Sunday, March 17, 2013

Tropicana Dreamin'

As part of our visit to Spring Training our group got a tour of Tropicana last Thursday. That was the first time we’d ever seen that famous venue and we were very impressed with the facility.

First is the matter of scale. Driving past on the elevated highways (I-275, I-175, I-375) is somewhat deceptive. But once you step on the field, the immensity of the place is astonishing.

Tropicana Field, view from left field
The first photo was taken from just in front of the left field pole. Note the “cherry picker” truck off in the distance.

View from the press box back toward left field
Here’s the view from the press box, a very comfortable place to be during a game, I’d guess.

View from press box toward right field
Note the white bags down in front of the Rays’ dugout.

Those bags are full of dirt. That’s essentially the Tropicana infield. Rays management seems very proud of the fact that they use real dirt, imported from Mississippi, for the infield.

Astroturf, outfield/warning track boundary
This is a closeup of the playing surface. Didn’t go running around on it, so hard to tell how it really feels. You don’t hear many player gripes about the surface, at least I haven’t heard anyone. Visiting players do gripe a bit about the Trop, but mostly about the catwalks and about losing the ball against the dome. On the other hand, if you want to play baseball in the summer in Florida, I don’t see how you have any choice. I’d love to go to a game there some day.

* * * * *

Since every other baseball blogger in the world has offered an opinion about Tropicana Field, let’s provide our own. The Rays only average about 20,000 fans per game. They need/want that to get up to 25,000 or so per game and discussions about a new stadium have been floating since oh, about 1998, when the Devil Rays came to town.

While we were there we approached the Trop from just about every possible direction. We came down 75, split over to 275 and on into downtown Tampa, across the bay and on down 275. We came back from Lakeland using I-4 and connected with 275 in the middle of Tampa. We visited our old home in the Valrico/Brandon area and drove through Tampa on the Selmon Expressway to cross the bay on the Gandy. We saw a game down in Port Charlotte and came back to St. Pete over the Sunshine Skyway. None of these treks was made during rush hour.

Forget the actual mileage involved in getting from the east and the south, or even the fairly tough traffic: The psychological distance is simply overwhelming. Downtown St. Petersburg feels like it is on the other side of the moon. Furthermore, I don’t see how putting a stadium up near where I-275 touches down on the Pinellas side of the bay would change that perception. If I were still living in Brandon I think I’d have to plan to leave home about 5pm for a 7pm game, and I’d be lucky to get home by midnight. (Note: Google suggested a route from Brandon taking I-75 down the east side of Tampa Bay and back north along the Skyline bridge, 58 miles!)

Clever marketing would probably help get to that magic 25k. Nevertheless, I don’t think a new stadium would make much difference. And if they spend hundreds of millions on a new stadium, 25k won’t be enough fans to pay the mortgage.

I am sorry to write this because the Rays are a great baseball team and they deserved a great crowd each game. A new stadium? Would be fun. Don't see how it could make that much of a difference. I did like the Trop. Hope to see a game there some day. Rays need to figure out how to make it work even better.

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