Monday, May 16, 2016

Toronto Blue Jays at Texas Rangers - May 13-15, 2016


In the 2015 MLB playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Texas Rangers in the Division Series in a wild ending that saw Jose Bautista horrify baseball purists with the bat flip seen round the world. They two clubs met in Toronto the weekend previous with no shenanigans, so I expected something would happen as the teams finished up their season series at Globe Life Park in Arlington and I continued my Toronto on the Road quest. It eventually did, but it sure took a long time.



I flew back to Dallas from San Francisco and met my buddy Sean, who was last on a sports road trip with me in 1992. We had a hotel near the ballpark, but there are no sidewalks in the area, so we decided to take a shuttle from Humperdinks, a bar next to the hotel which offers 32-oz. beers to entice you to visit after the game. Many fans park in the lot and use this service, which is a bit more reliable than the trolley that makes it way around the hotels in the area (and is only free for those staying in those hotels). There is also cheap parking along Arlington Downs Road, with one lot charging just $5.



Globe Life Park opened in 1994 as one of the first retro parks, just two years after Camden Yards. It was built on a parking lot next to the old Arlington Stadium, which was demolished shortly thereafter. AT&T Stadium sits just a couple of blocks away and is quite impressive from one of the staircases on the southwest side of the ballpark.



The Rangers employ a dynamic pricing system, so tickets vary depending on demand. Even StubHub was not a good option as fans were pricing the tickets above the box office. I guess people wanted to see Bautista get his, because all 3 games were well attended.



The ballpark is designed like the old "jewel box" ballparks, with a completely enclosed field.  The right field porch is reminiscent of Tiger Stadium complete with obstructed view seats (now an all-you-can-eat section), while a four-story office building occupies the area behind center field, with the white facade similar to that at old Yankee Stadium. The main problem here is the air doesn't move inside most of the seating bowl; fortunately the concourses have plenty of windows and arches that allow for air circulation. Note that the concourse is divided into two areas, one shown below that is quite spacious, and another closer to the breezeways that gets quite crowded.



The best place to sit is the 100 level sections between the bases (view below). These seats are covered by the club section, keeping you out of the hot sun in afternoon games, but also a nice breeze comes through that area, making it quite comfortable in the evening as well. Few fans actually sit here and there are no ushers, so you can get the cheapest box office ticket and just plant yourself in row 40 or so without worrying about getting kicked out. You do miss high fly balls, but that is about the only drawback and we spent most of the weekend in this area.



The shot below gives you an idea of the structure of the ballpark; the shaded areas in the lower deck are the areas to which I am referring.



We took a walking tour on Sunday afternoon; sadly the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame was closed for a private event that day, so I never did get a chance to see it. Now that the Rangers are my least favourite team in sports, I'm glad I missed it. In the area behind the center field fence there is a Nolan Ryan statue, but that is about all I saw in terms of history.



The batters eye is actually a section of grass known as Greene's Hill, named after a former mayor of Arlington. These days, four buxom women parade Texas flags back and forth here after the Rangers hit home runs, something that happened far too often on this weekend.



The view from center field...



...and from high above left field. This is one of the farthest seats in major league baseball, and I couldn't even see the ball off the bat when it was twilight. The bright spot is that in an otherwise full park, this area was mostly empty and I could stretch out for a few innings.



I always enjoy finding unique things in a ballpark and the table below qualifies. These can be found in an area behind home plate. There are also picnic tables along the outer concourse which are a good place to relax and enjoy a meal before the game. Food options were decent though typically overpriced, with a personal sized pepperoni pizza a relative bargain at $9.50. There were also $1 ice cream cones available on the concourse, which are heartily recommended. There is also a designated driver program which nets you a free soda, but for some reason lids and straws are not provided. This better not be for ecological reasons because when you have 40,000 people driving to the ballpark since there's no transit, a few straws and lids are the least of your environmental worries.



Overall, Globe Life Park is one of my least favourite ballparks in the majors. The first problem is its location, which is in the middle of nowhere with no public transit options as mentioned. Inside, the concourse is crowded, and I found tickets overpriced for what you get. Fans were not that friendly, no doubt because of the Blue Jays gear I was sporting, and of course, many references to the bat flip were made. I think that this might be the first completely cynical ballpark (i.e. one constructed for revenue generation at the expense of fan comfort) that has made attending top-level sports so annoying. I'll likely never be back here and won't regret it at all.

The Games

On Friday, R.A. Dickey pitched one of his best games as a Blue Jay, going 8 innings giving up just three hits and a walk. The Jays scored 1 in the 5th, 1 in the 6th, and broke the game open with 3 in the  7th on homers from Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki as they won 5-0. Matt Bush made his major league debut in the game, tossing a scoreless ninth for Texas. The victory made the Jays 3-1 on the road trip and all they needed was another win on the weekend to make it a successful journey.



Saturday was Rougned Odor bobblehead day (if they had waited, they could have had him in punching position) and tickets were surprisingly expensive, with the cheapest at $40 for SRO at the box office. I found a good seat at the last minute on StubHub (view above) while Sean went for the all-you-can-eat option, each costing about $60. In the bottom of the 2nd, Bobby Wilson hit a grand slam for Texas, which netted all fans a coupon for a free Grand Slam at Denny's, a double gut punch for us Blue Jay fans who used the coupon. Ryan Goins got the Jays on the board with a solo shot in the 3rd and they added another on an Ezequiel Carrera single in the 5th. But the Blue Jays, playing very poor fundamental baseball, allowed a run to score on a Russell Martin passed ball in the 6th and the Jays entered the 9th down 5-2. Closer Shawn Tolleson came on, much to the chagrin of the Rangers fans around me, who had seem him blow several saves in recent days. He did exactly that, giving up a 2-run homer to Justin Smoak and a solo shot to Tulowitzki that tied the game. Unfortunately, the Jays could not get that key go-ahead run and that passed ball turned out to be a killer. In the bottom of the 10th, Gavin Floyd came in to pitch for Toronto and got two quick outs before Drew Stubbs surprised everyone with a homer to win the game. Ugh.



Sunday was an afternoon game, and things got off to a strange start when first base coach Tim Leiper was ejected in the third inning after arguing with the first base umpire about something. Manager John Gibbons followed Leiper to the showers in the bottom half after arguing balls and strikes, but the Jays used a 4-run fifth to build a 6-3 lead into the bottom of the 7th. Starter Aaron Sanchez was replaced after giving up a run and Jesse Chavez came on to pitch with runners on first and second and two out. He promptly gave up a 3-run homer to Ian Desmond and the Jays suddenly were down 7-6, which is the way the game finished.

Of course, the excitement followed in the top of the 8th. I had to return the rental car so Sean and I had moved to the center field area behind the Blue Jays bullpen. Bautista was hit by a Bush pitch leading off the inning, no doubt the payback that the Rangers had been waiting for. Manager Jeff Bannister later said that it was not intentional as they would not put the tying run on base on purpose, which makes him a pretty big liar. With Bautista on first and Jake Diekmann on to pitch, Smoak grounded to third. Bautista tried to take out Odor with a hard slide, Odor (who threw wide to first) took exception and punched Bautista after a couple of pushes, and the benches cleared (above).

When all was said and done, Bautista's late slide led to Smoak being called out and the Jays were pretty much done. I think Odor's punch was gutless, but Bautista brought it on himself; if he had taken a normal slide, the whole silliness would be over, but it will probably continue into next season now.



So the Jays went 3-3 on the trip, and I have to say that they look terrible. They could easily have gone 5-1 if their bullpen (shown above watching the replay of the brawl) was remotely decent, but beyond that, their offense is non-existent and their fundamental game is very weak. It seems like they spent the winter reading all the positive stories about their hitting instead of getting ready for the season. As I write this, they are 21-24 and in danger of falling out of the race before Canada Day. I'll be seeing those final games in June in Denver and hope that they have gotten things straightened out by then.

Notes

It was announced that the Rangers are looking at building a retractable roof stadium to open no later than 2024, when the lease to Globe Life Park expires. This is a very bad sign indeed, particularly as Atlanta has already abandoned Turner Field after only 20 years. New stadiums are a complete waste of public money that could be used to help people other than rich owners, and I hope the taxpayers of Arlington get some sense and put a stop to this idea.

Best,

Sean

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