How one third-generation fan is working to bring the story of the Texas Rangers in Arlington to the big screen
In less than two weeks, the Texas Rangers will end an era as they pitch their final Opening Day game at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Starting in 2020, they’ll be playing ball in their swanky new ballpark, Globe Life Field, which is currently under construction just up the street.
While this is a major moment in the history of Arlington and the Texas Rangers, it’s far from the only one. On Wednesday, March 27, the day before Opening Day, all of Arlington and generations of Rangers fans are invited to a special celebration of these victories past, present and future.
Grand Slam Event
Together on one stage, you’ll see National Baseball Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, fan favorite Jim Sundberg, “Mr. Ranger” Tom Grieve, Ruben Sierra, and others, including the Arlington return of 1973 pitching phenom, David Clyde. They’ll share insider stories about the legend of Ted Williams and Billy Martin, the legacy of Tom Vandergriff, and the road to the first World Series in Arlington.
Joining the fun on stage will be county-folk-rock band Green River Ordinance, which will season the celebration with their warm melodies and rambunctious Southern rock.
Finally, Celebrating Baseball Time in Texas! will provide a first-ever sneak peek inside a one-of-a-kind project that celebrates the long-standing partnership between the City and its home-town team. You’ll be the first to see the conceptual trailer for Legends of the Game, a major motion picture in-the-making that explores the intertwined story of the Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington. Proceeds from the event on March 27 will help support the production of Legends of the Game.
The Story Behind the Story
Downtown Arlington recently chatted with the brains behind Legends of the Game, Arlington native Parker Vandergriff. You might say that Parker’s passion for Texas Rangers baseball and Arlington are embedded in his DNA. Parker’s grandfather, Tom Vandergriff, served as Mayor of Arlington from 1951 to 1977, as a U.S. Representative from 1983 to 1985, and as Tarrant County Judge from 1991 to 2007.
Downtown Arlington: What do you remember most about your grandfather?
Parker Vandergriff: His voice. Not only by the deep baritone nature of it but the way he was able to just draw you in. There was a unique presence about it that filled a room. I don’t think I will ever hear another like it.
The other thing that I remember most is the way he connected with people and made you feel like, in that moment, you were the most important person to him. For people who never met him, it’s almost impossible to describe. But there are thousands of people who know exactly the feeling that I describe.
DA: Let’s assume that some folks don’t know the inspiring story behind your film, Legends of the Game. Please share a synopsis of the “plot.”
PV: On September 21, 1971 — a date that shall live in infamy for Texas Rangers baseball fans — the charismatic, Walt Disney-like Mayor Tom Vandergriff moved the nation’s national pastime out of the U.S. capital and brought it to Texas.
For 13 long years, Mayor Vandergriff battled a massive army of doubters and cynics as he passionately worked to bring Major League Baseball to his beloved city. To achieve his dream, he assembled a formidable team of political and sports heavyweights, anchored by the visionary founder of the American Football League Lamar Hunt, the future U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright, and team of baseball brainiacs.
The journey was littered with so many pitfalls and setbacks that it almost seemed inevitable it would be locked in on a dramatic collision course, which culminated in the nation’s capital in the fall of 1971. There, the Washington Senators, which were managed by the legendary Ted Williams and included a cast of characters such as Denny McLain Frank Howard, Lenny Randle, and Curt Flood, were the last hope for Vandergriff. His opponents went all the way up to The White House itself.
Legends of the Game is a true tale of tremendous triumph, grit and perseverance against all odds. It’s a story that challenges friendships and pushes the imagination. It’s a story that tugs on the emotional threads of why more than 300 million Americans, generation after generation, pour their heart and souls into the game because we desperately yearn to be winners, but never forget the pain of losing. Even in the story’s victory, there’s tragedy for the millions of Washington fans who lost a piece of their identity. Ultimately, it’s the story what drove a small-town mayor in Texas to achieve the impossible: the love of his City and our nation’s national pastime.
To this day, “what happened in ‘71 is considered one of the ultimate coups in all of sports,” once said the Dallas Morning News, “… because of the opposition that lined up in attempting to stop him.”
DA: To you, why is baseball important to Arlington and vice versa?
PV: Arlington was built by baseball. 100%. Most people don’t realize that. The dream for major league baseball began in the 1950s, and all the building blocks that came afterwards were in an effort to shape the city around those efforts. Moreover, baseball marked the first time that Dallas and Fort Worth could even work together towards a common cause, thanks to Arlington being the common ground.
Tom Vandergriff said it best in 1993: “Baseball brought us together in a way we hadn’t been together before that time. Generally, we were at war with one another. But, here, everyone agreed on baseball. Major League Baseball.”
In addition, baseball has meant so much to everyone’s personal lives. I can’t tell you how many times, when sharing their memories of baseball in Arlington with me, folks have ended up in tears. Rolling down the hills at Turnpike Stadium, meeting Mickey Mantle for the first time, sharing treasured moments with their family. I have a friend whose parents met as groundskeepers for Arlington Stadium, so tongue in cheek, she wouldn’t be alive without baseball! The game has connected so many generations and created so many thick memories for thousands and thousands of people in Arlington. To think of the lives that have been changed for the better always amazes me.
On a grander scale, what I think we all have to recognize and come to terms with is that baseball in Arlington is so much bigger that just Arlington. Every game played here is connected to every other game ever played. When you start with that premise, you can begin to truly understand the impact and magnitude of our story.
Everyone thinks of our story as beginning in 1972, but in reality, it began long before that. Counting backwards from 1971, it took 13 years to move the Senators from Washington, D.C. to Arlington. At that moment in time, the Senators had been in existence for 71 years and was one of the charter members of baseball. Every President since William Howard Taft, from Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy, sanctioned the game in Washington, creating a national obsession with American politics and baseball. When Washington baseball left for Texas, the reaction was so visceral that it changed the game ultimately and profoundly. Not to mention that baseball didn’t return to the capitol for 34 years! Our histories went in such different directions yet are tied together so tightly. It’s remarkable.
DA: Why is it important to you to tell the story of Legends of the Game?
PV: Former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene reminded me a couple years ago of a great quote from the movie Monuments Men: “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements, and it’s as if they never existed.”
This story is not just about Tom Vandergriff, but it’s a story of Lamar Hunt, Jim Wright, Ted Williams, Hollywood movie mogul Gene Autry, and so many more. These are all giants of their time and of their own game, who believed in something bigger than themselves, and who collided in a unique way around baseball. It’s these real-life characters who drive me to tell their story, because I don’t want it to be erased by time! And quite frankly, I think the story is in jeopardy of being lost and forgotten forever if we don’t act now and tell it.
DA: You have a busy day job, a family, and lots of other pressures on your time. A motion picture is a major undertaking! What drives you?
PV: It’s an insanely enormous undertaking! But it’s attainable. I made a deal with myself years ago that no matter how long or whatever it took, I will see this project through to the very end. And I mean it. I wouldn’t have spent several years combing through over half a million documents from coast to coast, more than 25,000 photographs, transcribing over 3,000 pages of notes, and filming a conceptual trailer that involved over 500 people, just to lay the groundwork. What drives me is pretty simple. I think it can be BIG! I absolutely believe it.
On a more a personal level, this is about acknowledging people who are in danger of becoming forgotten footnotes in history.
Every couple of months, we lose someone connected to the story in some big way. Sportswriters Dan Jenkins of the Star-Telegram passed away just days ago. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson passed away last month. It’s been hard on me, and it’s the biggest struggle I deal with because I feel the loss so personally. I think of how they impacted so many lives. Over 92 million Rangers faithful have circled through the turnstiles since 1972. Still, when I think of them, it fires me up just a little more knowing that now is the time to push hard on the gas before it’s too late.
DA: What’s your timeline for making the film?
PV: We have a strategic timeline for the project built around the 50th Anniversary of the Rangers which is in 2022, so long as we’re successful in hitting key benchmarks. However, I often joke with myself that it took Tom Vandergriff 13 years to bring major league baseball to Arlington. So as long as we beat that length of time, I’m happy!
DA: Are there any other people who are involved either in the event or the film that this story should acknowledge?
PV: Yes. Without naming names, there have been several key folks — longtime Arlington and Tom Vandergriff supporters — who have stepped up to the plate in a very big way. They believe in the project, believe in the vision, and have helped give it the financial backing to continue to move forward. Without these core group of guys (and they know who they are!), none of this would be possible. I’m forever grateful, and I hope we can continue to elevate the project to new heights by engaging even more supporters. I’m confident we will.
I also have to thank Ron Price and the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau who understand the power that such a film can have. The potential impact on the city can be a game-changer. They stepped up almost immediately and said, “let’s go play some ball!”
Get Your Tickets Today
Tickets are available now for this once in a lifetime event.
Baseball Time in Texas!
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 starting at 7:00 p.m.
Arlington Music Hall
224 N. Center Street
Arlington, TX 76011
Direct ticket link: arlingtonmusichall.tix.com
Getting Around Downtown
Get all around town by hailing Via Arlington Ride Share for only $3. When you drive, track #myAbram and visit myAbram.com for the latest information about traffic routing, temporary parking and construction milestones along Abram St. Download Waze for free and see real-time traffic, find optimal routes and avoid road closures. Unless specified, parking is free throughout Downtown Arlington.
About Downtown Arlington
Designated by the State of Texas as the Arlington Cultural District, Downtown Arlington blends a unique mix of activities, sights, tastes and sounds that attract visitors and locals alike. Within its less than a two-mile radius, Downtown is home to a top tier public research university, prolific fine and performing artists and arts institutions, live entertainment, exciting NCAA and professional athletics, one-of-a-kind dining and retail, and a supportive business climate.