I recently relocated from the Rio Grande Valley to the Austin area, so naturally when I had the chance, I somehow managed to bypass going to the Rangers’ Winter Caravan stop in Round Rock, just a 45 minute drive away. Instead, I chose to make the 3 hour plus drive to Arlington to attend the annual Rangers Fan Fest with my son, who lives in the area.
This was my second Fan Fest, having attended the 2011 gathering at the Arlington Convention Center just three months after the Rangers’ first ever World Series appearance. Fan Fest has gotten so big now that the Rangers have moved it to Globe Life Park, opening up the entire stadium to the fans.
Being among the first 5,000 in line (waiting over an hour in 36 degree “comfort”), we each received 5 scratch-off lottery tickets for the chance to get an autograph from the Big 5: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Pudge Rodriguez. Unfortunately, only 750 of the 25,000 tickets distributed were winners. As you can see, I was not one of the lucky 750. My son, however, had a winner and got Prince Fielder’s autograph. His impression? “That guy has some GUNS!”
There were plenty of other autograph opportunities but they weren’t announced until just a few minutes before the session. I was originally in a line to get autographs from Rangers prospects Chi Chi Gonzalez and Spencer Patton but then saw an announcement that propelled me to leave my current location and go halfway around the ballpark (sorry Chi Chi and Spencer!). Thus I was fortunate enough to get Nick Tepesch to sign my Rangers cap and Matt Harrison to ink my 2010 AL Champions T-shirt.
Then it was on to a Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels. It was still early so I got a front row seat and even got to ask him a couple of questions. First one: How many calls and texts does it take to complete a trade such as the one that netted the Rangers Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers? Answer: Sometimes just a few, sometimes a lot. Gallardo was just a few… and Daniels says Brewers GM Doug Melvin doesn’t text much, he prefers talking directly to people. Second question: With hundreds of players in the minor league system, how do the Rangers communicate with them? Is there an employee newsletter or something? Answer: Not really. The managers, coaches and scouts grade every player in every game and share the info with each other but the players usually only know what’s really going on by following each other on social media to find out who’s moving up, getting traded, released, etc. Interesting tidbit: No matter how many people are in the room, Daniels looks the person who asked the question in the eye throughout his answer. Impressive!
It was good to get to Fan Fest early because after a couple of hours, it became clear to us there would be no other autographs to get. At 11:30 more than 200 people were in line at one location for a 2 pm autograph session and the same held true at all the autograph locations. Thus we decided to walk around and see the other sites.
The home clubhouse was open but the line was too long. There was no waiting to get to the hitting cages, though. There we saw this “Hitter’s Prayer” on the wall and a couple of cracked batting practice bats, including this custom Adrian Beltre model.
We also attended a Q&A with new Rangers skipper Jeff Bannister. He’s not the charismatic rah-rah type like Ron Washington, but he’s just as passionate about the game. He’s a little more sabermetric oriented than Wash and, unlike his predecessor, is unlikely to bunt a lot in the early innings. The cancer survivor Bannister’s mantra, which got a lot of crowd applause, was “Never Ever Quit!”
Other items of interest. As I was walking out of the Rangers Hall of Fame, I suddenly realized the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel, was right behind me. Nadel stands 6-1 or 6-2 so I told him he was taller than I expected. His response: “I sound shorter on the radio.”
In the gift shop, we noticed then Rangers still have shirts for one of their minor league players who likely will never face major league pitching, or minor league pitching for that matter: current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Strangest sight of all: I’m used to seeing tarp over the infield grass and dirt during a rain delay but, due to the mid-30’s early morning weather, I don’t think I’d ever seen tarp over ALL of the grass on the field!
Now the only bad thing is there’s still over two months to go before the Season Opener. Thanks to Fan Fest, I’m ready NOW!