Behind enemy lines in Arlington
added 6/9/2001 by Ray Kerby
As a displaced Astros fan living just north of Dallas, I had a great opportunity to see the first Astros-Rangers game and also to see what it's like being the "enemy" in another team's stadium.
Not knowing how much rush-hour traffic we'd hit, we left extra early and made it to the ballpark at around 6:00. There were lots of people already there and I was kicking myself for forgetting to bring my Astros cap. There were promotional "Lone Star Series" caps being given away, but we made a beeline to the nearest shop that sold Astros caps. Going to a game without one would be sacrilege.
My kids hamming it up for the camera
Which brings up another point. All of the merchandise being sold was for the Rangers except for one little 3' section in a shop where we found the Astros caps. I guess I'm used to the dome where all of the vendors openly sell merchandise for the opposing team (caps, banners, shirts, etc).
Balloons commemorating the first Astros/Rangers game
Let me say this about the Ballpark in Arlington. It is a beautiful stadium! Our line of sight was good even though we were on row 37. The park has a lot of nice amenities. The only gripe I had was having to pay $14 for the privilege of walking at least a half-mile to the ballpark from my car. It wouldn't be that bad except that the team had a nice lake put in next to the ballpark, and you couldn't help but wonder about the balance between form and function. Yeah, it's a nice little lake but it would make a nicer parking lot! Nobody actually "goes to the lake" there, it's all for show.
Another thing: it was muggy! Fortunately, we were far enough back on the 3B side to be in the shade at the beginning of the game, but it gave us a terrible perspective on the ball-strike calls, especially with all of the RH hitters the team has. This vantage point did give us a good angle on batting stances, and I drew some chuckles when I mentioned that "Alou looks like he has to go to the bathroom, and Bagwell looks like he is going to the bathroom". Bathroom humor always works with a baseball crowd...
Oswalt seemed only in a groove for a few innings and was hit pretty hard in the fifth. He couldn't get A-Rod out all night, and I wasn't heartbroken when ball four was a little too inside.
Another thing. Kenny Rogers works incredibly slow! On about the third pitch of the game, I asked a nearby fan, "does he always take this long between pitches?" And once the Astros got a man on first, it seemed like you could take a bathroom break and not miss a batter. And speaking of breaks, I saw Drayton McLane just two sections away heading towards the concessions between innings. I made a point to introduce myself to him and thank him for personally responding to my letter about the "Honor J.R." campaign. He remembered my letter and even talked about the issue for a minute or so. His tone wasn't promising, more along the lines of "if we retire his number, there are others we should retire -- like Jimmy Wynn". I agreed with him about Wynn, but I didn't want to take up any more of his time. I figure that I will follow up with another letter.
Getting back to the game, my friend Ron (of Astros Crossword puzzle fame) at work warned me about how bad the Rangers bullpen was, so I felt pretty good when they pulled Rogers out when Craig Biggio came up. I thought we had a big inning cooking, so we were pretty disappointed when Jose Vizcaino hit into that RBI double play.
By the way, there were a lot of Astros fans! One out of five would be my guess and there was a lot of cheering for our team going on. Still, we were easily outnumbered by the Rangers fan which was obvious whenever they hit a HR or turned a DP.
Late in the game, we had tied the score and the Astros fans became more vocal. The bottom of the ninth was very exciting. The crowd went nuts when Rusty Greer hit that deep shot to right, thinking it was a HR. When Orlando Merced pulled it in, they all sat down and the Astros fans jumped up and started screaming. And more of the same when Merced made that great catch running in on the next batter. It was close and exciting, just the way you like to see games played!
Also, Octavio Dotel came in throwing nothing but heat. Everytime a Ranger swung and missed, I would look at the pitch speed. Once Dotel hit 97, I stood up and yelled "Ninety-seven!" just in case the Rangers fans weren't aware that their hitters were being blown away. The Astros fans in the area loved it and started standing and hollering on every strike-two pitch.
More Ranger fans started leaving after Moises Alou's home run and it looked like we were going to pile it on with Tim Crabtree on the mound. But Mike Venafro came in and did a good job, getting a force at 3B on a bad bunt and doubling Vinny Castilla off of 2B on a line drive.
That double play happened so fast I couldn't tell if that was a really bad blunder by Castilla. I thought the throw would go to 1B but looked and saw Castilla was still way off the bag. It looked like the only real mistake the team made last night.
After we won, Astros fans were pretty jubilant, yelling at all of the other Astros fans in the crowd. All in all, it was a very well-played and close game, which made things exciting to the very end.
Hopefully, tonight will be another victory like last night.