This is an excerpt from the upcoming Home Run On Wheels book, concluding the Friends and Family chapter.
We felt very welcome at Globe Life Park — quite literally. The Texas Rangers were the only Major League Baseball team to recognize Home Run On Wheels on their stadium message board. We were included among the visiting groups and our group consisted of me, Patti, my mom Karen, her husband Marc, and their friends Pete and Lynne.
My sister Danielle and her husband Shivum were originally supposed to join us, but they couldn’t make it so Pete and Lynne took their spots. We also thought we would be getting some more kids to a game in Arlington, but we got some bad news on August 6. Though Eckerd told us in March they were committed to getting children to a Rangers game during our time in Arlington, I received an email with some bad news.
Eckerd had what its chief development officer said was a “significant leadership transition in Houston” and no longer had the “bandwidth” to handle our project.
“We are really are focused on excellence in service delivery and mission,” the email from Margaret Adams said. “Please accept our apologies and know we are rooting for Home Run on Wheels!”
“Certainly disappointing news, but thanks for letting me know,” I replied, upset and wondering now if we could somehow make it work with another organization. Time was against us. Danielle recommended one agency in Fort Worth and I contacted them, but there just wasn’t enough time to coordinate with families to get them to a Rangers game on September 4. We had been looking forward to Arlington all season, believing we would have kids there with us, but we couldn’t dwell on our discontent. We were still going with our small group of six people and knew St. Louis was still a possibility to end the trip on a high note.
Because the Rangers stumbled to a 67-95 record to finish last in the AL West, the rather large Globe Life Park felt rather cavernous as we watched the Rangers beat the Angels. A crowd of just 17,625 was in attendance at a ballpark that seats nearly 50,000.
I was able to acquire six tickets at a significant discount thanks to some advice I received in Denver. An Army veteran at Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery – just a couple of blocks from Coors Field – told me about VetTix.org. The site offers free tickets to veterans and discounted tickets through FNGTickets.com. We could have saved some money had I known about this prior to mid-July. I wasn’t able to score any free tickets using VetTix, but did get our six tickets in Section 37 for a grand total of $73. These were field-level tickets with a face value of $65 apiece. I was grateful to that man in Denver. My mom offered to reimburse us for her two tickets, but I declined and said it was our thanks for allowing us to stay at her house for free. I did accept cash from Pete and Lynne, however.
We arrived at the stadium about 45 minutes before the first pitch. Lynne recently had foot surgery, so we hopped on one of the golf carts that take fans from the convention-center parking lot to the main gate across the street from the Texas Live! complex. These golf carts aren’t free, charging up to $10 per person. We talked them down to $20 for the group.
Once inside, it was dinner time. While Karen, Marc, Pete and Lynne opted for the traditional ballpark fare of hot dogs and nachos, Patti and I were on a mission to find the MVT Dog – the Most Valuable Tamale Dog. This is a culinary monstrosity meant to feed four people. A 24-inch hot dog, wrapped in a tamale “bun” is then topped with chili, nacho cheese and sliced jalapeño peppers. Patti and I carried the huge hot dog to the nearby tables that are decorated to resemble baseballs with mock bats acting as legs. The tables are in a covered courtyard that provides a view of the action from behind home plate. I tried to get a home plate photo at every stadium. I also wanted to snap a photo of the game’s first pitch, so I asked the usher if I could stand with her until Mike Minor offered his first delivery to David Fletcher. She obliged and we chatted about our trip. Standing next to us were two of the Rangers “Six Shooters” squad, Cassidy and Fatima. They overheard details about our trip and that Globe Life Park was the last remaining stadium Patti had yet to visit. She had now been to all 30 MLB stadiums over her lifetime. I asked for some sort of recognition for Patti – maybe as a participant for one of the between-inning games. The two “Six Shooters” instead rewarded her with the “Fan of the Game” swag bag filled with a soft-sided backpack cooler, a couple bobbleheads, a shirt, and some baseball cards. The pièce de résistance was a “House Banister” bobblehead with former Rangers manager Jeff Banister sitting on the Iron Throne.
With photo taken and swag bag received, we headed to our seats to join the rest of our party with our monstrous hot dog and Patti’s gifts. Before we got there, however, we stopped at guest services to get our MLB passport stamped. We took the leather-bound book with us to every stadium – except one – to get a stamp on the page of the coinciding ballpark. We actually forgot to take the passport book with us to Yankee Stadium, but a member of guest services stamped a small piece of paper with the date – April 25 – and we affixed it to the designated space with some good old-fashioned Scotch tape.
When we told the three Rangers employees there about our trip, the team’s senior director of customer service, Donnie Pordash, asked where we were sitting. When I told him Section 37 thanks to VetTix, he said, “Oh, I was going to upgrade your seats, but I can’t do any better than that.”
I emailed Donnie the next week to thank him and he replied with an appreciative phone call. It was the only time during the regular season someone from a team took the time to recognize our visit.
We couldn’t finish the MVT dog, but did put a pretty good dent in it. We offered some to my mom, Marc, Pete and Lynne, but had no takers. The usher and primary vendor in our section – both named Doug – razzed us a bit about not being able to polish off the MVT dog. My email to Donnie also included a “special shout out” to the Dougs. While nobody wanted to share our MVT Dog, everyone was impressed with Patti’s goodie bag.
The Rangers have a message board to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries and visiting groups. Home Run On Wheels was in the latter category, though we almost missed seeing it on the vertical screen in center field. I thought the group recognition was after the fourth inning and when it wasn’t, I hastily searched the team website and believed we’d be on the message board between the seventh and eighth innings. Patti and I decided to explore the ballpark. When we got to the upper deck in the right-field corner, where the Rangers had a construction observation deck for their new stadium right next door, the fifth inning was ending. The public address announcer’s voice bellowed through the stadium speakers, directing people to the message board for a list of the night’s visiting groups.
“Oh crap, that’s us,” I shouted to Patti and I sprinted to the nearest section. Patti, wearing her high-heeled baseball shoes, followed – though not at such a brisk pace. I set down my beverage, as not to spill, but Patti scooped it up as she passed by. From the passageway, I couldn’t quite see the message board flanked by a pair of illuminated Coca-Cola bottles. I moved left, zig-zagging through the largely empty section until I could clearly see the screen. There we were, “Home Run On Wheels” scrolling vertically. I tried to get a photo, but the digital words were to blurry to make out on my phone. But we saw it, and our guests that night saw it. The Rangers – and every other MLB team – usually charge for such messaging, but ours was gratis. I had set it up a few weeks ahead of time, when I still thought we were going to the game with a group of kids. The Rangers agreed to add our group at no cost because we were on a charity venture. Of all the MLB teams with which we interacted, the Rangers were perhaps the most accommodating. The Tigers, Pirates and Marlins were pretty good, too.
Globe Life Park was also the only stadium where we made an appearance on the Jumbotron – though we could have made a scoreboard appearance at Nationals Park and not known it. After seeing Home Run On Wheels on the message board, we took the elevator down to main concourse level. We rode with two friendly food service employees – one of whom had worked at the stadium since it opened in 1994. We walked past the closed Rangers Hall of Fame, which was undergoing renovations to transform into an interactive exhibit for the team’s new home. We made our way past the Nolan Ryan statue and found ourselves behind the left-field bleachers when a high-tempo country song began to play. The Rangers were doing the “Dance Cam” so we decided to be goofy and bounce around to the beat. A cameraman spotted us and, boom, we were on the big screen dancing like idiots for the entire stadium. My mom said she was laughing too hard to get her phone out to take a picture.
“That’s probably a good thing,” Patti told her, thankful there was no photographical or video evidence of our dancing. There were witnesses, however.
Lynne told us we were on the screen longer than anyone else during the between-innings dance segment. One random woman even recognized us as we were leaving the stadium following the Rangers’ 4-2 victory over the Angels and said, “Hey, you guys are good dancers.”
I assume she was being nice because being a good dancer is a compliment I have rarely heard.
Our 28th stadium of the season was in the books and Patti had officially been to every MLB venue. I had one more to go.
“Are you even going to go to the games in Kansas City and St. Louis with me?” I jokingly asked her before we got to Globe Life Park.
“Haha. I kind of have to,” she quipped. “But I am really looking forward to it, especially after being to all these other stadiums in such a short span and then coming into Kauffman and Busch with fresh eyes. It will be fun to compare and contrast.”
“You have raved about Kauffman Stadium ever since we were in Milwaukee,” I told her.
“I haven’t raved about it,” Patti replied. “What I said was they have a really good tailgating scene. It’s kind of cool.”
We did have a good time in Kansas City and watched the Royals dispatch the White Sox with a 6-3 victory in front of a sparse crowd on September 11. The Royals were honoring military service members that night and retired Navy Petty Officer Generald Wilson sang the national anthem. Wilson is my favorite anthem singer after first seeing him at a St. Louis Rams game in 2009. He is a St. Louis native and does the anthem before many events in his hometown, but he’s been flown around the country to perform the anthem from New Jersey to California. He sang the national anthem before the NFC championship game in Philadelphia on January 21, 2018.
Despite the Royals offering free tickets to military families, only 17,613 people were at the game in a gorgeous stadium that seats nearly 38,000. The White Sox and Royals were two of the worst teams in baseball in 2018, so we weren’t surprised by the poor fan turnout on a Tuesday night. We also knew the atmosphere would be much different on the other side of the Show-Me State. We were almost done and that fact was beginning to set it.
“It was like, ‘Wow, are we really at this stage of the trip?’ It’s been a whirlwind,” Patti recalled. “It’s been long. It’s been fun.”