ARLINGTON - Ian Kinsler drove up to to the Ballpark on Opening Day and saw "tents, trucks, tailgaters, hot dogs and beer," he said. It was 8:30 a.m. The scene before the game outside the stadium looked like a football tailgate scene.
"It's totally different," Kinsler said.
The Rangers' season opener drew a sellout 49,085, and those in attendance enjoyed chamber-of-commerce weather, $26 hot dogs, a great game, and a home team 3-2 win. Perfect day.
After consecutive World Series appearances, are the Rangers finally turning FW/d into a Baseball Town?
Nope. But we are closer than ever before.
I was all ready to say we were there until I heard this from the Rangers in the 8th inning: 10,000 tickets are available for Monday night's game against the Seattle Mariners.
"They'll sell those, right?" Kinsler asked.
You would think. You would hope. Monday night is the scheduled big league debut of pitcher Yu Darvish. He will face the Mariners and the other famous Japanese import, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. At this point there may be more Japanese media than fans.
Please spare me the excuses that it's a school night after a long weekend, or some other such nonsense. Unlike last summer when 119 degree temperatures were a legit excuse not to be anywhere but inside your 'fridge, Monday's weather should be pleasant.
If this town wants a winner at some point the great people of this area will have to come out in bigger numbers than just to watch the Texas Rangers for more than just:
A.) Opening Day
B.) $1 hot dog night
D.) The Yankees/Red Sox
E.) The playoffs
To be fair, it is better. It's not like 2002 when a Rangers game was just a glorified picnic. The Rangers' ranked 10th in MLB in attendance last season. When the Ballpark is full, the players notice a difference.
"When we have a packed house this the loudest ballpark I have ever been in," Rangers veteran Michael Young said. "It's nice to be in a game where the crowd is emotionally invested. Before I think they came out and hoped everything would be good. They hoped for us to win. Now I think they sense they can help us to get there - that's when you have a real home field advantage. I think they are invested. They want to come out and see wins."
The trick is to get people caring to a higher degree about the results and standings in June rather than just late September and into October. That's what makes Boston, New York and St. Louis baseball towns - the outcome matters in July, and "people are irked when their team loses," Kinsler said.
I am not sure that has happened here yet.
"I do think this team means something now to the people of the Metroplex," Kinsler said. "People have grown attached to this team and this team's personality."
Can't dispute that. This whole club is loaded with likeable personalities from Ron Washington, Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, David Murphy, Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus and on and on. And when the Rangers lost Game 6 of the 2011 World Series people were upset not only for themselves, but for these men.
World Series level passion and interest is unsustainable in May or August, but a loss can carry with it a higher degree of irritation than it normally has here.
"That's passion," Kinsler said.
Are the Texas Rangers "there" yet? Not the whole way.
FW/d cares more about the Cowboys than the Rangers as Boston loves the Red Sox more than it does the Patriots.
"Why can't it be (like Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, New York)," Kinsler asked.
It's a fair question. Why not?
The Yankees and Cardinals' fan base makes sense given their success that has spanned multiple generations. But it's not as if the Cubs have won anything. The Red Sox were a bad joke until this century.
As long as we keep the Rangers to the Rangers, where this team's' fan base is bigger than ever before. There is pride in wearing Texas Rangers gear, and a far greater casual and hard-core interest in this team than has previously existed.
The moment we compare the Rangers and baseball to the Cowboys and football it's lost. Football is an easier commitment; it's once a week. Being a baseball fan, much like the game, can be a grind. It's an enormous time investment.
If the Rangers want to keep this going, the fan base has to not only grow, but care. You can't keep a team like this together paid on just a TV package with a local Fox outlet. People have to come not just on Opening Day, Fireworks night and the playoffs but for those May mid-week date against the Royals.
As Kinsler and Young noticed, the scene before and during the game says the fan base is not only expanding but increasingly passionate. But 10,000 tickets available for Yu Darvish indicates there is substantial room for growth.
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