A Whirl of a World Series
Well, Major League Baseball pulled it off. They completed the shortened 60-game baseball season that culminated in the World Series.
The strange and historic 2020 sprint of a pandemic-delayed season came to an end last week when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win their first World Series in more than three decades.
Baseball’s ultimate stage took place in Arlington. That was the good news. The other good news was that a small number of fans were allowed into the stadium for the first time to watch a baseball game. The bad news was that the park’s tenant, the Texas Rangers, did not play in the 116th fall classic.
Still, it was an opportunity to showcase the new $1.2 billion climate-control state-of-the-art stadium to a worldwide audience. It was also an economic boost for the City of Arlington, local businesses, and many local residents as hundreds of the Rangers’ seasonal employees were called in to work the postseason.
In the era of COVID-19, when all games were played in front of empty stadiums with piped-in noise, MLB agreed to have fans at Globe Life Field for the National League Division Series and the World Series.
Earlier this year, with the abrupt cancellation of spring training and the start of the baseball season in late March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, that scenario appeared unlikely. For many folks like me, there were doubts on whether there would be a 2020 baseball season, much less a World Series.
Even after the season started in late July, there were still some lingering concerns that it would continue after some players tested positive for the virus which forced some game cancellations, but MLB persevered, and, thankfully, with some stringent protocols in place, the season was able to continue uninterrupted.
Working closely with the Major League Players Association, MLB was able to implement rigorous testing and strict health protocols and discipline among the players to stop any virus outbreak from jeopardizing the season.
The season ended on Sept. 27, and the playoffs began two days later. These playoffs were unlike any other in the sport’s history as they featured 16 teams, eight from the American League and eight from the National League. No fans were allowed at any of the Wild Card and Division playoff series or the American League Championship Series, won by Tampa Bay.
MLB, however, agreed to allow fans into Globe Life Field for the National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Dodgers, which began on Oct. 12.
Globe Life Field was now ready to welcome fans, more than six months from its original March 31 Opening Day date. Fans began lining up early for the 7:08 p.m. start. Some fans standing outside the stadium were critical of the new park, saying it looked like “a big barn.” Another said, “It doesn’t look like a baseball stadium.” Some wise guy said he thought it was a Texaco gas station when he noticed the big “T” outside the stadium. “I was looking for the gas pumps,” he said.
Once inside, it was a totally different story. “Absolutely amazing,” “gorgeous,” “breathtaking,” “truly remarkable,” “magnificent,” “Wow,” “beautiful” — these were just some of the comments that echoed throughout the stadium from fans as they came through gates. They quickly began taking photos and videos as they marveled at what they saw.
Former Rangers manager Ron Washington, who is now the Braves’ third base coach, said coming into Globe Life Field felt like he was “walking into a magical kingdom.” Unfortunately for Washington, his team lost to the Dodgers, who advanced to their third World Series in four years.
The popular ex-Rangers skipper said he has fond memories of his time in Arlington.
“The success we had here is just something you don’t forget,” Washington said. “We were fortunate enough to bring some joy to the community.”
Bringing joy to the community this year was having the 2020 World Series at Globe Life Field and allowing fans in the stands, albeit a limited number. About 11,500 tickets were made available for each World Series game, with 10,550 fans spread throughout the ballpark and 950 in suites in the 40,300-seat stadium.
This was my fourth World Series. My first one was in Baltimore in 1983, and then I went to the Rangers’ two consecutive World Series in 2010 and 2011.
As someone who has been in Globe Life Field nearly 100 times this year, giving tours of the empty stadium with no concessions stands open, it was certainly different having thousands of fans in the park. The first thing I noticed, or my nose noticed, was the smell of food at the dozens of concessions stands.
Baseball was back along with many of its best foods — hot dogs, fries, nachos, peanuts, Cracker Jack, popcorn, pizza, cotton candy, and more, along with folks’ favorite drinks. Everything seems to taste better at the ballpark.
In a season of firsts, this was the first time in modern baseball history the World Series was held at a neutral site. Having all the games in one city for the entire series kept the teams from traveling and thus exposing players to the virus. It was a precautionary move by MLB amid the pandemic. A modified bubble environment was established to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak. Players had to adhere to strict health and safety protocols. The goal was to decrease the risk of an outbreak that could derail the postseason. Players and team personnel were quarantined at hotels for the duration of the playoffs. Dallas native Clayton Kershaw and other players who live in the area were not permitted to go home during the series, per MLB directives.
Tickets were sold online only in groups of four and mostly in alternate rows for the purposes of social distancing. Seats not being used were zip-tied. The ballpark had numerous hand sanitizing stations and signs reminding fans to wear facial coverings and to maintain social distance.
Last November, MLB officials and team owners met in Arlington and toured the then-nearly finished stadium. They liked what they saw, and when it was time to pick a site for the World Series, Arlington was at the top of the list. Having a new ballpark with a retractable roof and located in the center of the country certainly helped.
When it was announced that Globe Life Field would be the site of the 2020 World Series, Rangers Public Address Announcer Chuck Morgan quickly began to prepare for it. He admitted to guests who visited his booth during a tour that he was excited and, yes, nervous.
“I still get butterflies in my stomach,” said Morgan, who has done more than 3,000 games as a public address announcer.
This was the first World Series in Arlington since the Rangers hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at their old ballpark in 2011.
Arriving at the park for the first game of the World Series, the first thing fans heard was Morgan’s voice welcoming them to Globe Life Field and informing them that face coverings must be worn at all times inside the stadium and that all purchase transactions would be cashless. There were several reverse ATM machines that allowed fans to insert cash and receive a prepaid card in return.
A World Series is usually packed with fans and much pageantry and a lot of pomp and circumstance with numerous tailgate parties. Not so this year. No tailgating was allowed outside the stadium this year amid the pandemic.
Inside the stadium, the pregame ceremony was also different. Players did not line up on the foul lines for the pregame introductions. The ceremonial first pitch was not thrown from the pitcher’s mound as customary, and the National Anthem was not sung live behind home plate.
With the outside temperature being a comfortable 80 degrees, MLB made the decision to have the roof open. At 3:45 p.m., the stadium’s 24-million-pound single-panel roof that spans 5.5 acres moved slowly from east to west along the two tracks traveling at 39 feet per minute. The roof opened to the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra.”
At precisely 6:50 p.m., Morgan’s booming voice announced, “It’s baseball time in Texas.”
The ceremonial first pitch was at centerfield and made by medical personnel Brittney Burns, Erika Combs, Jamie Edens, and Ryan Ward, who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic. They all received a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd that included the players, coaches, umpires, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Gov. Greg Abbott helped usher in Game 1 by calling out the traditional “play ball” over the stadium’s giant video boards. Also shown on the video board was the Grammy Award-winning a cappella group from Arlington, Pentatonix, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
With the roof opened, four military jets flew over the stadium following the National Anthem.
Later, to the thrill of Dodger fans, who outnumbered Rays fans by more than two to one, Vin Scully, the legendary former Dodgers broadcaster, said via video boards, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
The 2020 World Series, between the two teams who had the best records in their respective leagues, began at 7:11 p.m. when home plate umpire Laz Diaz raised his right index finger, indicating to begin play.
Dodger starter Clayton Kershaw, after getting the signal from catcher Austin Barns, delivered a 95 mph fastball to Rays leadoff hitter Yandy Diaz, who took it for a strike.
Because the Dodgers had the best record in baseball, they were the home team for the series. Although all the games were at Globe Life Field, the Dodgers were the home team for Games 1 and 2, while the Rays were the home team for Games 3, 4, and 5. The Dodgers would then be the home team for the remaining games.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who was the Dodgers’ third base coach before being named Rangers manager, vacated his office space so his former boss, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, could occupy it.
The Dodgers had become familiar with Globe Life field, having played 13 games there — three in the regular season in August when they beat the Rangers two out of three games and 10 postseason games, sweeping the Padres in three games and beating the Braves in seven games.
The Rays had never played at Globe Life Field and got a feel for the new stadium the day before the series began.
PA announcer Morgan tried to provide a home field atmosphere by referring to each team as “your Los Angeles Dodgers” when Los Angeles was the home team or “your Tampa Bay Rays” when Tampa Bay was the home team.
There was an announcement on the video boards before each game that read, “Due to the limited number of tickets sold, supplemental crowd noise will be played over Globe Life Field’s public address speaker system during today’s game. The crowd noise effects are the same used in 2020 regular season games and other postseason games.”
There was, however, a lot of noise from the limited number of fans decked out in Dodgers and Rays gear.
It was a great series. The teams combined to hit 21 home runs in the six games played, tied for the third most in World Series history. The Dodgers won the first game 8-3 with Tampa Bay winning the second game 6-4. The Dodgers then won Game 3 6-2, and in a wild finish that will be talked about for years to come, Tampa came from behind in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Dodgers 8-7 in Game 4, tying the series at two games apiece.
The Dodgers bounced back, beating the Rays 4-2 in Game 5, setting the stage for the clinching championship victory in Game 6.
It came when pitcher Julio Urias struck out Willy Adames to end the game and bring the Dodgers their first World Series Championship in 32 years.
“This is our year,” said manager Roberts, who was at the helm when his team lost back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018.
In the stands, long-time Dodgers fan David Ho, who had flown in from Los Angeles the night before with friends, reached out to me and said, “Ozzie, we’ve waited 32 years for this.”
Meanwhile, on the field, players were hugging each other and running and jumping around. Fans and players alike refused to leave as they stayed long after the game was over, savoring the moment.
There were some hiccups toward the end of the game as it was learned that Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner had been diagnosed with the coronavirus and was pulled in the seventh inning. That did not stop him from coming back onto the field to pose for a team photo.
The Dodgers were not the only winners in this World Series. The other winners were the City of Arlington and Globe Life Field, who received nightly aerial views that were seen by millions of viewers worldwide. The Rangers organization and stadium personnel were also winners as evidenced by the rave reviews they received from fans and MLB officials. Commissioner Manfred hinted an All-Star Game at Globe Life Field is certainly in the foreseeable future.
Like the year itself, the 2020 World Series will long be remembered. For me, I will recall it as the first time in history the World Series Championship trophy was hoisted by the home club in Arlington.
Globe Life tour guide Ozzie Garza has been writing about baseball and the Rangers for more than 20 years. He is a frequent contributor to the Fort Worth Weekly.