Big, Bright, Bold: Globe Life Field lets the Texas sun shine

There’s no one right answer to ballpark design. There are lauded templates—like the urban retro gems in Baltimore and San Diego or the ballpark district complexes in Atlanta and St. Louis. But irrespective of its neighborhood, I also value a ballpark for its sense of place, its awareness of the city’s and team’s individual identities and their aggregate place in the landscape of the sport. So when I say that Globe Life Field is unabashedly Texas, it’s a compliment to the park’s cavernous grandeur and intentional odes to Rangers history. It’s not, however, to say that Arlington’s suburban, retractable-roof behemoth is the state’s addition to the league of fine ballparks.

Everything is bigger, of course, in Texas—for better or for worse. The dull, long miles of Texas highways intermittently give way to joyous stops at Buc-ees—Texas’ bigger, better roadside brisket and bathroom stop.

And much like how Buc-ees, at its finest, cannot be appropriately confined to an urban district, the entertainment megaplex that hosts both the Texas Rangers and the presumptuous “America’s” football team is too expansive for the propers of Dallas or Fort Worth.

The stadium complex and the adjacent Six Flags together create a magnetic district in Arlington—the largest city in the United States without a mass public transportation system (a fun fact brought to my attention by my brother Charlie, who just moved to the DFW area and was eager to take me out to the ballgame).

The glistening roof of the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and the bright red Texas “T” on the east-facing hangar door of Globe Life Field are impossible to miss from the highway, or when flying out of DFW International Airport. But actually arriving there in person requires someone driving a car, unless you’re one of the few people who elects to take the Arlington Trolley. Surrounding parking lots will cost you anywhere between $15 and 40, depending on proximity, although if you’re willing to hike significantly farther you can sometimes find space in the lots of nearby commercial restaurants and retailers.

When images of the completed ballpark circulated the internet in 2020, Globe Life Field was subject to demeaning comparisons to an aircraft hangar and even a backyard grill. And although Texans’ love for smoked meats may lead them to appreciate the latter tease, the corrugated metal and exposed elements on the inside make a clear evocation to an oversized barn or country dance hall.

Globe Life Field’s exterior is sleek, and even translucent over large swaths of its perimeter. It lacks the retro adornments of its non-air-conditioned predecessor (now called Choctaw Stadium, still standing next door) like turrets and flags and red-dirt-colored longhorn heads interspersed among the bricks. Many fans liked those touches. But as we walked the half mile from our car to Globe Life Field, Charlie remarked that he preferred the sleek look because it doesn’t make sense for a suburban stadium to dress itself like it’s sitting in the Fort Worth Stockyards. And I agree that I’d rather a stadium’s identity be homogenous rather than look like something it’s not.

The trapezoidal roof and stadium lighting cast an artificial palette over the turf playing surface that reminded me more of an NFL game at Ford Field rather than an afternoon of America’s pastime. But windows around Globe Life Field—especially behind the left field seats—allow robust light to keep the fans lucid to the exterior environment.

My main practical criticism of Globe Life Field has to do with its main concourse, which narrows at inappropriate times to a width more fitting for an upper concourse. Pathways are periodically obstructed by load-bearing pylons and steel beams, making it treacherous to speed walk past any slow-moving gaggles. Its widest points are simply to accommodate food courts. And while the parts of the concourse that are well-trafficked are decorated in Rangers-themed hangings or murals, fans are also privy to views of more unfinished areas of drab concrete and exposed ducting.

The Rangers opted for a more segregated seating approach on the field level to allow for luxury service and pricing in the double-digit numbered sections (01-26). The mezzanine level is numbered in the 100’s, although in most parks it would be the 200’s. While the mezzanine sections closer home plate are indeed “VIP” (aka club level in most parks), this level of seating is longer and more homogeneous than those on the field level, allowing more fans this elevated view of the action, which, for my money, is the best view in the park.

Segregating field level fans from the “main” 100’s sections, and giving each their own concourse (the “lower concourse” for field level and the “main concourse” for the 100’s) may help keep traffic flow easier during the game itself. But the narrow confines of each were exposed before and after the game as the majority of the park’s fans were funneled through smaller passageways. The park, which seats 40,300 fans, deserves a broader main thoroughfare.

But perhaps the most glaring logistical issue with the many tiers of seating and the levels of concourses that come with them was a puzzling lack of escalators between the upper level concourse and those below. Multiple times throughout the game, I found myself speed walking halfway around the field to find an escalator traveling in the direction I intended to go. And at one junction, the three of us at the game missed an entire Aaron Judge at bat because we were struggling to find a way back to our seats. I’m sure this problem would be remedied with more frequent attendance, but it was unsettling that, as well traveled in the baseball world as I am, I felt completely helpless navigating a new park.

For its girth and confusing concourses, Globe Life Field is built intimately enough that it felt like a ballpark while I sat in my seat. That is, there was never any doubt that this place was built for baseball. The modern construction of the vertical seating tiers allows the upper decks to lie closer to the field and provide great sightlines regardless of ticket price. The many premium seating sections bring fans even closer to the action—no closer than the field suites, which place fans’ eyes just above the dirt behind home plate.

But the park also has puzzling premium areas. In the right field mezzanine, almost every suite sat vacant during an otherwise well-attended game, sucking up real estate that could provide affordable seats if it weren’t taken up by seldom-used suites. And on the upper concourse, a short hallway next to a food court leads to a lounge–well adorned in dark paneling and classy furniture–that caters towards fans who I guess would rather watch the game on television. It was, understandably, mostly empty when I walked in.

On the main concourse in the centerfield area, Ranger greats like Nolan Ryan and Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez are honored with giant jerseys and excerpts about their time in Texas, synching the team’s heritage with its present fans.

Behind home plate on the main concourse, fans are privy to the public address announcer’s booth. A translucent wall makes visible an entire office, complete with a sitting area, bobbleheads, and of course the PA announcer himself, who appeared to be named Chuck.

Though the main concourse is crammed, the natural light let in through the translucent siding throughout avoids the pitfalls of a park like Tropicana Field or Minute Maid Park, where the time of day becomes almost undiscernible as you circumnavigate the venue.

Perched on the upper concourse in the left field corner is the Karbach Brewing Sky Porch, one of the more imaginative corners of the park. Fans can recline in one of 20 wooden rocking chairs with a craft beer or meaty meal from the concession stand just behind. The brisket, while I didn’t try it, smelled as good as anything my nose has whiffed from a Texas slow cooker. And the whole menu was a refreshing departure from the relatively mainstream offerings of the rest of the park, where Tex-Mex was about as unique as it got.

Beyond the Sky Porch, the upper concourse in left field passes beneath a canopy of brick arches, shades of Minute Maid Park’s left field train tracks, which brings a subtle, western aesthetic.

Brilliantly, most of the raw materials used in Globe Life Field’s construction were procured from the state of Texas, including the steel, brick, and limestone. It’s one of the more concrete (no pun intended) integrations of the local landscape into a ballpark. And since the Rangers couldn’t accomplish this with any historic urban fabric, it’s meaningful they were able to with construction materials.

This isn’t a comprehensive review of Globe Life Field. I didn’t go in any clubs or eat any food. I arrived just before the start of the game and left immediately afterward. The experience was certainly pleasant enough to warrant a return and hopefully a more exhaustive exploration of the venue’s cavernous interior and the external Texas Live!. But the trip was enough to gather that the park knows what it is—a larger than life ode to Texas, the Rangers’ history, and their hopefully-bright and air-conditioned future. It’s brighter and more intimate than Chase Field, but lacks a lot of the specific character of Minute Maid Park. It fits its setting better than Marlins Park, but a suburban park with a retractable roof will never have anything on the downtown gems in San Diego, Pittsburgh, and many other cities.

And for those reasons, sunbelt cities are at a disadvantage when it comes to the best ballparks. The cities themselves blossomed with the advent of cars and air conditioning—two things Globe Life Field is heavily reliant on—and sprawled in the vast frontier. But baseball is America’s urban sport, as it grew up outside in the neighborhoods of the dense northeast. That the latter ballpark model is more popular than the former is undoubtedly a subjective opinion, but one that is shared by most baseball fans. But if the culture shifts to favor urban settings away from traditional downtowns, ballpark preferences may too. In which case, Globe Life Field is well-positioned to be a gem of the next generation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close