Rangers finally step into DFW spotlight

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    It’s finally happening. After years of lingering in the shadows, the Texas Rangers have now become a main attraction for sports fans in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

    In their dominating opening series sweep against the Boston Red Sox, the defending American League champions not only set records on the field but also set some records in the stands. Through four games into the 2011 season, the Rangers have drawn 182,446 people to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington — an average of more than 45,000 per game, or 90 percent of the capacity for the ballpark. That’s better than the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals — two of the most storied and most famous franchises in baseball.

    And against the Seattle Mariners — on a Monday night, no less — the Rangers managed to bring more than 38,000 people into the ballpark to watch the team win its fourth straight game. Pretty good for a team that looked to be heading nowhere but the cellar of the AL West as recently as 2007.

    Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver wrote on his Twitter account that he was impressed with the turnout.

    “Over 144,000 fans came out to the ballpark this weekend! If that doesn’t get [you] jacked up, nothing will,” Oliver tweeted.

    The change in attendance began last year when the Rangers had their best regular season in more than a decade. And after winning a playoff series and advancing to the World Series, Rangers management saw a fan base become excited about baseball for the first time in what felt like ages.

    Granted, some of these new fans were what you would call “fair-weather” or “bandwagon” fans or people who only root for a team when they are playing well and winning games by the bunches.

    I normally loathe the fans who jump on the bandwagon after others had to suffer through years of terrible baseball like I and other diehard Texas Rangers supporters had to endure, but I don’t think these people will be jumping off during hard times in the future. After visiting with these new fans to the season, I encountered people who, after becoming interested during the 2010 season and the playoffs, wanted to learn more about the Rangers and to become passionate and knowledgeable fans. It showed this weekend.

    In years past, games against the Red Sox or other major-market teams would be full of obnoxious Red Sox fans, and good luck getting them to tell you any of the names of the players.

    Not anymore.

    This year, any chant Red Sox fans tried to start were drowned out by “Let’s go Rangers” or the sounds of fireworks exploding in the sky after one of the many Rangers home runs. Saturday’s game was the first time I’d been to a game during the regular season that had a playoff-like atmosphere.

    We’ve seen this occur in waves in the past in the Metroplex. This was Dallas Cowboys country for four decades — and it may, in fact, still be during football season — but the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 1995-96 season, and there has been a sporting shift in Dallas-Fort Worth ever since.

    DFW went crazy for the Dallas Stars in the late 1990s after the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999 — which happens to be the last championship brought to the area by a professional team in North Texas. We saw it after the Dallas Mavericks became relevant again in the early 2000s on the play of future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. Mavericks fans, however, have grown wary of their team after 11 straight 50-win seasons and no championship banners to hoist in the American Airlines Center to show for it.

    With the NFL in a lockout and the NBA likely heading for one after the end of the basketball season, the Rangers will get their turn in the spotlight as the No. 1 team to watch in the area. It’s about time.

    Pat Burns is a senior news-editorial journalism from Plano.