then I discovered they didn’t have any sizzling away in anticipation of orders but tossed in one order at a time into the fryer.

Though noble in practice (nobody likes oily, overcooked fries), when you’ve got a line of hungry fans making multiple orders of fries, it got pretty confusing pretty quickly. Mind you, they made regular fries, garlic/cheese fries and sweet potato fries and only had two fry baskets to work with. Only two. I don’t believe a true production study (“A continuous study of relatively lengthy duration often made with the object of checking an existing or proposed standard time or its constituent parts, or obtaining information concerning the rate of output”) was ever conducted by this vendor. Literally, the cashier took an order, called it out to the fryers who took a handful of fries and tossed them into an empty fryer. It would take about five minutes to finish a batch, drain and pour the fries onto a plate and deliver them to the waiting customer. There was no accountability and the whole process really boiled down to the patrons keeping track of their own order. It was bedlam.

After being passed over once by a rather large, hungry (and scary) man who grabbed an order I was reaching for, it was survival of the fittest and I snatched the next batch out of the reach of a young Hispanic woman who, I noted, had not consulted the fashion police before she left the house in those ugly too-tall high heels and that slightly confining bright red tube top.

Coveting my prize like a five-point Buck over the hood of my pickup truck (hey, it’s Texas), I navigated my way back to our seats and Nicole and I shared a bonding moment dipping fry after fry in a vat of ketchup. It doesn’t get any better than that. Ok, it’s not your grandfather’s idea of a day at the baseball park, but it will have to do. In her later years, Nicole will be able to reflect on that moment and hopefully think fondly of her old man shoveling sweet potato fries into his pie hole and knocking back a large lemonade behind the right field wall. Truly, a Norman Rockwell moment.

We then stood for the Canadian and American National Anthems. Yeah, the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada” the lyrics were originally in French in 1880 and translated into English in 1906 (they couldn't find anybody to do it sooner?).

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

Brings a tear to the eye doesn’t it? Although, I must admit, the French version is much more moving. Then listened to the announcer read off the player rosters for the evening. It must have been the heat because the game kind of sputtered along all night. In the heat, Toronto seemed the most enthusiastic (go figure) while the Rangers just couldn’t get it together. It was scoreless until the sixth when Toronto brought in the only three runs of the game. Of course, whenever you broach the subject of a lackluster game, inevitably the response is, “Well, you should have been here last night.” Which, unfortunately, was true. The prior game with the Blue Jays was a heart stopper in which the Rangers were able to pull it out in the bottom of the ninth by scoring two runs, winning 5-4. It’s the luck of the draw.
Tracie and Nicole
As we approached the last inning, still 3 runs back, Nicole’s boss and benefactor Tracie, grabbed Barry’s baseball cap, turned it inside out and replaced the hat, bill looking up at an odd angle, back on his head. Tracie looked over at me and gave me the, “Well?” look through her beer goggles. I asked her why she had done what appeared to be a senseless act of meanness to her betrothed. Tracie said it was the “Rally Cap”. It seems, in Ranger Fan circles, when the team gets in trouble, you reverse your cap in some ancient Druid ritual to rally the team into performing. Tracie gestured that I do the same.
Note the dearth of "Rally Caps" in the crowd

Not wanting to shirk from a challenge to my manhood, and in the full view of my now cringing daughter, I reversed my hat and placed it on my head. Now, Barry had a canvas hat which, I believe, lends itself to reversal. I, on the other hand, had a more modern reinforced front panel and rigid material to my South Carolina Gamecocks (Go Fighting Cocks) cap. Let’s just say, it just didn’t look right. And as I surveyed my surroundings, I did not see another reversed hat in the lot. I think I was hood winked.

Nonetheless, our meager efforts were for naught as the end of the game did not bring victory. There was no joy in Arlington — the mighty Ranger has struck out.

As we joined the throngs of disappointed fans shuffling out to the street at 10 p.m., the temperature had cooled to a bone-chilling 98 degrees making the long walk back to our car further dampening our clothing and spirits. Once the air conditioner took hold, it was a relatively quick jaunt to the freeway and home. Certainly a night to remember and a great use of father/daughter quality time.  It’s been a while since my last Padre game at Petco. All kidding aside, there is always something magical about walking into that large stadium as one would enter a large cathedral, at once, awe inspiring and somehow comforting, stirring up old memories of similar times with friends and family. And let’s face it, because it’s America.

We’re baseball like Canada is hockey and Mexico is soccer. It’s in our DNA and helps us define ourselves within a world of cultures that we can’t always grasp. Like baseball, we’re about fairness, rule of law and most of all, team spirit. It is about winning and losing but everybody gets to play, no matter who you are or where you come from. And I like it. Thank you Tracie and Barry for asking us along and thanks Nicole, for taking your old man to a game.

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