This will be 29 Opening Days for Chuck Morgan, 28 with the Rangers plus his one-year hiatus with the Royals in 2002.The one that stands out the most was a spring day in 1994 when he drove to work before the sun came up. He could easily feel the anticipation of what would turn out to be the most memorable of all his Opening Days. "We were moving into a new ballpark and we had a great national anthem from Van Cliburn," Morgan said. "There was a lot of Texas Rangers excitement. I drove up to the Ballpark in Arlington thinking that I still have to get it together. There were going to be a lot of great memories for people from that day and you don't want to mess it up for people. A memory is a precious thing. That stuck out in my mind and it still does." For three decades, Morgan's voice and his creative talents have been a special part for any fan making a trip to the Ballpark in Arlington, whether it is a season-ticket holder or someone seeing baseball -- and the beloved Dot Race -- for the first time. His booming voice with the distinctive southern-flavored accent -- he is a former Nashville disc jockey and announcer for the Grand Ole Opry -- has become an institution in Texas no less revered than the immortal Bob Sheppard for Yankee Stadium fame.
Morgan has become an integral part of the franchise's soul and senior executive vice president and former catcher Jim Sundberg called him, "The greatest Texas Rangers fan I know. He puts his heart and soul into it."Former Rangers vice president Larry Schmittou brought him to Texas in 1983 and he was there for Opening Day that year on a freezing night when there were 13,000 fans in the stands and the rest of the state was watching the Houston Cougars' Phi Slamma Jamma playing in the Final Four. "It wasn't that memorable," Morgan said. Certainly not as memorable as Neftali Feliz striking out Alex Rodriguez for the final out of the American League Championship Series last October and allowing the Rangers to advance to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. "We had finally taken the next step," Morgan said. "We had won a couple of series and getting to the World Series was unbelievable. Every time I looked out and saw that World Series logo on the field, I had to pinch myself. We were in the World Series. I couldn't believe it. It was very special." Now he is preparing for another special day. The Rangers open the 2011 season as the American League champions on Friday against the Red Sox and they will be unveiling their new video board atop the Home Run Porch in right field. The old board measured 864 square feet while this one checks in at 5,040 feet. Morgan will once again be at the wheel, this time in a completely revamped control room. Size is far from the only thing that will be different about the new video board. "For me, this offseason has been like I've moved into a new ballpark," Morgan said. "Everything I touch and do has changed. New technology, new office, new everything. I start all over again. What's different than in '94 is we have the American League championship. "It's going to blow people away. They are going to see the new scoreboard and say, 'Wow!'" The replays will be much bigger and in high definition, all the pertinent baseball statistics will be displayed and there will be games for the fans. Wheel of Fortune and High/Low will be among the new treats and there was never any doubt that the Dot Race will be back again for a 26th season. "We're going to have four new characters join the dots," Morgan said. "One is a big right-hander so that will give you a hint." The Dot Race is Morgan's baby. He introduced that while working for the Nashville Sounds, and the Oklahoma City 89ers were doing something similar. So Morgan and former Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports writer Jim Reeves came up with the idea of bringing the Dot Race to Arlington Stadium, and it remains today. Others copied it, from the hydroplane races in Seattle to the subway race at Yankee Stadium. Morgan was also the one who introduced the highly popular Whiffle Ball Park to Vandergriff Plaza beyond center field. "It goes against everything I was taught where you are supposed to just sit and watch the game," Morgan said. "But people love it." Not everything is planned. Morgan can be deliciously spontaneous. When Kevin Kennedy was the manager, his favorite song was "Fly Me to the Moon," and Morgan played it after Rangers victories. A few years later Kennedy was managing the Red Sox and there was a night at the Ballpark when the Rangers were crushing his team. Kennedy went out to the mound to change pitchers late in the game and as he walked off the field, Morgan played "Fly Me to the Moon." Kennedy smiled and tipped his cap. But whether Morgan plans something or comes up with it spontaneously, the mission never changes. "A trip to the Ballpark is special," Morgan said. "If you are 11 or 12 years old, this is going to be something you will remember for the rest of your life. Memories are special and you want to make sure of that." Morgan has always done that, and Opening Day 2011 should be especially so.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.