After a gloomy winter that included a 99-day lockout that prevented players from going to their respective stadiums, an agreement was reached on March 10, to let the games begin.
The work stoppage shortened spring training and delayed the start of the 2022 season that was scheduled to begin March 31. Still, all’s well that ends well as baseball fans appear to let bygones be bygones.
Many began arriving early for the Monday 3:07 p.m. home opener to see the new-look Texas Rangers, who scored 23 runs in the three-game opening series in Toronto despite losing two of those games to the Blue Jays.
So the anticipation was high.
“While we may not be in the World Series, we are set to build up on that,” said manager Chris Woodward, who begins his fourth year as the Rangers’ skipper. “There’s a lot of excitement with this team, and we want to go out there and show our fans this team.”
Although not a national holiday, a home opener is a special occasion as it signifies a new beginning, especially after the past two years and the problems brought on by the pandemic.
“The past two years have been tough,” said Rob Matwick, the Rangers’ executive vice president for ballpark operations. “It’s been a grind.”
Opening Day 2020 was to be an exciting time as we were all looking forward to the stadium’s inaugural season. Then came a contagious virus called COVID-19, and everything shut down. The only fans allowed during the shortened 60-game regular season were doppel-cardboard cutouts.
A limited number of fans were allowed in later during the postseason, when Globe Life Field hosted some of the playoffs, including the World Series. Fans returned in full last year, but there were some restrictions and mask requirements.
There are no such restrictions this year, and things appeared to be back to normal at Globe Life Field and at the nearby parking areas as evidenced by the numerous tailgate parties and the festive atmosphere.
For me, this was the 22nd consecutive Texas Rangers opening day I have attended. My day started at 9:30 a.m., when the media parking lot opened. It was special because it was the first time media were allowed in the teams’ clubhouses and the media interview room. The past two years, most of the players’ and the manager’s interviews were done via Zoom.
The Rangers’ two-level clubhouse is about an acre in size and has all the amenities a player may need, including a barbershop. Before entering, reporters were required to show vaccination proof and also wear a mask.
Last year was the first time media were allowed on the field prior to a game but were not allowed in the dugout.
For many of the new players, this was their first time in the Rangers’ clubhouse — they marveled at what they saw. This was not, however, new Ranger Corey Seager’s first time here. He was in the clubhouse during the 2020 postseason as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Seager was named MVP for both the National League Division Series and the World Series.
Perhaps a little superstitious, he requested the same locker he used during the 2020 postseason as a Dodger.
Seager is one of the reasons Rangers fans are encouraged about the 2022 season as they try to forget last year, when the team lost 102 games while winning only 60. It was their worst record since 1973, when they lost 105 games.
The reason for the optimism this year is because the Rangers spent more than half a billion dollars to upgrade the team, signing superstar players to multiyear contracts.
Besides Seager, they also signed All-Star infielder Marcus Semien. Both he and Seager will anchor the Rangers’ middle infield for years to come. The duo has won multiple Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards. They are expected to provide much needed offensive power along with newcomers Kole Calhoun and Mitch Garver. In the first four games of the season, the team has scored 27 runs and currently has the highest-scoring offense in the major league.
“The first thing I’m going to do when I get in is buy a program because I don’t know many of the new players,” said Kurt Hill of Arlington. “It looks like it’s going to be an interesting season.”
The club also signed frontline pitcher Jon Gray and former Ranger Martin Perez to solidify the starting rotation.
“We’re going to be good for a long time,” said public address announcer Chuck Morgan.
The Rangers’ home opener was definitely interesting and definitely good. There were more than 35,000 in attendance, including former President George W. Bush and a person dressed as Santa Claus, who kept telling children that Opening Day is like Christmas Day.
It was a special day because it marked the 50th anniversary of the Rangers playing in Arlington. The National Anthem was sung by Vanessa Vandergriff Watters, the daughter of former Arlington mayor Tom Vandergriff, who was the man responsible for bringing a Major League club to North Texas.
Watters sung the National Anthem 50 years ago at the first Rangers game in Arlington, when she was an 18-year-old student at Arlington High School. Today she was accompanied by her sister and niece.
“I think I’m more nervous today than I was 50 years ago,” Watters said. “I’m very honored to do it.”
The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Orion Jean, a sixth grader at Alma Martinez Intermediate School in Mansfield and TIME magazine’s 2021 Kid of the Year. Receiving the ceremonial first pitch was former Rangers catcher and Hall of Famer Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
“It was amazing to be on the field with Mr. Rodriguez,” Jean said. “I was a little nervous.”
When asked if he would get in trouble for not being in the classroom today, he said his school superintendent was at the game and would vouch for him.
Following the pregame ceremonies, Rangers starter Taylor Hearn, a Texas native, took the mound, and the southpaw fired the first pitch to Colorado Rockies leadoff hitter Connor Joe.
The game had a little bit of everything. The roof was open. The stadium was loud. Food and beverages were plentiful. On the field, there were homers, strikeouts, extra base hits, fielding and throwing errors, and a controversial call in the 10th inning that gave the Rockies a 6-4 win. The umpires ruled that runner Mitch Garver’s questionable slide at second base violated some obscure rule about running into a fielder trying to make a play.
It was the second time in three years the Rangers’ home-opener opponent was the Rockies, whom they beat 1-0 in the first game played at Globe Life Field. It was the team’s third home opener at Globe Life Field and the 51st overall since the franchise moved to Arlington from Washington, D.C., in 1972.
The Rangers are now 25-26 in home openers.
Let’s see what the next 50 years bring as a new era has begun.
Ozzie Garza has been writing about the Rangers for more than 20 years. He is a frequent contributor to the Fort Worth Weekly.