The sounds of construction and heavy equipment moving about in a coordinated symphony blends in with the sound of music blaring from nearby Texas Live! outside Globe Life Park. Rangers fans were strewn all over the place, some admiring for the first time the still new Texas Live! complex, while other fans were walking about outside trying to peek at the construction site of the new Globe Life Field.
It was a beautiful, cool clear day, an air of excitement floated about as young fans dressed in Rangers gear pushed their parents towards Globe Life Park. It’s FanFest 2019, a day fans look forward to because it means it’s just that much closer to Opening Day. As fans eventually made their way inside the ballpark, the construction sounds could still be heard. There’s no rest for the construction.
A new home for future championships, the Rangers are building it.
I walked around the ballpark and I think it finally hit me that this is the last season for this grand old (but still very young) place.
Rangers players, guided along by staffers, were making their way to their respective designated autograph session locations. As they moved along, they all took the time to high five or shake hands with young fans. A young boy (probably 6 or 7) got a high five from Ronald “Condor” Guzman and waited — super patiently — until Guzman had walked away before he squealed in sheer delight at his dad. (Sidenote: Guzman appears to be about 11 inches taller, ok maybe 10 inches taller.)
There was also this moment with Joey Gallo and an impeccably attired young man named Jude, shared widely on Twitter, that really illustrates what FanFest means to the fans, especially the youngest fans.
Seriously. @JoeyGallo24 is the coolest. We happened to run into him while walking around @Rangers #fanfest. Jude immediately spotted him. He took the time to stop and make his entire day. It was a couple of minutes that meant the world to my boy. Forever Team Gallo. Lifelong fans pic.twitter.com/XspJUaIs1A— Anna Roe (@annacroe) January 27, 2019
I mean, look at that smile (Jude’s not Gallo’s but yes, ok Gallo’s is great, too). That young fan will always remember the moment with Joey Gallo.
An engaged fanbase, the Rangers are building it.
THE PAST: Pudge Rodriguez
If you’re building something for the future, it helps to know where you’ve been. With that as a backdrop, we sat down to listen to a Rangers legend, Hall of Fame catcher, Ivan Pudge Rodriguez. Moderating was current Rangers TV man, Dave Raymond.
DAVE RAYMOND: “I’m sure you hear this all the time, but you still look like you could catch at least fifty games.”
PUDGE [laughing]: “I can WATCH fifty games, that’s what I can do.”
Pudge is at ease as he fields questions from Raymond. One of the questions that interested me was about the new ballpark.
RAYMOND: “How different will it be for the team to play indoors in an environmentally-controlled park?”
PUDGE: “To me, I’m from Puerto Rico, it doesn’t matter because I was used to it. But, for new players, it’ll definitely be a draw to play in good climate and for the fans the new facilities should be a great experience.”
Pudge nails it. There’s a feeling that moving forward, players will be more inclined to play for the Rangers if the sweltering Texas heat isn’t a factor.
THE FUTURE: Chris Woodward
The new Rangers manager is young. Chris Woodard’s stride as he made his way to his seat was equal parts energetic and purposeful. He shook hands with several fans, a genuine, confident smile plastered on his face the entire time. The great Eric Nadel served as the moderator for this session with the new manager.
Woodward spoke with a confident voice as he articulated his vision for the future of the Texas Rangers. The buzz around Woodward’s hire centered around his time with the Dodgers, an analytics-driven franchise. Would Woodward bring that approach to the Rangers? We didn’t have to wait long for this answer as Woodward delved into the subject of analytics within the first minute of his opening remarks.
“I love numbers. The game has changed over the last fifteen years and understanding numbers leads to a competitive edge, an edge that could mean the difference between winning championships and not winning championships. And I’m here to bring championships to this franchise.”
Woodward talks with a polished demeanor. He appears to be an open book, there’s a sense of vulnerability about him. He’s passionate about the direction the franchise should be heading in, and he’s equally as passionate about the players — his players. A fan asks Woodward about how the players feel about the upcoming season, and Woodward doesn’t hold back.
“They have a chip on their shoulders. They don’t like hearing the negative expectations floating out there about the upcoming season. Neither do I!”
Woodward joins the ranks of young first-time managers, a trend the league is experiencing for the first time. Nadel asked Woodward if Woodward has talked to other young first-time managers to pick up some tips for this season.
“Absolutely. The common theme I’ve found is that those new managers relate to to the players and I hope to bring that to this young team.”
One of the main reasons Woodward’s immediate predecessor, Jeff Banister was fired by the Rangers was because he reportedly didn’t relate well to the young players.
The discussion eventually circled back to analytics.
FAN: “How are you going to use analytics to set lineups?”
WOODWARD: “There’s the feeling in your gut, which is driven by numbers, so I’ll rely on my experience and how the player is feeling. It’s also about the trust that I’ll have with the player. Now, I will say that I don’t necessarily want to use numbers to take a guy out of the game.”
Woodward answers questions organically and with the enthusiasm of someone who’s ready to run through any obstacle before him. He talks about his hiring process and how even though Jon Daniels was interviewing Woodward, Woodward used that opportunity to interview Daniels, too.
“I wasn’t going to take a managerial position just to take a managerial position. The team had to be right, the players had to be right, and the vision of the front office had to line up with my vision.”
Woodward talks glowingly about General Manager Jon Daniels.
“JD is one of the finest humans I’ve ever met. He genuinely cares about people here, and he does that across the board from the front office to the grounds crew.”
“Brandon will be working with pitching within the organization across multiple levels, specifically as it relates to technology. Brandon has been through a lot in his career and had to redevelop a lot of his arsenal, and he did so by utilizing some really cool technology including high-speed cameras. So he’ll be helping the organization work on pitching by utilizing the technological tools that worked for him.”
The Rangers are at a pivotal point in the franchise’s history. A new ballpark is coming and with it the pressure to win a championship is ramped up significantly. Some say that this new coaching staff coupled with forthcoming player acquisitions will be General Manager Jon Daniels’ last chance with the Texas Rangers.
To close out FanFest 2019, fans were given an opportunity to observe the construction of the new Globe Life Field from a vantage point on top of Globe Life Park. New and updated display boards showered the fans with all kinds of facts and figures about the new field.
The construction crews continue building, the new manager works on building relationships with the players, the players work on building their skill sets, and the fans build up enthusiasm heading into a transitional season.
Only time will tell if what is being built — physical and otherwise — will deliver.