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May 1 - At The Ballpark - Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Tampa, Florida is a city that has nurtured many major league ballplayers.  
You know the names.  Gary Sheffield, Dwight Gooden and Wade Boggs
are just three of the many names that got their start in western Florida.  
However, most of Tampa’s baseball history has been off the field instead
of on it.

Major League Baseball granted Tampa Bay an expansion franchise a few
years ago, and there has been little to no success on the field ever since.  
Their home park, Tropicana Field, has been universally panned around the league for its weird
ground rules (there are catwalks hanging over the field) and drab nature.  

The Devil Rays have made sweeping changes this offseason, from the front office all the way down to
new coats of paint around the stadium.  Has any of this changed anything on the Gulf coast?  Let’s
find out.

Concessions: B
There are a number of food choices in “The Trop”, as you can get your usual ballpark fare of hot dogs
and popcorn, and there are a number of unusual things to go along with those choices.  There is also
a cigar bar in the ballpark, which is, to my knowledge, unique to this location.  The portions are good
for the price (an order of nachos and “souvenir” soda were $5.50 a piece), but there is nothing really
outstanding in terms of value.

Between-innings entertainment: D
There were a couple of things between innings (the Pepsi/Aquafina/Sierra Mist wobbly bobblehead
race on the video board being the most notable), but this was about as straight-ahead baseball as
you will see at the major league level.  If you are going to the ballpark with someone who likes fun
things in between innings, they will be sadly disappointed at the lack of anything going on.

Sight lines:  C
The likelihood of your having a pretty decent view from your seat at a Devil Rays game is pretty good.  I
sat in section 133 (above the Red Sox bullpen), and saw everything pretty well from where I was.  
However, there is not a wraparound concourse in this park without exiting the seating area, and -- and
this is the biggest gripe I have regarding a ballpark -- the playing surface cannot be seen from the
concourse.  There is a set of steps that have to be navigated before you can see the field, at least
from the entrance I took.  This should never be the case in a ballpark, as the playing surface is the
showcase item.

Promotions: N/A
The club was not conducting a promotion on this day.  They seem to not conduct too many
promotions in Tampa, because of the next point.

Parking: F
The Rays’ new ownership decided that one of the changes they wanted to make was the provision of
free parking for the 2006 season.  This is a great idea in theory, because free is obviously a good
thing, and there is lots of parking on the Tropicana Field premises.  The good theory turns into a
horrible practice, because traffic backs up for miles while the Tropicana Field staff tries to wave cars
into the lots like Vinny Castilla struggling to field a grounder further than a step away from him.  The
parking lot lines barely move while police officers keep people out of areas where the club doesn’t
want people to park, but do nothing to help keep traffic moving to areas where they do want people to
park.

The free parking concept is therefore a total failure, unless you like spending an hour or so waiting in
your car to get to that free parking space.  That said, there are a number of surface lots across 1st
Avenue South and other surrounding streets in the $5-10 range.  

Also, because of the traffic control ineptitude, ingress and egress are abysmal, and unless you know
the area or have good instincts, you will be sitting there watching taillights for a good while.   

Player accessibility: N/A
I got to my seat 15 minutes before game time thanks to the narrow, clogged concourses (yet another
problem with this park), and saw no players interacting with fans.

Red Sox fans:  F
Never before have I devoted a segment of a review to a team’s fans, but I feel compelled to do so
here.  I realize this does not speak for all Red Sox fans across the country, but the Red Sox fans I
encountered at Tropicana were rude, foul-mouthed and abrasive.  They also came late and left early
(the Sox were down 5-2 after 8, and Red Sox “fans” were streaming for the exits, almost much to their
chagrin -- more on that later.  They were also starting “let’s go Red Sox” chants -- in a visiting ballpark,
no less -- which the Tampa fans thankfully booed.  If all Red Sox fans are this way, I can see why the
Yankee fans can’t stand them -- and let’s be honest, the Yankee fans are not exactly the pinnacle of
personality.

Quality of baseball: C
The Rays defeated the Red Sox 5-4, but the game was not as well-played
as the score may indicate.  The home club got homers from Toby Hall
and Carl Crawford, while the Red Sox got a homer from David Ortiz and
back-to-back homers in the 9th that made the game close.  

The Rays’ bullpen is downright awful.  Chad Orvella threw a solid 8th, and
first-year manager Joe Maddon left him in to try for a two-inning save, and
that idea eroded after the aforementioned back-to-back shots from Mike
Lowell and Wily Mo Pena.  Tyler Walker came in and promptly threw four strikes in 11 pitches.  Shawn
Camp had to close out the game for the save with runners on second and third.

Along with that, Curt Schilling threw several bad pitches, and, in the most egregious of all offenses,
Maddon had third baseman Sean Burroughs playing left field during every at-bat for David Ortiz, and
third base was left wide open.  I still cannot be sure which is worse -- the Rays’ lame-brained
strategy, or Ortiz not hitting a ball to the left side and getting a sure base hit.

Overall grade: D
I wanted so badly to like this park.  I have seen a number of negative comments from people about
Tropicana Field, and I figured that the new ownership must have surely done something right.  The
only improvements, however, are on the field -- both in upgrades to the field itself and the on-field
product.  The seats are uncomfortable and left me with back pain, the concourses are strikingly
narrow, and the souvenirs are beyond ridiculous ($35 for a hat?  They don’t even give out cigarettes
with your purchase).

I know the new ownership team is trying, but the fruits of their labor are not even close to being seen.  
Tampa fans should have hope for this team in the future, as it looks as though the club will be much
better than the facility in which they play in relatively short order.

How to get there:
Take I-275 to exits 23B (5th Avenue North) or 22 (I-175).  Signs clearly mark the way to Tropicana
Field, and the dome is easily-spotted from most surface streets in the area.  The physical address is:

1 Tropicana Drive
St. Petersburg, FL 33705

You may also want to see:
--Gulf beaches:  Madeira, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin Beaches are just a short drive from
the park, and feature soft, white sand and the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Clearwater Beach is
a more high-traffic location and features Pier 60, where Madeira and Dunedin are smaller and more
laid-back.
--Tampa:  The city of Tampa is located 15-20 minutes away via interstate, and features such
attractions as Busch Gardens, the Lowry Park Zoo and the Florida Aquarium.  Tampa also has the
Channelside and Ybor City districts for nightlife, as well as the NFL’s Buccaneers, NHL’s Lightning
and an Arena League franchise.
--Orlando:  The home of Disney and Universal Studios is a one-and-a-half hour jaunt via interstate 4,
and features theme parks and numerous other tourist-based attractions.
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