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It's Gotten Too Hot for Outdoor Baseball in Texas

Justin Fox
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It's Gotten Too Hot for Outdoor Baseball in Texas

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Texas Rangers baseball team played its last game in Globe Life Park on Sunday. I’ve never been, but as a fan of the Rangers’ divisional foe the Oakland A’s, I have watched many games there on television and it seemed like quite a nice place. Completed in 1994, what was originally called the Ballpark at Arlington was located amid gigantic parking lots in a gigantic suburb (Arlington now has more people than Cincinnati, Cleveland, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, St. Louis or Tampa) midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, but from the inside it looked like an old-timey urban stadium.

Another distinctive thing about it was that players there seemed to sweat a lot, even at night games. While it was harder to tell this from TV, the fans apparently did, too. In a recent Texas Monthly essay, Jason Heid recounted several glorious baseball happenings he had experienced at Globe Life Park, then added:

It’s not any of these moments that constitute my most enduring memory of the ballpark, though. What sticks in my mind (as it stuck to my T-shirts so many times) is the sweat.

A few years ago, the owners of the Rangers concluded that the sweat-inducing weather was depressing attendance, and decided to build $1.2 billion Globe Life Field, with a retractable roof and air conditioning, right next to their not-very-old and still perfectly good stadium. The residents of Arlington are chipping in $500 million of that cost.

The fact that the Rangers are getting a climate-controlled stadium now after making do with two outdoor ones before (the Ballpark at Arlington was preceded by Arlington Stadium, built in 1965) is in part a testament to advances in stadium design and to the burgeoning population and wealth of the Dallas-Forth Worth metropolitan area — and to its rivalry with Houston, which already has an air-conditioned, retractable-roof baseball park. But as I read the encomiums to Globe Life Park (which will live on to host high school and XFL football games), I wondered if maybe summer had been getting noticeably hotter in Arlington. And yes, it looks like it has. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information doesn’t have data specifically for Arlington, but it does for Dallas, which is close enough. Here are the average daily high temperatures from June through August since 1940:

For the Rangers, who because of those scorching daytime temperatures have played almost all of their games at night, the average minimum temperature probably matters more. Here’s what it looks like.

There’s a lot of year-to-year variability in these numbers, and I wouldn’t go making any bold pronouncements about global warming based on just these two charts. For one thing, in 1940 Dallas was mostly surrounded by fields and forests and now it’s surrounded by subdivisions and freeways and gigantic sports-stadium parking lots that create an “urban heat island.” Also, there are other cities (Los Angeles springs to mind) where warming has been more pronounced than in Dallas.

But it is noteworthy that, after mostly fluctuating around a mean for half a century, Dallas temperatures shifted to an apparent upward trend right around when Globe Life Park opened in 1994. The average June-August high temperature was 94.5 degrees before then and has been 95.9 degrees since. The average minimum temperature was 75.4 degrees before and has been 76.5 degrees since. It has always been a little hot for baseball in the summer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but after decades of at least not getting hotter, things seemed to change after 1994. They’ll probably keep changing: The environmental group Climate Central has forecast that by 2060 Dallas should expect to experience 55 days a year of 100-plus-degree temperatures, up from an average of 15 between 1991 and 2010. The Rangers’ owners (a pair of oil magnates, of course) took notice, and decided they needed to be able to control the climate for their games.

The Dallas-area temperature rise and its apparent consequences for baseball are an indication of the range of changes that could be in store as global temperatures continue to warm. Coping with climate change isn’t just going to be about weather disasters and receding coastlines. It will also involve things like spending $1.2 billion to replace a perfectly good ballpark.

To contact the author of this story: Justin Fox at justinfox@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Green Carmichael at sgreencarmic@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”

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