The Ballpark In Arlington

The neo-traditional ballpark design movement has produced some fine venues, but this is the least successful of them. The coyly named The Ballpark in Arlington may well be a stadium that tries too hard.

The stadium, which opened on April 1, 1994, is up-to-date in most ways. It provides plentiful parking, two levels of skyboxes, club seating, a sports bar, a large gift shop, and all the other revenue-generating bells and whistles known to today’s ballpark designers.

Yet the new home of the Rangers borrows more old ideas than any other retro ballpark — while combining them in ways that often defeat their purpose. Its exterior simulates an old in-city park (even using Yankee Stadium’s non-structural scalloped facia pattern in some of its structural elements) but it is sited in a suburban parking lot. More contradictions await fans inside the ballpark — its use of columns in the rear rows of the lower deck should theoretically place the upper deck closer to the field, but instead the top deck is the furthest from the action in major league history. And TBIA’s self-styled “home run porch” in right field isn’t at all conducive to home runs.

There is some interesting decoration on the exterior, however — baseballs, state outlines, block-letter T’s, longhorn skulls, and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from state history. When you’re at TBIA, you know you’re in Texas.

Not all of TBIA’s design moves are nostalgic — there is a modern four-story office building attached to the stands in center field, and at 48,000, it represents a size increase over its predecessor, which has not been the case with the other retro parks.

The outfield wall also tries hard for identity. It has eight separate facets, compared to four at Baltimore and Cleveland, and three at Denver’s Coors Field. This helps to produce some tricky caroms, and as a result the park is highly conducive to triples. Overall, it is a hitter’s park, but this is due to climate as well as to dimensions. The Dallas-Ft. Worth area is so hot that all mid-season games must be played at night, even those on Sundays.

Interestingly, the architects were selected through a design competition, albeit not one in conformance with the procedures of the American Institute of Architects. All this said, however, this 49,000-seater is the best major league stadium to ever be built in Texas, so it must be acknowledged as a step forward for the region.