Let me start off this review by saying this. I knew we were in trouble instantly when the first pitch of the game was hit for a single. Which didn’t bother me too much. Why? Although I was at this game, I wasn’t there to watch the game. The Monday previous to this game was my daughter’s 7th birthday. As is a tradition I picked up from my own mother in the 70′s, I like to take her to a game around her birthday as her “Birthday Game” each year. This was the game I chose to take her to due to the extended road trip over the last few weeks. On top of that, there was a brand new play area for her to explore and run around in, so I figured I wouldn’t be in my seats long. This recap will be more about the time with my daughter than the game as such. :)
The game started at 7:05, and we arrived at about 5:15 at the park. I knew she wanted to play in the game area, so I came extra early so we could get more in. My original idea was that if we played a bunch before the game, she might be inclined to sit in her seat and let me watch more of the game. I was way wrong about that. Turns out I was wrong about more than just that with her tonight, but I’ll get to that later.
She went into the new play area, and had a blast – I mean she bloody loved the thing. I was initially put off by the idea that you had to pay an addtional $10 per kid to get into the new kids area, but after I watched her for a bit, I realized it wasn’t so bad. The old kids area was token based, and if your kid wanted to play the games A LOT, then you were gonna probably end up paying more than $10 anyway. It had things for the kids to climb through, to play with, rope bridges, the giant slide, was a super huge fun house, but one thing that didn’t get any notice in the run up to the new season that I thought was the most fun for the kids was the inside part, an area where kids played with these foam balls. Through the structure there were these compressed air cannons where you put the balls in, and you can shoot them at well, other people or anything in the interior area here. What was interesting about it is that the kids on the bottom would play with the balls, and put them in various machines that would lift them back up to the upper levels – it was a cute trick to get the kids to “return the ball” so to speak. There was also one in the middle of the floor that just shot ones kids put in up in the air, and another where it would elevate the balls to the highest point of the structure, and every few minutes or so, it would dump it’s load back down the floor. The kids loved that, as when the thing alerted them it was gonna drop ‘em, they all stood underneath it so they could get rained on. Check these four pictures. One of which was my daughter laughing hysterically after she had just whomped daddy with a foam ball from one of the cannons. She LOVED that. :)
There’s other games in the new AC area too, but the CLEAR highlight is the big play thing – don’t know what it’s actual name is. It DOMINATES the room – like 70% of the space in that area is taken up by it. There’s also a small wall climb area, a handful of the kind of games that used to be in the old Vandergriff plaza location. There’s the big light up “T” on the wall that is a jumping “game”. There’s also what appears to be an area for very small kids to play in; there’s a small foam “T” pillow/cushion thing. There is also an area where they have two TV’s with Xbox 360′s and MLB 2K12 that you can play, although those face the windows, which was an odd choice as there was some epic glare in that area.
Most of what was in the old Vandergriff plaza area is just gone – the biggest subtraction is the wiffle ball park. If your kids were fan of that, there is no direct replacement for it. The other pitch and throw things are gone, partially replaced by pay only stuff down the third base concourse, but the new kids area has no direct replacement for them. However, if your kid loves climbing and jumping and running, they’ll freakin’ love the new kids structure (gotta find out what that thing’s real name is). Mine did.
We ended up spending about an hour twenty before the game in there, and then were in there from the top of the second inning through the seventh inning stretch – she WORE HERSELF OUT in that place. Take water for your kids, too – even though the place was air conditioned, my daughter had her face turn red a few times, which usually happens when she gets overheated.
Two minor nits about the new Vandergrif plaza stuff. One of the food stands causes a direct clog in traffic. It’s the back one that faces the windows of the big gift shop out in center. The folks waiting for food there were in the way of folks just wanting to pass through, as it’s a traffic line – or has been since the place opened in 1994. It was a bit of a puzzler that they’d put a food stand right in the middle of an existing traffic lane. Also, one other minor nit – and a very minor one I admit.. The backside of the new center field club has a rather LARGE TV that shows video footage on it – the Rangers game when the game is going on (they had another baseball game on during pre-game). However, if you’re standing in the walkway leading into that area, the Nolan Ryan statue is right in the middle of the video screen. The placement in the middle like that is odd, because when we walked through, I saw an awful lot of people sitting in chairs watching the TV eating the food they bought. That’s all good, but one of the attractions of the Nolan Ryan statue out there was the fact that people would stand next to it and take pictures. If you’re gonna do that now, you’re going to be in the way of people eating their food watching the video. Seems like a conflict of ballpark activities to me.
Anyway, about the game.. Once we sat in our seats (which we were only in for inning one, and then from the seventh inning stretch to the end of the game), I gazed upon this. Check it out – the infield grass was obviously redone – it looked beautiful! I know it’s hard keeping the grass in our area looking good for any stretch of time, but man did this look perfect. If all the outfield grass looked the same too, I would have said without fear of hyperbole that it would have been the most beautiful field of grass I had ever seen. As it was, it looked awesome. About the third inning or so, one of the Rays players walked on the white line after he had made out and walked back to the dugout, and left a trail of white footsteps through most of the infield. Look at the two grass photos before. The first one was from my iPhone right before the Rangers took the field. The second is from my regular digital camera somewhere in the middle of the 8th inning – you can see the footprint trail across the field in the second one, if you click on it and look at the larger photo.
As I said above, the game got off to a bad start. Desmond Jennings singled on the first pitch of the game. Carlos Pena followed by reaching on an Ian Kinsler error, and then Evan Longoria put the Rays up 3-0 on the 9th overall pitch of the game. The game was over. Perhaps not truly over, but there’s some games you feel it slip away immediately. We did make a run at it later, and actually brought the tying run to the plate a couple of times late, but nothing happened.
The Rangers weren’t completely without an offensive attack. They did have 13 hits, and have won with far less than that. But we couldn’t overcome the first crappy outing by Matt Harrison this season – one that will NOT help my fantasy teams. He went five innings, but gave up FOURTEEN hits. Seven runs (one unearned). Walked one. Pretty atrocious line. Mark Lowe (the second pitcher) gave up one last run, but that was it. Uehara, Ross, & Ogando shut them down, and it allowed the Rangers to get within some semblance of striking distance, but really, they were out of it from the start. Those kind of games happen. We’re still rockin’ first place, and obviously, you’re not winning all of them, so these will pop up from time to time. So long as it doesn’t become a pattern, you can just shrug it off.
One interesting thing. The Rangers hit two home runs last night. Hamilton & Murphy. I had no idea it happened, as I was in the kids area. You’re totally cut off from the natural baseball environment in there. There are a handful of TV’s in there that were showing the game with closed captioning on. But it’s difficult to focus on those while also trying to keep an eye on your kid. There were MANY people in there watching the “MLB.com At Bat” app on their iPhones. :)
Oh, one other game note. Even though I saw the last two innings or so from my seat, my daughter was so wiped from all the play she had in the kids area that she was practically falling asleep in her chair. If it wasn’t for the fireworks, we would have bailed early. At least once during each of the bottom of the 7th, the top and bottom of the 8th, and the top and bottom of the ninth, Samantha kept asking me when the game was gonna be over. On top of that, when we got to each half inning break the usual number of people walked down the stairs (bathroom, drink, food, whatever), and Samantha asked each time “There’s people leaving, is the game over?” She was SERIOUSLY wiped out – she kept wanting Daddy to put her arm around her, and hold her, which was something I was happy to do. But I did notice several women in the immediate area looking at that and smiling – apparently that translates well. Hahaha. :)
Seriously, it was a great game for me and my daughter to attend. By the time we got back to the car, we had very sore feet – had to walk down the ramps, then around 1/2 of the entire exterior of the ballpark, and then a bit to get to the car. She crashed shortly after we got to I-30, and slept all the way back to Garland. Had a great time with her, and the fireworks were some of the better ones I’ve seen recently, so that was fun too. The joy in my daughter’s face was more than enough to carry this jaded fireworks viewer into liking them again. :)