Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 10, 2006
BASEBALL: Trop Till You Drop
So, I was away from the blog here the past six days attending a family wedding in St. Petersburg, followed by a couple of days at Disney World. Among our travels, we took the opportunity to visit Tropicana Field and take in a Devil Rays home game against the Red Sox on Sunday.
Now, it had not occurred to me until I was there that the Rays play in St. Pete, not in Tampa (hence the "Bay" in their name). And I hadn't really seen outside views of the stadium before - when you approach it from the highway, the dome appears to be slanted badly to one side, like it's halfway into a sinkhole. I'm not sure what this Leaning Tower of St. Pete look was supposed to accomplish - I could imagine a side-tilted dome being an ultra-modern, Jestons-ish look in the early 60s when they built the Astrodome, but the concept here is beyond me.
First impression of attending a Devil Rays home game: the parking/transportation is a nightmare. We were driving in view of the stadium 15 minutes before game time, and not in terrible traffic, and we didn't get seated until the third inning. The parking lot was apparently too small to handle the crowd, the detours to "alternate baseball parking" were Byzantine and poorly labeled, and when we finally followed the circular route to the parking garage, it was too far away - and we were too lost - to walk with two kids and a baby in a stroller, so we had to wait on an extremely long line for trolleys that were ferrying about 20-30 fans at a time to the park. There were - more on this in a minute - a large proportion of the fans on that line wearing team paraphernalia of some sort, but only a tiny fraction were Devil Rays stuff. Being dependent on mass transit like trolleys to get to and from the game completely defeats the point of driving, which is to have control over when you get there and when you leave. The crowd was a big one but hardly huge - the box score says attendance of about 30,000, which filled most of the stadium except for big sections of the upper deck. If your parking setup isn't designed to handle a crowd that cracks 30,000 fans, you do not have a winning business model.
To make the timing situation perversely worse, the Rays gave out coupons at the ticket window for free sodas and hot dogs. When we arrived in the third, my wife went off to get the free food, and due to the long line (I did mention it was free, right?) didn't get back until the seventh inning. On the other hand, the dogs were good, similar to Shea hot dogs and far better than my experience with Dodger Dogs.
Now, our seats. We sat in right field, in fair territory, a few rows from the back wall. The Trop has a lot of seats in fair territory the outfield - all in one deck, like Yankee Stadium or Fenway - and they are really good seats, very close to the field and lined with prime catch-a-homer seats. Somebody at the front of our section got David Ortiz' homer in the fifth inning. The one major disadvantage was that we could not see the main center field scoreboard - not even by turning around, like in Fenway's CF section -so unless you knew them by uniform number (hah!) or heard them announced, it was impossible to tell who the Devil Rays' relievers were (for the record: Edwin Jackson, Ruddy Lugo, Seth McClung, Brian Meadows and Shawn Camp).
The fans. Well, if I had three words to describe the fans at Sunday's game, they would be "Red Sox fans." Our section in particular was filled with Sox jerseys (probably 60% Varitek jerseys to 40% Ortiz, with the women almost uniformly wearing Varitek jerseys) and thicker-than-clam-chowdah accents, and pretty much exactly the same mix of attitude and bad language you get in the Fenway center field bleachers. I'm not sure where they all came from - the braying guys behind us (who were a little tongue in cheek, I think, when they started yelling for Manny to "hit it wicked wicked faaahhhh" late in the game) were apparently transplanted Bostonians living in the area, but were the rest bandwagon Sox fans, tourists who planned their vacations around this, or perhaps people who decided to abandon their livelihoods and follow the Old Towne Team Deadhead-style from city to city, supporting themselves by selling hairspray, stonewashed jeans and Dan Shaughnessy books? Hard to say. But as we did see Sox jerseys and hats all over our hotel and - on Monday - at Disney, I'm guessing there were a lot of vacationers in the house. When the fans did the "Yooooook" chant or cheered for Big Papi, you'd have sworn they were the home team. By contrast, we did see one knot of loud, profane but generally incompetent hecklers in Rays garb, who accomplished little other than to bring down retribution from smug Sox fans and demonstrate that the Tampa area lacks major-league quality hecklers (There was also a hyperactive guy in our section dressed as Fred Flintstone who was jabbering at Wily Mo Pena, but he pretty much defied generalization).
The part of the scoreboard we could see hectored the crowd with various alliterative slogans based on the hometown batter's name ("Get Crazy for Carl!" "Get Zany for Zobrist!") . . . let's just say it's impossible to imagine them doing this at Fenway, Yankee or even Shea. There's also a mini blimp sponsored by a local energy company that drifts around between innings.
As for the game itself, even with an awful Rays starter, a lineup full of more sub-.300 OBPs than you could shake a stick at, and some amazingly bad fielding by Russ Branyan in right, it was a backbreaking loss for the Sawx, as the bullpen blew a 6-2 lead with homers by Travis Lee and Dioner Navarro, Papelbon blew the save (on Navarro's dinger), and Greg Norton went deep for the walk-off in the tenth (after Manny ended the top of the tenth following an intentional pass to Ortiz).
We walked a block from the long line for the return trolleys - in the rain - until we could get a cab back to the parking garage. A good game and a fun time at the ballpark, but it would have been nice to see the whole 10 innings.