Let me start by showing you the nicest thing about Tropicana Field.
Here it is:
All the manhole covers outside the stadium are painted like baseballs, and hey, this one is so dirty that it looks like a ball that’s been rubbed with mud. Nice touch, Rays!
It had been 11 years since my last (and only) game at the Trop, and I didn’t remember much. Yesterday, upon arriving at the stadium, this was my initial assessment:
Jona was with me, and she agreed: the place is fugly. But you know what? I actually like it for that very reason. So many new stadiums look alike. The seating bowls are almost identical. The concourses are clones of each other. The dugouts, the outside gates, the bullpens, the ticket windows — they’re all the same, forgettable features of the new cookie-cutter structures of the 21st century, so really, when you see me making faces and dissing Tropicana Field, know that I’m doing it with love. The place is funky and in some cases downright gloomy, but it’s got personality.
In the photo above, the strip of blueish tile artwork leads to Gate 1, which serves as the main entrance to the stadium. The white tent on the left side is a security checkpoint. After passing through it, I headed along this ramp:
This was the view to my left:
I’m really not trying to make the Rays look bad, but in the interest of accurately describing everything and telling the story to the fullest, I should point out what it smelled like.
Hmm, let’s see…
I’d break it down as follows: 70 percent swamp, 28 percent wildlife reserve, and 2 percent sewer.
(Jona just saw what I wrote and said, “TWO percent sewer? I think more.” I guess I was being kind.)
It’s a good thing that the Rays are so talented or else nobody would show up to watch them play.
You have to love the team’s optimism, though. Despite having one of the lowest average attendances in all of baseball, they still have enough lines/chains set up outside the ticket windows for the entire southeastern portion of the United States:
Jona and I took a (clockwise) lap around the stadium, and I took a bunch of photos along the way. First, we passed through another security checkpoint…
…and then kept walking. Here’s a four-part photo that captures the essence of the place; the red arrow on the lower right is pointing to the manhole cover that you saw up top:
Here I am next to…I don’t even know what to call it:
It’s not a statue. It’s not really a pillar or a tower. It just IS.
Here’s a look at the scenic path between Gates 6 and 7:
Here’s Gate 7 itself:
I think the real reason why the crowds are so small at both Florida stadiums is that the state is surrounded by water on three sides. In most other states, fans can drive to games from all directions. In other words, there’s a potentially wide geographic fan base. But here, in three of the four directions, the only fans are jellyfish. I hate to say it, but I think that attendance is still gonna suck at the Marlins’ new stadium.
After completing our lap, we got on line outside Gate 1, and by the time the stadium opened at 5:10pm, there was a decent crowd waiting to get in:
(Can anyone spot Jona in the photo above?)
Allow me to clarify something…
When I say that the stadium opened at 5:10pm, I do mean STADIUM. Fans were confined to the right and center field concourse until 5:40pm. Check out the barricade blocking the left field concourse:
Dear Rays Management: Can you please explain why you don’t open your seating areas early enough for your fans to watch your team take batting practice? How do you expect people to connect to the players if they don’t get to see these guys until they run onto the field at the start of the game? Seriously, that’s lame. I know that you open the seating areas two hours early on weekends, but that’s still not enough. When I go to stadiums, nothing makes me madder than anti-fan policies, and some teams seem to have a lot of them.
Anyway, because the seats were off limits for the first half-hour, I hung out in the only spot where I had a chance of catching a ball:
In the photo above, that’s me behind the white fence. This spot is located just to the left of the batter’s eye (if you’re looking at the batter’s eye from home plate). I’m sure that baseballs land there every now and then, but yesterday, there was no action.
I passed the time by looking at the roof…
…and talking to a father/son named Pat and Ryan. They’d brought a copy of The Baseball and told me that they’d wait ’til after BP to have me sign it. You’ll see a photo of them in a bit.
Once the seating areas opened, I headed to left field and was briefly stopped from entering the front row. Here’s a photo of an usher checking my ticket:
Tropicana Field Anti-Fan Policy Number Two: in order to get into the front row — even during batting practice and even if you’re 380 feet from home plate — you need a ticket for the front row.
Thanks to a friend named Andy, I *did* have a front-row ticket, but still, what’s the point of enforcing a rule like that? The only good reason I can think of is to lessen the odds of having fans tumble over the dangerously low railing. Look how low it is…
…but if that’s the reason, then the Rays should simply raise the railing. They should raise it anyway. The railing was barely higher than my knees, and I didn’t feel safe there. In fact, it was the least safe I’ve ever felt in any section in any stadium that I’ve ever been to. Granted, it was only 10 or so feet above the spongy “warning” track, but still, I wouldn’t want to fall over headfirst. We all know what kind of tragedy THAT can cause.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos from batting practice, so I’m just going to list the balls that I snagged:
1) toss-up from Blue Jays bullpen coach Pat Hentgen
2) toss-up from Blue Jays reliever Frank Francisco
3) home run by a Blue Jays righty, caught on the fly
4) home run by a Blue Jays righty, caught on the fly
5) ground-rule double by a Blue Jays lefty
6) home run by John McDonald, caught on the fly
7) toss-up from Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos at the 3B dugout after BP
Sorry to have blown through the snagging so quickly, but trust me, you’re not missing much. Because fans aren’t allowed in the front row, the rest of the seats get much more crowded than they should. I would’ve preferred to play deep and re-position myself for all the different hitters, but because of the scattered crowd and wonky placement of the tunnels, there wasn’t much room to run — so I just stayed down in front. I gave the first two home run balls to the nearest/smallest kids and kept the rest.
I should mention that my first ball of the day was a milestone snag. You know how I have a huge consecutive games streak, right? (Just to fill people in who might not know, I’ve snagged at least one ball at every game I’ve been to since September 1993.) Well, the toss-up from Hentgen was the 5,000th ball of my streak.
After BP, I met up with Pat and Ryan (pictured below in black T-shirts) and ran into another kid named Devon (pictured below in red). He’d also brought his copy of my book, so we all posed together:
Devon came with me when I went to get food, and while walking back to the seats, he totally saved me from getting ketchup all over myself. Tropicana Field Anti-Fan Policy Number Three: at the condiment station, there are no mini-cups to put ketchup and mustard in. (This isn’t technically a “policy,” but it’s still annoying, and I feel like venting.) As a result, I had to take a flat plastic drink lid and turn it upside-down and fill *that* with ketchup. Moments later, the dang thing slid off (the slick plastic top of my bloomin’ onion container) and would’ve stained the crap out of my lovely YSOP shirt if Devon hadn’t swooped in and sacrificed his own clean hand by catching it. (People often asks what “YSOP” stands for. I have several joke-answers that aren’t suitable for print, so the real answer is Youth Service Opportunity Program. I got that shirt in 8th grade, and as you can see, it still fits.) Devon also took good care of me by pointing out the fact that Adam Lind had 99 career home runs. What would I have done without him?
Shortly before game time, Jona got a photo of me with my newest “stadium number sign”:
Tropicana Field is the 13th stadium that I’ve been to this season, and in case you missed it, I’m planning to hit up all 30. Also, in case you missed it, I’m making different faces in each photo to show how I feel about the stadiums. Here’s a collage of the first 12.
Aside from the manhole covers, the best thing about Tropicana Field is the heavenly foul ball spot on the first and third base sides of home plate. Here are three photos to show you what I’m talking about…
First, there’s a weird curvy tunnel-y thing that leads from the concourse to the seats:
When you round the corner, this is the view:
Remember the section I wrote about “Foul Ball Theory” on pages 245-247 in The Baseball? Well, this was the ideal angle. Even better than the angle, however, is the wide cross-aisle on the right:
I probably would’ve snagged a ball there if I hadn’t spent most of the game wandering and taking photos. But I think it was worth it. I’d always wondered what was behind the seats in deep right field, and now I have an answer:
How random is that?
In the photo above, do you see the small light blue thing jutting up beyond the lower left corner of the right-center field seats? It’s all the way out on the end, just below the small set of windows on the larger dark blue structure. That’s known as the “Rays Tank.” There are actual sting rays swimming in it, and fans are allowed to crowd around and touch them. Check it out:
Jona and I would’ve gone down there, but there was a half-hour wait to get in — and there was a no-hitter in progress. (Jays starter Ricky Romero held the Rays hitless until the 6th inning.) If I wasn’t going to catch baseballs, I at least wanted to catch glimpses of the game as we wandered all over the place.
One weird thing about Tropicana Field is that in order to get into the outfield sections, you actually have to walk *up* some stairs from a ground-level concourse. Here’s a photo that captures the zany layout:
Here’s a photo of the aforementioned concourse:
I don’t know how I feel about that blue floor, but I guess it works. Given the lack of natural light, I suppose the vivid colors are necessary to make to the place feel more vibrant and jolly.
The main entrance at Gate 1 is really nice:
The abandoned carnival games? Not as nice:
Jona and I headed to the upper deck, and on the way, I took a (partially blurry) photo of a large concourse/concession area:
I like it, and I have to say that it looked even better in the daylight. If you look closely, you can see a strip of windows near the ceiling.
The upper deck concourse could use some help…
…but again, I like it because it’s ugly. You just don’t see anything like that in the newer stadiums.
I walked all the way out to the farthest/lowest corner of the left field upper deck. Check out the view as well as all the unused space:
Did you notice the curvy line at the top of the seats in the upper deck — you know, where the seats meet the roof? Is that supposed to represent an ocean wave? I remember that RFK Stadium had a similar curvy line. Here’s another look at it, along with the tarps that are covering large portions of the seats:
Soon after I took the photos for this panorama…
Linda and I had attended a game together on 4/18/09 at Yankee Stadium, but as I mentioned, she’s more of a Scrabble friend than a baseball friend. We first met at a Scrabble tournament in New York City, although she lives an hour or so from Tropicana Field. She had tried calling me during the game, but my cell phone wasn’t getting any reception, so I didn’t get her voice-mails. Sometimes, technology is really dumb. Or maybe *I’m* dumb for still using a RAZR.
Linda and Jona joined me while I wandered through the party deck in deep left field. How deep? Let’s just say that it provides a very nice view of one of the catwalks:
Here’s another view from the party deck…
…and here’s a look at the Captain Morgan Deck down below:
I would’ve gone down there, but it was closed for a private party.
The area behind the left field foul pole also had a private party, but Linda helped talk me in for a few quick photos. (She talked me in by pulling out her copy of my book and telling the security guard that I’m a famous baseball writer from New York. So embarrassing. But it worked.) Here’s what it looked like there:
How awesome is that?! I wish I could spend every game there.
This was the view directly to my left…
…and this was my view in the bottom of the 9th inning, shortly before umpire Gary Cederstrom ignored my polite request for a post-game ball:
Final score: Blue Jays 3, Devil Rays 1.
(Haha, Devil Rays! Remember that?)
• 666 balls in 80 games this season = 8.325 balls per game.
• 741 consecutive games with at least one ball
• 266 consecutive games with at least two balls
• 248 consecutive games outside of New York with at least one ball
• 8 consecutive games in Florida with at least one ball
• 5,328 total balls
(I’m raising money again this season for Pitch In For Baseball, a non-profit charity that provides baseball equipment to underprivileged kids all over the world. Click here to learn more.)
• 56 donors
• $7.12 pledged per ball (if you add up all the pledges)
• $49.84 raised at this game
• $4,741.92 raised this season