Tuesday, January 15, 2013

FAN FEST: Texas Rangers find they have followers young and old

Donald Barter didn’t call it a bribe. Not flat out. Yet when he promised his eight-year-old son Jacob that a “good” report card would land him within touching distance of Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, little Jacob recorded the equivalent of an academic grand slam – four A’s.
On Saturday, there was Jacob handing his favorite Ranger a baseball, which Kinsler dutifully signed, looking right at the youngster and saying with a smile, “There you go, little man.”
Jacob’s response? “Oh, wow.”
That appeared to be the overriding sentiment throughout the weekend at the Arlington Convention Center during the annual Texas Rangers meet and greet called Rangers Fan Fest 2013.
It was a two-day affair (Friday evening and all day Saturday) that was part pep rally, part convention and all love fest.
Fan Fest allows Rangers followers to do something they simply can’t do while relegated to the stands of the Ballpark: rub elbows with Rangers players, snag autographs and ask a question without having to yell it from Section 322. During a Q&A session, players fielded everything from “What’s your superstitions?” (they’re routines, not superstitions) to “Will you marry me?” (Nelson Cruz got that one.)
For Rangers fans, the list of players, coaches and legends was a bit mind-boggling: Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Lance Berkman, and Derek Holland were just a few of more than 40 who turned up, plus legends Gaylord Perry, Rollie Fingers, Fergie Jenkins and Nolan Ryan, who told the crowd that last year’s attendance reached an all-time record of more than 3.4 million.
Saturday’s attendees hung around for hours, as though they simply couldn’t leave. For die-hard Rangers fans, this was Eden. Fans were able to take their photos near Rangers jerseys in a mock Rangers clubhouse, in front of the 2010 and 2011 American League Championship Trophies and even with the players.
“Omigod!” Jessica Santo screamed to her photo-taking buddies after hugging Matt Harrison for a photo. “Please tell me you got that! Please tell me you got that!”
Younger fans had other things in mind. A Kids Zone allowed young baseballers the opportunity to take batting practice, check their speed in base-stealing and pitching, test their skills in snagging ground balls and flies, and just, for a moment, be a big leaguer.
Matthew Fanning, 12, brought his own glove, and looked like an all-star out there, gobbling up ground balls with ease. “I’m going to be a Ranger one day,” he declared to no one in particular.
One after another, 20-something Judith Guzman was smacking pitches all over the place during her batting session.
“I played softball in high school so it was good to swing again,” Guzman confessed. “I’m glad I came to this.”
Not more than little Jacob, who left Fan Fest with a new Rangers jersey and cap, an autographed ball and a photo near a Kinsler jersey on what he described as “the best day ever.”

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