ARLINGTON, Texas – When Rangers Ballpark in Arlington opened its doors in 1994, it wasn’t far-fetched to imagine 3 million fans showing up in one season. In fact, the Rangers were headed for that mark in ’94 if not for a strike-shortened season.
They came close in ’97 and 2011, but didn’t break down the door until Thursday night against an awful Cleveland Indians team (that prevailed, 5-4). It seemed like an appropriate foe during a season in which the club racked up sellouts (32) no matter the opponent. It wasn’t that long ago Rangers officials counted on dates against the Red Sox and Yankees to make up for other series.
But on the heels of back-to-back trips to the World Series, fans have flocked to the Ballpark this season. The unseasonably cool summer (bear with me) didn’t hurt, but you get the feeling that it was going to happen anyway. I know this will always be a football town, but like what’s happened in Philadelphia, the Rangers have become incredibly popular. If only this organization had gone through bankruptcy a little earlier in its history.
The Rangers emerged from that situation with a clear plan. Team president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels put a championship-caliber team together while ensuring the window would remain open for several years.
The first 30,000 fans to enter the Ballpark on Thursday received T-shirts with the words “Rangers Republic” on the front and “Over 3 Million Strong” on the back. The crowds have tapered off with the start of school, but it was still a remarkable season. The paid attendance Thursday was 36,102, which put the Rangers at 3,003,143 through 71 home dates. When the announcement was made in the middle of the sixth inning, fans enjoyed a brief fireworks display. Fort Worth’s James Patterson showed up with his wife and two kids Thursday, and he was randomly selected as the “3 millionth fan.” The Pattersons received four season tickets for 2013 and assorted merchandise from Ryan. Daniels seemed in awe of what fans accomplished this season.
“It’s awesome, man. I mean, I like to use the term baseball renaissance … and that’s what’s happened in the Metroplex,” Daniels told us on 103.3’s “Galloway and Company” Thursday. “It’s been better than any of us really could have predicted it would have gone. Obviously, we had goals to win and put fans in the seats and generate that excitement, but how quickly it’s happened … how the fans have latched on to the team and this ownership group, and Nolan and Wash, all the people involved … it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The Rangers have always had a devoted core of dedicated fans, but in 2008 attendance dipped below the 2 million mark for the first time since ’95. Ryan helped restore some credibility when he took over as team president in 2008, and the Rangers had the highest per-game attendance increase in the majors the next season. Ryan’s and Daniels’ decision to stick with manager Ron Washington after a slow start to the ’08 season and then after he admitted using cocaine during a road trip in ’09 obviously paid dividends. Washington has been enormously popular with fans because of the emotion he exhibits on a nightly basis. And a couple of trips to the World Series haven’t hurt, either.
“It means that the fans enjoy the product we put on the field,” Washington told reporters before the game. “It certainly proves that they’re true baseball fans. That’s a lot of people, 3 million. Some people were happy with 2.4, 2.5 [million]. Now we’ve got a chance to hit 3 million and then go over that. The fans deserve a lot of credit but also the players deserve a lot of credit for the entertainment. The organization deserves a lot of credit for putting that entertainment out there. We all work hand-in-hand.”
And you can’t write about attendance without mentioning the Father of the Dot Race and Rangers director of in-game entertainment, Chuck Morgan. He’s been the public address announcer for 29 of the past 30 seasons after giving up a successful radio disc jockey career in Nashville, Tenn. He did his best to make the games entertaining even when the players weren’t cooperating.
Even after a tough loss Thursday, veteran Michael Young was still able to reflect on what the 3 million mark means to the organization. He said the noise in the Ballpark during last year’s World Series took things to another level.
“Players on the other team were commenting on how loud it was,” Young told FOXSportsSouthwest.com. “Everybody wants to be a part of something like that. There were some lean years here, but we’ve turned that page. That ship has sailed.”