St. Petersburg, FL,
I know opening day seems like a lifetime ago but in light of the Tampa Bay Rays considering becoming a two city team I thought I'd review their stadium. Tropicana Field doesn't get a whole lot of positive attention these days, if ever. First, watching a baseball game in a dome isn't the best of experiences. I remember my first dome game was in Toronto and I wasn't as pessimistic. Toronto's dome, however, had a bit more character to it. In Tampa Bay's defense, I don't think anyone can sit in 100 degree Florida temps in the middle of July without getting heat stroke or becoming incredibly drunk from the two ice cold beers per inning their body would require to stay cool. Here's my rundown:
I was pleasantly surprised to find a traditional parking lot with a fun, tailgating atmosphere. My home team, Cleveland, and my side piece Pirates typically have local bars and establishments as the pregame ritual. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've witnessed a baseball game tailgate since the 80's when Cleveland played at Municipal Stadium and had it's own giant parking lot. Since then it's been parking deck and then hoof it to a bar until game time.
Unfortunately this is about the end of the charm. The entrance was cool looking but right inside the main door (yes door) was also the team shop. I kinda have a hobby of collecting hats from each stadium I visit. The problem is, this store was big enough to only accommodate about 25 customers at a time (there had to be at least 150 when I was there) and also the main herding of fans goes right by the registers. I swear it took us 5 minutes to find a shirt and a hat and 45 minutes to pay. Oh yeah, and speaking of paying. Ole Jefe (that's me) hit up the ATM at the hotel before arriving, $400 cash...guess what, they don't take cash in the entire stadium!
Food & Drink:
I'm gonna say this first, the beer vendors are remarkable!! Fun, funny, prompt and never missing!! Ok...now for the food. It appears they tried to stock the halls with catchy places and even offered sushi. Too bad I immediately lost my appetite when I first stopped for a hotdog because that's the traditional cuisine at a ballgame. I had every intention of trying more vendors but my dog was made from people who I'm quite certain grew up in a country that does not eat hotdogs. Now I'm not being prejudice or ignorant. I have some evidence, aside from their obvious nationality, they also had ZERO hotdogs ready at gametime and cooked the first batch on a George Foreman grill...I'm not making this up. My date and I locked eyes with the other couple standing by us and we were all thinking "um, should we just cancel our order and go to a different vendor?" I felt bad taking that approach but we ordered 4 dogs and I'm pretty sure 1 wasn't cooked. I gave my date the two fully cooked dogs and took one for the team. We did buy peanuts (pre-packaged, by someone who doesn't work at the stadium) and that saved the day. Ballpark peanuts always save the day.
I purely added this category for one reason....who the hell builds a white ceiling for an indoor baseball stadium? Worst idea ever. A season ticket holder next to us who had a stat and information for everything (he and his son were super nice) said the team is trying to get special permission from MLB to add blue lighting to the ceiling. Yeah, should've thought of that when you built the place.
Usually teams that struggle to pack the house surprisingly come through with the value. When we watched the local news that morning and learned the Rays were having their opening day game I immediately jumped on one of my ticket apps and found (easily) two box seats for $53 each. If I wasn't so cheap we could've paid twice that to sit almost behind home plate. We bought these tickets 5 hours before gametime...on opening day. So yeah, it's pretty easy to get into a Tampa Bay baseball game. The team also did a wonderful job of entertaining the crowd throughout the game. Again, it was the first game of the year so who knows if you get that type of razzle dazzle during the long season.
Part of me wants to blame the fans for the sparse crowds but then I go outside and see how beautiful it is and think "oh yeah, maybe the locals weigh their options between the beach and baseball and perhaps the beach will usually win that battle." Then again, the owners picked the location and built that ridiculous stadium..so hard to say. I give this ballpark a D grade.