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Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers’ new behemoth of a ballpark that hosted its first fans as part of a neutral-site postseason this month, is the 766th sports venue that Sean MacDonald has been to in the past 19 years. Which makes him as close to an impartial expert on whether it’s a shiny futuristic temple to the game or an impersonal airport hangar in the middle of nowhere as anyone can be at this point.
The 54-year-old Canadian, who lives in New York City now, is a Blue Jays fan. But even after they were swiftly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs (remember the wild-card series?) he snagged four tickets to Game 3 and Game 5 of the World Series the first day that they were available to the general public. It was the stadium that drew him to Arlington last week as much as the baseball itself.
“I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't a new stadium,” MacDonald said. “If this was in Houston, I probably would not be going. It’s the chance to see Globe Life Field in its first year, and of course it's a World Series.”
The fixation on completist sports travel started in 2001. MacDonald, who was living in Japan at the time, took a six-month sabbatical during which he came back to the States and road-tripped to all 30 Major League stadiums, culminating in the World Series. He watched the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in Game 7 at what was then Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix and called it “the greatest baseball game I'll ever see.”
Living in Japan allowed him to go to games at venues throughout Asia — the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka — but he’s also since become a member of the North American-specific 123 Club. The name refers to the number of franchises in the four major American sports, and membership is earned by seeing a game at each of their home stadiums.
In 2014, MacDonald completed the 123. Since then, he has kept up with all the new stadiums, always making sure to visit in the first year they’re opened. His official total is 836 — he double counts a venue if he’s been there for multiple sports. Without major sports played in front of fans this summer, he went to a couple independent league baseball games in Chicago and Milwaukee that were admitting spectators, and a tennis tournament in West Virginia.
“It's pretty much all I do for a hobby now,” he said. “Whenever there's a vacation, I try to make sure I see at least one game.”
His favorite baseball stadium is Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, where the view adds something “extra” — which is one of the categories that factors into his internal rating. It’s something that he’s cribbed from Stadium Journey, a website that reviews sports venues that MacDonald writes for occasionally. There, all venues are graded on seven criteria: food and beverage, fans, atmosphere, the neighborhood, access, return on investment, and extras.
He concedes that circumstances of the season and the games themselves — limited fan capacity at a neutral site — are stacked against Globe Life Field.
Still, had he tallied a grade, “this would probably end up probably down near the bottom.”
“I didn’t find anything outstanding, or a signature element,” MacDonald said. “The park, it's in the middle of nowhere, out here in Arlington.” He noted that there’s no neighborhood to speak of and even if you were interested in imbibing inside in the middle of a pandemic, there are scant opportunities to do so in the immediate vicinity other than a dedicated consortium called Texas Live.
The seating levels are further from the field than their numbers indicate, and they’re not as steep as MacDonald would like to facilitate unobstructed views. (“I don't measure the slope of the seating bowls or anything like that,” he explained. “I'm sure somebody does somewhere.)
If it looks dark on television, that’s because it is. Not so dark that you can’t keep score, but definitely too dark. Especially with the roof closed.
There are displays of Ranger greats, of course, and everything is as fancy as it should be in a brand new stadium. But the architecture was unimpressive and indistinct — “other than the size of it, I mean it's just ridiculous.”
As it pertains to baseball played in a pandemic, that means the concourse felt spacious and safe. As it pertains to a game necessarily attended by no more than 11,500 fans, it feels quiet and empty.
“Like I said to my friend, ‘I can't believe we're watching the World Series game, there's no atmosphere,’” MacDonald said. “It's too spread out, the place is too big for them to make any real noise. Almost like an early April game, nobody cares and people are still getting into it.”
That’s a fair tradeoff for keeping people safe. But, according to MacDonald, many attendees were relying on the distance to protect themselves in lieu of masks. Just as MLB officials feared before the first fans were admitted to the NLCS, eating and drinking provides an ample loophole for people to nurse a bag of peanuts or a beer for the entire game. Ushers were diligent about reminding guests about the protocol, but MacDonald said he saw many people simply remove their mask as soon as employees were out of sight.
“Most followed the rules,” he said, “but the ones that don’t are the ones that stick out.
“After being in the Northeast for so long and wondering why things are spreading, I realized that even after eight or nine months, people still feel like they are not at risk.”
It’s just another reminder that nothing is normal this season, which is why MacDonald intends to come back next April when his team is in town.
“The Blue Jays will play here, so that will be where I really form my opinion, when it’s hopefully open to the public,” he said. “Since it’s the Blue Jays, there will still probably only be about 11,000 fans.”
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