Part V: Tropicana Field
(AKA: Under the Dome)
(AKA: Witnessing Near Perfection)
After an off-day in Columbus updating the blog, writing entries, and having great coffee, I took the long bus ride to Tampa, Florida. I said my goodbyes to my cousin and left Columbus very early in the morning. I arrived late in Tampa in the middle of a severe thunderstorm, so my arrival time was delayed by a bit. I guess that’s why they call their NHL hockey team the Tampa Bay Lightning, right? My friend, Justin, picked me up from the bus terminal in the middle of this storm… and thank goodness he did because that was one of the longest bus rides I’ve ever taken. It was something else… but I’m now in south Florida ready to have some fun and visit a new ballpark! A new ballpark that has been panned so much in the recent past…
Ballpark 19: Tropicana Field, elevation 38 feet
The game: Blue Jays @ Rays on June 24, 2015
Since this was an early Wednesday afternoon game, Justin and I knew this would be a low-attended game since everyone wants to hit the beach, and who could blame them? For the record, the Tampa-area beaches are some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country. We left with plenty of time to find some decent parking a couple blocks away for only $10. Good parking spot at a great price! Things were already looking up.
Approaching “the Trop,” I noticed the slanted design of the domed roof, and I thought it was a bit strange. Why build a stadium with a slanted roof design? This is to help wind resistance, according to a couple people there. That I could buy given the likelihood of hurricanes and/or tropical storms in the south Florida area. If nothing else, it looks very unique!
Ticket prices: Since the stadium typically doesn’t sell out, especially for a Wednesday afternoon game, the secondary market for tickets is almost non-existant and buying deeply discounted tickets is tough. However, with the new dynamic pricing of most ballparks, the regular price for tickets were not bad at all. With that, we decided to spring for the expensive tickets and sit right behind the dugout. By that, I mean we spent forty bucks on some incredible seats right behind the dugout on the first base side. We were pretty close to the action, and much closer than most ballparks at that price.
Of course, walking into the park, most people are greeted by a beautiful rotunda welcoming fans to the park. A big plus for the stadium is the two-story gift shop with plenty of great items, including some discounted hats from their throwback games of the past. I did notice one glaring omission, and that was any reference to the somewhat-old “Devil Rays” era when this franchise first began. No colorful hats or jerseys to be found anywhere!
The food: Prices are fairly inexpensive for food overall. The dogs and drinks are cheaper than I thought, and this is one of the few ballparks that offers unlimited drinks if you buy a souvenir soft drink. Because of the humidity, Justin and I each got huge souvenir drinks that we would make worth it. Thank goodness we got those drinks because little did we know… we’d be in for a long game.
The other big reason the drinks are worth it is because while the game is played under a dome, there is still a slight bit of mugginess inside Tropicana Field. The weather had been particularly humid that day because of the stormy weather outside. The weather would also prove to be a bit of a factor during the game.
Another really cool feature inside the dome is a live devil ray pool in deep right field. Before the game, lucky visitors can touch and pet the sting rays and feed them by buying food. Big plus to the Rays for having that money go to the aquarium! I didn’t want to miss any of the game because there were quite a few people in front of me, but at least you can look down into the tank and see the live rays. Oh, if a Rays player hits a home run into the ray tank in right field, the Rays will donate $5,000 to both the local aquarium and a charity of that player’s choice.
The game: The first inning went really quickly as both teams went out in order. In fact, there was only one base runner in the first five innings. That was Edwin Encarnacion who drew a walk in the top of the 2nd inning. Yes, that meant that both pitchers had a no-hitter going through five innings. To say the least, we were moving along at a very brisk pace. I had bought my souvenir soda and didn’t even refill it yet because the game was going that fast!
Because of how this game was going, I was more focused on the game than anything else and didn’t want to miss a moment. Nathan Karns of the Rays was finally cracking as he allowed a hit and two walks to load the bases. However, Jose Bautista (“Joey Bats”) popped out to end the threat. The bottom of the 6th inning went quickly as Marco Estrada recorded another quick three outs. At this point, I was realizing that something very special was happening in front of me, and I was getting excited about it.
Moving on to the bottom of the 7th inning, Estrada started off with two strikeouts, and then induced a foul pop out from Evan Longoria. This was 21 batters at the plate and 21 batters mowed down. Yes, this was happening in front of my eyes. The game hadn’t even cracked the two-hour mark yet, but because there was no score, we were thinking about extra innings. Since we were thinking about possible free baseball, we got our free refills for our drinks, and I’m glad we did!
The top of the 8th inning went smoothly as there was only a 2-out single for the offense. The big story was Marco Estrada and his quest to make history. This is where I finally started filming what was happening in front of me. With David DeJesus at bat and a full count, Estrada was on the verge of allowing his first base-runner of the game….. then this happened.
This highlight made the rounds for days, and I still can’t believe it! To me, this was the play of the year for two reasons. One, Josh Donaldson dove head-first and feet-flying into the left field seats and actually caught the ball while two rows deep into the crowd. That takes extreme dedication. Two, Donaldson totally knew the importance of the situation and what was at stake. This out continued the streak and put Marco Estrada five outs away from history. Both of those reasons are why I consider this play the out of the year.
However, the very next play meant the end of the perfect game as Logan Forsythe beat out a tough throw from third base. That play went under review… and the call was upheld.
The fans: There were quite a few fans that were cheering for the Rays on that first hit, which I understand because it’s their home team… but it’s a perfect game going on! I’m the kind of fan that would rather watch history being made, so that irritated me a bit. However, there were a few fans that applauded Marco Estrada on his effort to pitch a perfecto. After the Rays picked up a double in the bottom of the 9th inning, Estrada got a huge ovation after giving up only 2 hits in 8 and 2/3 innings pitched. At least the majority of those Tampa fans appreciated a great outing, and a fun ride.
Sadly, the concession stands were closed. However, it was really good we had just refilled our souvenir drinks before they were closed. At this point, it became a battle of the bullpens, and a waiting game for this massive storm to pass by. Through the later innings and into extra innings, we could hear the thunder booming outside. One in particular was so loud and sounded so close that it even freaked out the players a little bit… but the crowd loved it and cheered loudly for that one.
We ended up getting free baseball in the Trop, and the bevy of relievers began. What started off as a quick game turned into a marathon. The 10th
inning passed and there was still no score. The Rays had a golden opportunity in the bottom of the 11th
inning as Evan Longoria was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs. DeJesus would ground out on the next at-bat, and we were headed to the 12th
inning. Finally, Chris Colabello socked a home run to deep left field for the Toronto Blue Jays, and that would prove to be the difference. The Blue Jays won 1-0 in 12 innings in a game that lasted over three and a half hours. The good thing about that long game? The storms had passed and I got to see the beaches there!
I know the dome shape is pretty odd, and some of the fans were a bit irritating. Yes, watching a game there is like watching a game inside of a warehouse store… but they try. The staff was pretty friendly, and their stingray tank was very unique. Aside from the tank, there isn’t anything else that makes the park stand out, especially in comparison to other stadiums. Is it the worst stadium I’ve ever visited? No, it really wasn’t. The hat prices were not bad at all as I only spent $25 on an MVP hat with the classic “TB” logo. It was perfect for me, and I loved it. Yes, the Rays could use a new ballpark, but it could be worse!
At least another ballpark is checked off, and I had a great time with my friend, Justin. I want to thank him for his gracious hospitality, and I’m glad I got to visit him again in south Florida. After checking out the beaches and a couple other sites, our day was done, and I was ready to get packing for my next destination. Once again, thank you all for reading! See you at the ballpark!