I'll be brief: a large will cost you $8, a small $5, and I searched for a microbrew in vain. If you're in St. Petersburg on a Friday with nothing to do, head to the ballpark, because it's $4 Dos Equis night. Sure, it's not the greatest beer, but I won't lie, it's a promotion that would get me to the ballpark on a Friday night more often than not. And if Dos Equis is good enough for the Most Interesting Man in the World, it's good enough for me.
The View From My Seats
I sat all over the place at Tropicana Field. I started in the upper deck, 3rd base side, in foul territory. From there, I sauntered over to the Tampa Bay Times Party Deck in left field, where I spent a couple of innings in the bleachers. Then: right field. I was close to the roof, the white roof, which I quickly grew fond of. Thanks to the white lid, The Trop doesn't seem as dark as the SkyDome, when it's closed. And while everyone complains about the catwalks, they didn't bother me. (That's my "Hey, I don't live here, so it doesn't bother me," attitude.)
By the 6th inning, I'd found a seat in the lower bowl, in right field. And while the upper bowl was hardly full, there was a solid contingent of Rays fans downstairs, enjoying getaway day. All in all: no complaints when it comes to sightlines. And while I thought The Trop's turf looked old and worn-down, the ballpark's got all-dirt basepaths, something the SkyDome desperately needs; I'm not a fan of the dirt cutouts. Oh, the perils of our multi-purpose SkyDome.
The cowbell is -- let's not kid ourselves -- a cheap gimmick. Everyone's got one, and they can be pretty damn annoying. Before I visited the Rays, I hated the cowbell. But I left Tropicana Field a changed man. I believe in "More Cowbell!" I'm easily satisfied, and want such a gimmick in Toronto.
Did you know Tampa's cowbell obsession was inspired by a Saturday Night Live sketch? I didn't, until I asked a Rays fan how the hell the tradition began. He told me to Google the famous skit, featuring Christopher Walken, and said that during the 2008 playoffs, the thousands of cowbells made The Trop almost deafening.
The Trop looks a little strange from the outside, and is a little bland on the inside, but she's home. Unfortunately, not for much longer. And that's not surprising, to me at least, when taking into account the ballparks I've visited on my journey. The Rays are actively looking for a new ballpark, and recent developments have the organization saying they want out of St. Petersburg; that it's not viable for the Rays to play in the city any longer.
While the Rays have enjoyed success on the field the last two and a half years, it hasn't translated into more bums in the seats. Even in their magical 2008 season, the Rays finished 26th in attendance, averaging only 22,259 fans a game. In 2009, they averaged 23,147, good for 23rd in baseball. This season, with Tampa off to an incredible start, and known as one of baseball's best teams, and employing a certifiable star in Evan Longoria at third base, they still rank 24th in attendance, averaging only 21,963 fans a game. Attendance is down, believe it or not. And it shouldn't be. Shame on you, St. Petersburg. And you too, Tampa.
Money is, and always will be an issue for the Rays. They're a small market team, spending only $70 million and change on payroll. Carl Crawford, their all-star left fielder and all-world leadoff hitter, and Blue Jays killer to boot, will be a free agent this winter. And he's as good as gone. Sarah Palin has a better chance at the White House than Crawford has of staying in Tampa. And that's unfortunate, because the Rays were a terrible baseball team for a long, long, long time, and if they can't afford to keep their own talent, they might have to do business the way their Florida counterparts in Miami do.
Obviously, Florida is a baseball state. I've no doubt the Rays want to stay in the area, and can succeed in the area, but I can't blame them for thinking about leaving St. Petersburg. A stadium in downtown Tampa would make more sense. Although, back in 2008, pictures of a proposed open-air ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg took my breath away.
The future of baseball in Tampa is in a state of flux. But I'll always look fondly back to my visit to Tropicana Field. In another life, that dome would have been home.