My next two stops on this trip are down in the sunshine state – Tampa Bay today and Miami tomorrow.
I boarded a flight out of Atlanta at 8 AM arrived at Tampa airport around an hour later. I then boarded a Super Shuttle to my hotel in St. Petersburg with some really friendly co-passengers including a woman who grew up in Queens as a Met fans and used to have a crush on Bud Harrelson. She may be the only woman alive who ever did.
I spend the day lounging, talking and drinking and before I knew it, it was time to get dressed and head over to Tropicana field. The hotel is approx. a 20 minute walk but most people I was speaking with seemed to think the idea of walking 20 minutes was insane. The walk to the park took me through downtown St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District. Getting its name from Central Avenue, this strip is lined with all sorts of really interesting local shops and eateries including Ferg’s Sports Bar. A lot of the stores were either closed or getting ready to close, but it still was a pleasant walk. The muted heat from the early evening sun was a nice compliment to my happy beer buzz. I was enjoying my walk and then, I saw it! Without a doubt, the ugliest ballpark that you’ll ever lay eyes on. The first reaction that I or maybe anyone would have is ‘what the hell is that?!’
“The Trop” was constructed on the site of an old coal gasification plant, at the intersection of Interstates 275 and 175 more than 20 miles away from Downtown Tampa, the area’s largest concentration of population. The stadium is built on a very noticeable slant with all white walls and an all white fixed dome (which is illuminated with orange lights after a Rays victory).
Once inside, you can’t help but notice the drab ceiling (which is also white on the inside, not the best choice for outfielders trying to track a white fly ball against) that is supported by rings of catwalks that, unfortunately, are often struck by batted balls which by ground rules, are in play! The entry rotunda is nice and the concourses are wide and well lit. But on this night, and many others as far as I was told, it feels as if you have the place to yourself. Despite having a really decent team and some good young stars (even making it to the World Series in 2008) the team doesn’t draw fans mainly because of the location and stadium. A lot of the fans who do show up leave by the 5th inning. I’d imagine that post season games must draw fans though. The Tampa / St. Pete area has such a long and rich baseball history with minor league teams and major league Spring training facilities, so I’m really surprised that a pro baseball team doesn’t get more support here. On the nights that the Yankees or Red Sox are in town, a lot more fans show up, but they are mostly Yankee and Red Sox fans.
Raymond, the mascot (I’m really not sure what kind of creature he is supposed to be – some kind of cat I think) can be seen throughout the game waving flags or venturing throughout the seating bowl taking pictures with the kids. For some reason, when the fans get excited, they ring cowbells. Nearly every fan is very knowledgeable when it comes to the players and the organization and they all seemed friendly. There was an elderly gent sitting next to me who was there with his grandson. This guy used to live in Cleveland and (like so many other northerners who hate the cold) packed up and moved down south. He was telling me what a great team the ’48 Tribe was and was upset that he couldn’t remember the name of one of their outfielders. He marveled at the ‘magic device’ I pulled out of my back pocket that I was able to type into and find the names of the starting lineup from that team for him.
The park does have some nice features.
In center field is a 10,000 gallon tank filled with live rays that you can pet for free and feed for $5. Despite the small crowd, the line for the tank was close to 30 minutes long. There were more people petting the Rays than watching the game. I heard that last year, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers hit a home run that actually landed in the tank!
Another really nice feature is located across from the tank – The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame which is loaded with some really nice displays and artifacts.
The food options are decent but pale compared to many other parks.
There’s a nice a cigar bar that includes leather couches and top-of-the-line liquor. It is the only major league ballpark with a cigar bar.
Other nice options are the sit down, full service Everglades Brewhouse, Ricky P’s or Rays Cuban Sandwich stand.
The Indians hot bats (led by Brandon Moss with 5 RBIs) were all over Rays starter Alex Colome and they jumped out to a 5-0 lead after 3. They’d tack on 3 more in the 8th to extend that lead to 8-0, but the real story was Indians starter Carlos Carrasco who had all of his pitches working tonight and was mowing down the Rays, hitter after hitter. Carrasco took a perfect game into the 7th and with one out , walked light hitting Joey Butler – but then got a ground ball double play to end the inning. After a 1-2-3 8th, Carrasco took the hill in the 9th three outs away from a no-hitter! After retiring the first two batters, the same light hitting Joey Butler strode to the plate. Carrasco quickly got ahead of him 0-2. One strike away from a no-no! The sparse crowd was all on their feet. But the next pitch was left up in the zone and Butler laced a line drive over the leaping Jason Kipnis into center field! (Video below) How great it would have been to witness a no-hitter in person. It would have been my first. Carrasco was removed from the game to a standing ovation from the (mainly) Indians fans.
With no real crowd to fight. I took my time leaving the park. Too tired to walk back, I grabbed a taxi back to hotel. Unfortunately, the pool was closed but bar was hopping with people – many of them the same folks that I was drinking by the pool with 6 hours earlier, but all a lot drunker by this point. Tomorrow I have an early flight to Miami to catch a 12 noon start for the Marlins game, but I still couldn’t resist mingling with the locals and having a couple more reef donkeys. When I get back home to NJ, I plan on having a case of them shipped up.
Fans – B- – Pretty sparse crowd. I sat between a very friendly older gent who moved from Cleveland years ago and a loud Southern woman who kept ringing her cowbell.
Features – B- – Hitters Hall of Fame was very nice. Sting Ray tank was a very unique attraction – but the line was too long given the low attendance at the game. Nice atrium. Palm trees around the ballpark are really nice. Inside of the park is dark and bleak. White roof is awful.
Location – C – Not a terribly long walk from downtown St. Pete. Would be so much better if the park was in Tampa.
Food – D – Everglades Brewhouse and Cigar Bar were nice, Otherwise just run of the mill ballpark fare. Many of the concession stands were closed by the 7th inning
Game – A+ – One pitch away from a no-hitter. One lousy pitch!
Overall Experience – C – Hitters Hall of Fame, Friendly Fans, Near no-hitter, Being in Florida and Reef Donkey – all pitched in to save this from being a lower rating