A new era for Texas Rangers fans – not just the ballpark, but also the tailgating

When it comes to pregame celebrations, Texas Rangers baseball fans have seen their future — and it doesn’t involve nearly as many portable grills, Porta Potties and beer served directly out of a cardboard 18-pack in the parking lot.

Instead, it involves seemingly endless supplies of food made by celebrity chefs, clean restrooms, live music, air conditioning and red, white and blue bunting virtually displayed on an advertising ribbon board.

On Thursday, the Rangers’ Opening Day for the 2019 season — their final year at the throwback Globe Life Park, before the club’s scheduled move to Globe Life Field (and its retractable roof) across the street in 2020 — fans swarmed to the new Texas Live! entertainment venue across the street.

It was the first Opening Day for Texas Live!, which opened late last summer to smaller crowds — well after the Rangers had fallen out of contention.

But on Thursday, Texas Live! officials estimated that roughly 30,000 people walked through their venue’s doors before the 3:05 p.m. first pitch — although that figure could have been greatly padded by people entering and exiting multiple times.

“It’s tailgating on steroids,” Jim Watry, chief operating officer at Texas Live!, said just before the Rangers’ game against the Chicago Cubs was set to begin. “It’s everything you need for tailgating but with more amenities. We have a great mix of families and couples, and a mix of Cubs and Rangers fans.”

But even among the throngs of fans playing foosball, simulated golf and yard chess at Texas Live!, there were mixed feelings.

Charles Grones, a Frisco resident who considers himself an old-school Texas Rangers fan — one who believes baseball should be played outdoors.

And yet, on this Opening Day Grones and his buddies found themselves inside the Texas Live!, drinking reasonably-priced beer and munching on French fries in the comfort of air conditioning while they took turns swinging clubs in a golf simulator.

Throughout their conversation, they lamented that this would be the final season in their club’s beloved outdoor Globe Life Park and all its ornate features, including the winding stairways, the home run porch in right field and even the baseball shaped-lamps facing the street on the upper deck concourse.

“This is a new environment for us,” Grones said of Texas Live!. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that ballpark next door.”

His buddy, Derek Leferink, gestured to Globe Life Park and added: “It’s sad. This ballpark symbolizes Texas. But I understand. If we wanted to keep them (the Rangers) in Arlington, we needed a new stadium, with a roof.”

Grones added: “It’s better than having them move to Dallas.”

Sara and Chad Westenbroek of Burleson took a day off from work to experience Opening Day. An hour before first pitch, they played foosball in one of Texas Live!’s restaurants.

“This is really more comfortable,” said Sara Westenbroek, an account manager. “I love baseball, but I usually watch it on TV. I am hoping we go to more games now.”

Troy Sifuentes of Forney, who helped himself to a steaming ladel-full of cheese at the $25 nacho bar at Texas Live!, said he has mixed feelings about the comforts of this indoors version of tailgating.

But in the end, he said, old-school fans must come to terms with the reality that times have changed.

“If you have ever sat in the left field seats in the middle of August,” he said, “you understand why we need a new ballpark.”

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