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Forever The Devil Rays

I'm going to be straight with you: I'm not fond of the Tampa Bay Rays. And that's not their fault. Really, it's got nothing to do with them, and more to do with Toronto's Blue Jays haters. Because it's become fashionable for those folks -- usually Toronto Maple Leafs fans, I must admit -- to come at me with: "Well, the Rays did it [in 2008] so Jays fans need to stop complaining." By "it," the haters mean qualify for the World Series, of course. Because, heading into 2008, we all knew the Tampa Bay Rays, a franchise that had never in their history won more than 70 games in a season, were going to win 95 games, and the AL East, on the backs of a starting rotation consisting of: 26-year-old James Shields, 25-year-old Andy Sonnanstine, and 24-year-olds Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, and Scott Kazmir. Who didn't see that coming?

The 2008 Rays; they were in my thoughts as I paid for my $13 upper deck, outfield ticket. And after checking out the day's starting lineups, posted on the wall of The Trop next to the box office (a nice touch), I headed inside the ballpark, and its air-conditioned confines.

My first order of business: the Rays Tank; Tropicana Field's main attraction in centre field, where you can fulfill your life-long dream of touching actual, live Cownose Rays. I didn't touch them, though. I watched. In fact, I stared at those rays, swimming around their little tank, and -- again, I'll be honest -- wished ill upon the baseball team named in their honour. I cursed the Rays, and their winning ways; cursed them for making the American League East an even tougher division for the Blue Jays to play in, and win. I liked the Tampa Bay Devil Rays much better when they were a given to finish at the bottom of the standings.

I know what you're thinking: that's rather petty of me. I agree. I admit it. And, running with that theme, I've certainly enjoyed Tampa's recent nosedive in the standings, and their recent infighting. I like to think recent events have everything to do with my visit to The Trop, and my conversation with those Cownose Rays. I shared with them my hopes and dreams that the Rays would return to their rightful place in the division. You know: last, or second-last, place; the good old days. When Tampa would duke it out, year after year, with the Baltimore Orioles. Baltimore is lonely, Tampa Bay. Very lonely.

She's Got Soul

For some reason, I always imagined Tropicana Field to be a soulless baseball stadium. That's the way she comes across on television. So, with my expectations all but on the floor, I couldn't help but be impressed by St. Petersburg's dome.

The main concourse is spacious, with benches and tables to eat between the concessions stands and sections. And it's colourful: the floor painted blue; the walls yellow, and green. In the Left Field Street area, the walls are painted to resemble brick, and that made me think: "They're trying. They're trying to get that old-school baseball vibe into the building." It's a bit on the tacky side, sure, but I appreciated the effort.

I stopped at the Center Field Street Brewhouse for a beer before the game. Located in the main concourse, in -- obviously -- centre field, it's the spot for a pre-game beverage or meal. Standard pub fare is available and while microbrews unfortunately are not, you'll live. I grabbed a 16 oz. of Presidente, the Dominican Republic's finest, for $9.

What else? Oh, yes, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, also on Center Field Street. I was a little curious as to why a Ted Williams Museum would be in The Trop and, after some research, learned that the original museum went bankrupt back in 2006. So: props to the Tampa Bay organization for stepping up and adopting the museum, and giving it a new home.

It's rather substantial, and celebrates the incredible career of Williams, including his military service to his country, and many other baseball legends. You'll find displays for all the greats: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, and George Brett, to name a few. Toronto icon Roberto Alomar's got his own display, too, and I spent a few minutes by it, reminiscing. See you in Cooperstown next summer, Robbie.

The Tampa organization is still relatively young, born in 1998, and the decision to bring the museum to The Trop was a fantastic one, because there's nothing like a little baseball history to spruce up the place. Admission is free.

There's more: do you enjoy a good cigar? Tropicana Field is your spot. Stop by the Cuesta-Rey Bar, where you can puff on a cigar, and watch the game on television from a most-comfortable leather seat. A couple of innings in there, and your face will look like a used catcher's mitt.

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