Miami: baseball hell. I endured. I survived. I had been to the bottom; only better baseball days were ahead, I told myself as I set off for Tampa Bay. Not by bus, train, or plane. No; this time, I was driving. Well, I had to, if I wanted to make Tampa's matinee affair, across the fine state of Florida. And you know those lovely folks at Priceline I've mentioned time and time again? They've got you covered when it comes to rental cars, too. Bid your own price, like I did, and come away with four wheels for only $15 a day.
Because I was renting a car in Miami, and dropping it off in Tampa Bay, I had to grab my ride from Miami International Airport. And because SuperShuttle couldn't guarantee arrival at the airport before 8:30 a.m., I had no choice but to take a taxi. Which meant: billions!
My faith in the baseball Gods slightly shaken thanks to brutal Sun Life Stadium, I wondered what the next day would bring. And it got off to a great start. My taxi driver, right on time at 6:30 in the morning, was an older Indian gentlemen. We got to talking on our way, in Hindi no less, and even had Cuban coffee at a gas station. We exchanged life stories; about our families, and about our trips to the subcontinent. In the end, after I told Taxi Uncle (we Indian folk call all elders "Uncle") about my baseball road trip, about how I was on my grind, trying to open doors with my writing, he charged me only $30, instead of the $45 displayed on the metre. He even refused the tip I offered. "We have to stick together, our people," he said.
That wasn't the end of Taxi Uncle's hospitality. After asking him how to get to the highway from the Avis rental car office, he told he'd wait for me to grab my car, and then escort me to I-75, which would take me west across Florida, and north to Tampa Bay. And that's exactly what he did, waiting 15 minutes while I waited for my Toyota Corolla.
Thank you, Taxi Uncle. May many others have the pleasure to ride with you.
St. Petersburg Rays
It took about four and a half hours to get from Miami to St. Petersburg. While they are the Tampa Bay Rays, they don't actually play in Tampa. Who knew? Certainly not me. The drive, while uneventful, was a welcome change of pace, and the stretch leading to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, heading into St. Petersburg, was rather incredible. I was driving on water, with the "flag bridge" of Florida waiting ahead in the distance.
While I'd love to tell you how to get to Tropicana Field using public transportation, I can't. But I'm quite certain that you don't need the information, because if you're ever checking out the Rays, I think you'll be driving to the ballpark, too. I found a $5 parking spot in an unofficial lot, only a 10-minute walk away from the stadium. If you're in the tailgating business, official Tropicana Field parking lots charge between $10 and $25, depending on the game you're attending.
As much as I dump all over the SkyDome, and as much as I encourage, love, and pine for outdoor baseball, I'm a dome apologist. The SkyDome is home. And there's no place like home. I will defend the SkyDome, "the concrete coffin" as it was dubbed in an e-mail from baseball stranger Jay, until the end of time. Because, after having attended last year's World Baseball Classic matchup between Canada and the U.S. at the SkyDome, and A.J. Burnett's return to Toronto as a member of the hated New York Yankees, I know from experience that the Rogers Centre, our dome, our SkyDome, can once again be a fantastic, and raucous, place to watch baseball.
So, that being said, I was looking forward to Tropicana Field. I was looking forward to being back in familiar surroundings. You know, domed surroundings. Now that the Minnesota Twins have bid the Metrodome farewell, the Trop is the only non-retractable domed stadium in Major League Baseball. She stands alone. And you can't miss her, driving into St. Petersburg, what with her slanted white lid. While I've read that it was designed in such a way to reduce cooling costs, and serve as hurricane protection, all I know is that it adds character. It's gangster, in a way; the way we, myself and my brethren from north Scarborough, wear our baseball caps (with curved brims, of course).
Rays fans were braving the midday Tuesday heat upon my arrival. With ample parking surrounding the stadium, tailgating is definitely part of the Rays experience, so dress accordingly. Me, I was the only idiot in jeans. If tailgating isn't your cup of beer, and you're looking for a place to hang out before or after the game, I'll be honest, I can't really help you. But I was told by a few Rays fans that there isn't much in the surrounding area, and that downtown St. Petersburg, east of the stadium, is your best bet. Remember: dinner is served at 4:30 p.m.