Monday, August 6, 2007

Game #10: Beyond Thunderdome

Ah…. Central Florida. Home of sun-seeking and retired New Yorkers and New Englanders. More on that later. And home of heat, humidity, mosquitos, and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Before Tampa Bay had a team, this was the holy grail of team-relocation destinations, with the Giants, White Sox, and Mariners all threatening to head there. Now that the D-Rays are actually there, and drawing tiny crowds game after game, the man behind the curtain’s been revealed. Perhaps it’s the city, perhaps it’s the park, or perhaps it’s because the team has been truly putrid for its entire existence. However you slice it, this was probably my least-anticipated park on the tour, though as with RFK, it was not as bad as I’d feared.

My first impression of Tropicana field was to see the most astonishing two words I’ve ever seen at a sporting facility. I still have trouble repeating this. Take a look to the right:

While forewarned, I was definitely struck by how much the concourses felt like a shopping mall, and completely distanced from the park itself. Amazingly enough, that was even more true than in the old Hartford Civic Center – you know, the one that actually IS in a mall.

The other great pre-game feature was to provide the evening’s weather forecast – I LOVED this. The irony of running a big screen weather forecast in a domed stadium was beautiful.

The crowd was predictably tiny. Still, this meant I was able to buy a fairly cheap ticket at $17, and easily upgrade to a $55 seat, as seen below. The ushers seemed to realize the folly of trying to keep people in their sections, and really didn’t seem to care about anything.

In a lot of ways, the Devil Rays experience was a lot like heading to Florida for a spring training game. You get to get right up to the field, see teams consisting of some major leaguers and a bunch of minor leaguers, and it doesn’t put you back that much money. All-in-all, not bad.

To be fair, I was far more impressed with Tropicana Field than I’d expected to be. Inside the park bowl itself, it really does look almost more like a true ballpark with a dome around it, rather than a domed stadium with baseball being played inside, if that makes any sense. The seats are all arranged for baseball, the atmosphere’s kind of right, and the dome starts to fade into additional-feature status. And, with some of the torrential Florida rain I experienced on my drive down today, I can definitely understand the need for a serious roof.

Here’s a picture of the stuff they’re playing on. Being a permanent dome, the prospect of real grass appears to be unfeasible, but they’ve been able to work with a fake plastic grass that seems far more fitting than the green carpet found in Toronto and Minnesota. Not bad, really.

I was very impressed with outfielders’ ability to keep track of the ball in the roof. Every time the ball went up in the air, I’d completely lose it against the white backdrop. Too crazy. Also fantastic about the roof is the fact that it can be in play, so much so that there are foul-line poles built right into the catwalks. Great stuff.

I did get a bit of whiplash watching these two teams play. For the second time in 2 weeks, I was privy to the intense drama of an Orioles-Devil Rays matchup. Err… yeah. In retrospect, I wonder what impact the dull teams this had on my impression of Camden Yards last week. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to that Cubs-Cards match-up far more than these two bottom-feeder games. The O’s won, thanks to the Rays’ inability to put more than a single run on the board.

The fans seemed truly peeved at former Ray Aubrey Huff, booing him every time he came to the plate. While I can understand and appreciate booing players who leave teams on bad terms, or follow free agent money elsewhere without showing respect to their old team, Huff was traded away. This, I don’t understand. Regardless, the treatment seemed to spur him on, as he had a great game and a great series. Not a great ploy, D-Ray fans.

Finally, in the spirit of Bostonians retiring to South Florida, the top historic D-Ray star appears to have been Wade Boggs, who played out the string down here, with a concourse display, a retired number, and a yellow seat in the outfield commemorating where his 3000th hit, a home run, left the yard. And, in order to make the New Yorkers feel at home, the following mural gives the impression of having just come off a NY subway. Very Florida.

Ok… off to South Florida next.


Ian said...

I wonder how much of the excitement for getting teams in Florida (or Arizona, for that matter) consisted of bad extrapolation from spring training crowds. Famous last words: "Look, we got 2000 people to show up to a municipal field and watch pre-season ball! Think how many people we could get with a real stadium..." Thoughts?

Alta Vista said...

Perhaps people in Florida are so busy enjoying the nice weather they do not have time for sports?

The bad extrapolation in attracting sport teams to Florida might also apply to ice hockey...

We were at a Panthers game in South Florida last December that was sold out. I was ready to believe it was the norm until we were reminded that the visiting team was the Montreal Canadiens and 50 percent of the fans in the arena were snowbirds from Quebec. (This was easily verified by the licence plates in the free parking lot.) Normal crowds are apparently similar to the Thunderdome for baseball i.e. much more sparse.