Friday, June 12, 2009

Justin's Review: Tropicana Field

Ballpark Design: One of the biggest surprises I have had yet on this trip is discovering how well designed most of Tropicana Field is. Certainly the problems that you would assume exist are there - the artificial turf looks horrible, the open concourses that we love to talk about don't exist, and the multipurpose design of the stadium leaves many seats a bit far from the action. Despite these issues, the stadium is actually unique, modern, and fun. The concourses are very wide, and the concrete bareness of the walls is, in some parts, disguised by a brick wall design, giving a much more friendly feel. There is also no shortage of stuff to do or see before the game - there are all kinds of baseball related games located in the outfield concourse, TVs throughout the place showing out of town games, and, coolest of all, a Rays touching pool located above the outfield wall where you can touch and feed real Manta Rays. There was also a nice restaurant/bar, located in the batters eyes in center field, which looked great, and didn't sound particularly expensive when compared to similar things at other stadiums. Most notably, it was open to everybody: unlike at most stadiums, you didn't need a special ticket to access it! In general, the number of different areas where you could stand and watch the game from was impressive. I also really liked that the ramps to the upper levels are outside of the stadium, allowing you to get a breathe of fresh (and hot) Florida air. The actual seating and playing area was less impressive - the awe of being inside such a large dome wears off quickly, and it starts just seeming weird that baseball is being played inside. Our seats didn't help my impression of the playing field - while we had a great view, we were in the very back of the lower level, under a very low overhang, and it felt a bit cramped. Overall, my impression was that the Trop is great as an attraction in and of itself, but not the best place in the world to watch a ball game. B

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The Rays had a main video board out in left field, with a matrix board in straightaway center. The video board, along with the two smaller screens next to it, gives the lineups and stats for both the pitcher and batter. The matrix board has the linescore, pitch speed, and official scoring decisions, among other things. For the most part, the information was clear and easy to find, if a little scattered. The out of town scoreboard only showed 2 games out of time, although not being able to always see the score of the Yankees game turned out to be a very good thing. B+

Food/Drink: Probably the most impressive feature of the stadium. The offerings throughout the concourses were tasty and varied - with stands selling much more than just the traditional ballpark food, as well as special things like an Outback Steakhouse stand and several branches of local chains, not to mention the open to the public batters eye restaurant. Certainly the best food options we've seen yet, outside of perhaps Citi Field. A

Fans: The announced crowd size of 16,000 wasn't particularly impressive, and, unlike at Land Shark Stadium, the fans that were there didn't much make up the empty seats. While they cheered and stood up at the right places - such as when the Rays loaded the bases down by two in the seventh - they seemed quiet and apathetic through most of the relatively exciting game. In the eighth inning, when they were only down by one, we were the only ones in the whole stadium you could hear clapping when the Angels pitcher couldn't find the strike zone. Maybe I could have excused this before last year, but now that they've won a pennant, empty quiet stadiums are just pathetic. D

City/Stadium Neighborhood: We spent the afternoon before the game walking around St. Petersburg, the city in which Tropicana Field is located. While downtown St. Pete is beautiful, it was a little bit too quiet, even for a Tuesday afternoon. The downtown was relatively small, making it easy to walk around, but even the few streets with open shops were nearly empty, in an almost eery way. We also walked down to The Pier, a shopping/eating/drinking area located in an upside down pyramid at the end of a long pier in downtown. It was a very pretty place to sit and have a drink, with beautiful views of Tampa Bay. All in all, St. Pete seemed like a pleasant city, if a bit small. While Tropicana Field didn't seemed to be located immediately next to anything particularly interesting, it is a relatively short walk away from downtown. With ample parking lots around the field and downtown so close, it's at a pretty good place to best serve both city residents and those driving in from Tampa or the suburbs. City: B-; Stadium Neighborhood: B.

Game: Still not a lot of offense, but one of the better games we've seen. The Angels got ahead 3-0 by the 5th inning, before the Rays cut the lead to 3-2 in the 6th. The most exciting inning was the bottom of the seventh, despite no runs being scored - down by 2, the Rays got the bases loaded with one out for Carlos Pena, before he lined into a double play at first base. Down by one in the ninth, the Rays put together a small rally before Carl Crawford hit into a rare double play to give the Angels the 4-3 win. B+

Overall Experience: My overall opinion of the Trop is mixed - on one hand, it's definitely a fun place to visit, and taken as a whole, the experience is one of the better ones we've had. But the actual baseball game, which the ballpark is meant for, was lacking due to the stadium design and the fans. C+

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