I love ballparks. Most of you know this about me...but I'm sure there are people who will read this who don't know my history. (This a good place to start for most of my writing about ballparks I've visited. That page links to the parks I've visited and wrote about between 2004 and 2010. I can track down others if you're interested.)
The most recent new ballpark experience is the one I thought I would be least interested in seeing: Tropicana Field.
And I have to admit - I was pleasantly surprised.
The first thing we did when we got into Tropicana Field was check out the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. You may remember this place from when Williams died back in 2002 - that's where much of the local Boston reports were centered. It was located in Hernando, Florida, which is really in the middle of nowhere. I guess it moved to Tropicana Field (I had no idea until we walked into it), and man is it worth a visit. Great displays about Williams, and a good selection of other hitters and team items are on display. The only fault I found was this plaque featuring Rays' managers, with Joe Maddon's name misspelled. Seems like the type of thing you should get right.
Seriously, I could write a whole other post about this museum, I was so impressed by it.
We went to two games at Tropicana Field - both against the Mariners. The Rays won the first after coming from behind, scoring a run in the bottom of the 9th to win (that's what you see above), and they won the second 7-1. We had great seats, which we got walking up to the ticket window (we never saw a line) and paid just $40 for.
It makes me simultaneously sad and happy. I loved kind of having a ballpark all to ourselves, walking around wherever we wanted because there were no crowds, but at the same time the Rays are a good team and it's a shame that no one is coming out to their games.
By the second game, we had kind of exhausted most of the things there were to do at the park. But out in center field there are a couple of attractions that we took in. First of all, we watched the first couple of innings of the second game from a barbecue restaurant that is in straightaway center field - Everglades BBQ Company - which was probably a better bargain than the concession stands. I liked it, though the green tinted windows were a little too green.
Then on the way down, there was no crowd at the rays tank, which houses what are probably the best-fed rays in the world. You can reach in and touch the rays, and even feed them. We did not feed them....but we did touch them. (Yes, I did. It was kind of a weird sensation. I didn't love it.)
This was the first time I'd ever been in a baseball game in a full-on dome. I've been to retractable roofs (Houston, Seattle, Arizona) and a football game with a roof (Indianapolis), but never a baseball game inside. (Even in Arizona, where the roof didn't open when we were there, it felt a little more open.)
The dome at the Trop made this field feel very close. But the lack of fans in the seats opened things up again. I think this: That place could get loud. It could be a tremendous home field advantage. The fans that show up are passionate, they ring their cowbells - it got kind of loud with very small crowds when we were there - and the ballpark isn't bad. It's clearly not drawing crowds...but if the Rays can figure out how to get fans in there, it could be a place that opposing teams won't want to go.
I liked the '162 Landing' down the left field line, where Evan Longoria's homer landed in 2011 when the Rays clinched their playoff spot on the last day of the season. I liked the in-game entertainment. I liked the scoreboards and videoboards and in-game stats.
Oh yeah - and the baseball the Rays played was pretty good too. I leave you with this - the moment Jason Bourgeois made contact with the fly ball to right that brought home the game-winning run Wednesday night, setting off the celebration picture you see above:
And for goodness' sake - if you're in the Tampa area and the Rays are at home...check out a game. It's a good time.