The plan was hatched over a barbecue. Heavy with brisket, burnt ends, and beer, two friends and I decided to take the trip down to Arlington to see our first game of baseball.
Earlier that day, we had toured AT&T Stadium – including the field, where only a missed pass interference call prevented my first-ever receiving touchdown – and after spotting the ballpark through a monstrous set of windows, I’d asked our tour guide if the Rangers were in town. As luck had it, the answer was yes.
To be clear, I am not a one-town man when it comes to American sports. I follow the Seahawks in the NFL and the first time I ever heard of the Texas Rangers was in relation to former Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who had spent time training with the team. This remained my only real knowledge of the Rangers in 2015 as we pitched up at the red brick arches of Globe Life Park. In fact, I didn’t know much about baseball at all back then. I had studied American literature, visited the States multiple times, and even worked in the US for a summer, but had never dipped my toes into the waters of America’s Pastime. Before that day at the ballpark, I’d yet to nail down what baseball meant. Though it had been there all along, baseball existed like the pulse of a country unchecked, like some far-off scent of a nation.
Back in Arlington, we waited in line for a ticket. As if we hadn’t realised already, one thing was made abundantly clear – summer in Texas is hot. Sweating, squinting at the stadium’s seating plan, we weighed up whether to risk being boiled alive in the cheap seats on the upper deck if it meant we could afford a couple more beers. Thankfully for us, the decision was taken out of our hands.
What some might call fate, others would call a Texan with somewhere else to be. Either way, that day in Arlington, it worked in our favour. Unacquainted with Southern hospitality, we listened as our benefactor convinced us that he was a season ticket holder who couldn’t make the game and, asking for nothing in return, simply wanted to find a good home for his tickets. Wary of the kindness of strangers, and scarcely able to believe our luck, we eventually thanked the man and accepted the red and blue stubs. He looked at us with a mixture of amusement and confusion on his face. “Y’all ain’t from round here, huh?” he said.
As we moved through the gates and realised the tickets were genuine, I felt bad for ever doubting the man. Inside, the stadium buzzed and rumbled with anticipation. We followed the crowd, sleepwalking past programme sellers and the smell of fried chicken until the field crept out from beneath the overhang, overwhelmingly green and enormous.
We mingled in the concourse for a while. A girl in a jersey scurried past clutching a helmet piled high with ice cream. A couple talked busily about the lineup – apparently, Elvis was in the building. When we found our seats, they were directly behind third base, no more than ten rows from the front. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Globe Life Park in Arlington,” a friendly voice boomed. “It’s baseball time in Texas!”
The Rangers played the Yankees that night. They lost. Badly. The final score was 21-5. It was an uncharacteristic drubbing in a season where the team would go on to make the playoffs, but as we left Globe Life Park, neither the score nor the performance mattered to me. There were things I would remember long after the two numbers had been written down, filed away, lodged into an archive to gather dust.
Today, pinned to a corkboard in a Norwich flat, Shin-Soo Choo shoulders his bat on the ticket for that game on July 28, 2015. I catch a glimpse of the stub most days and, subconsciously or not, the game drifts into my mind like a catchy organ melody on a sticky summer night. It reminds me of yellow mustard on an anaemic-looking dollar dog and of “Cold beer! Get ya cold beer!” and of that whip-crack sound the first time you hear bat hit ball. Despite being five thousand miles away, I am reassured each summer by the thought that, in Arlington, there is a man in a horse costume dancing on a dugout, a rhythmic clap-clap-clap-clap as the crowd sings about a ‘prairie sky, wide and high’, and more than likely, in the bleachers, a kid with a glove the size of their head watching an elusive foul ball fall inches from their grasp.
An hour or so after the game was over that night, the lights of Globe Life Park still warmed the sky. As we waited for a cab at the bottom of the hill, the stadium was reflected in a lake nearby, upside down and shimmering. After seeing the Rangers, I soon fell in love with baseball and for that, I will always be in their debt. Though the double-booked Texan who handed us free tickets on that baking July day has probably forgotten all about his gesture, I tell the story often and think about it almost every time I watch my adopted team play. “Y’all ain’t from round here, huh?” the Texan had said, and he was right. But for better or for worse, I sold my soul that day.
Featured image courtesy of Arlington CVB.
Alex McDonald is a guest contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow on Twitter @AlexMcD
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