The Tampa Bay Rays play in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field. This domed stadium was built long before Tampa Bay was awarded a Major League Baseball franchise in the late 1990s. They first built the dome which was originally called the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1990 in hopes of luring the San Francisco Giants to the Bay Area of Florida. The Giants used that leverage to get their current stadium built.
Graphic via tbdem.blogspot
Next up was the Chicago White Sox who did the same thing to get a new ballpark. Finally, Tampa Bay was awarded the Devil Rays who began play in 1998. Before this the Dome was the one time home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning before their current arena was built in Tampa and also the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League. Now Tropicana Field is the home of the Tampa Bay Rays and also hosts the annual college football postseason bowl game which has been known as the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in recent years.
Tropicana Field gets a lot of flack which is somewhat fair, but not entirely. The building is a bit out of date as many MLB franchises have been sparkling new ballparks since the Trop was built. It is the equivalent to the Kingdome, the former home of the Seattle Mariners or the Metrodome, the former home to the Minnesota Twins. Both of those have been replaced by modern ballparks, so the Trop is standing out there alone now.
While the city of Tampa is a huge metropolitan area, across the bay in St. Pete it is more like a quiet little beach resort. To have a Major League Baseball team in St. Pete is a lot like having one in Key Largo. It is just too small there and too hard to get to.
So, with baseball economics what they are, the Trop is not going to be around for too many more seasons. Either the Rays will get a new stadium built, most likely in Tampa, but definitely on the mainland side of the bay or they will move to a new city entirely or possibly even a new country. Montreal wants to get back into the Majors and the Rays might be a nice target for them.
Tropicana Field is not the arm pit that most pundits make it out to be. Yes there are the catwalks that are in play, but those come into play so infrequently they aren’t really worth mentioning.
What Tropicana Field is though, is comfortable. If you are willing to leave enough to beat the traffic across the bay, and drive all the way to St. Pete for the game, it is a trip well worth making.
Tropicana Field is not going to “Wow” anyone with its aesthetics. But once inside, it really is a pretty cool place to watch a game. If you get there early, you can go out to centerfield and let the kids pet live stingrays. How cool is that?
There is a Ted Williams Museum on the concourse level that is a must see for anyone, baseball fan or not. There is memorabilia, not only from Ted’s amazing career but it is a “Hall of Fame” of sorts for hitters. There are bats, gloves, newspaper clippings and other cool stuff from Williams and many other great players such as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Aaron, Mays and others. Plus, there is plenty of WWII memorabilia as well because Williams was also a fighter pilot in the Big One. That alone is worth the price of admission.
But there is also a big league ball game to watch. And you get to watch the ball game in air-conditioning instead of the sweltering heat of the Florida summer. If you are a baseball fan who lives three hours away, it is very nice to know that rain or shine the game will still get played. With as many rainouts as there are in the minor league games all over the stat every summer, that is huge.
The Tropicana Field staff allows fans to bring in their own food. Now how can you beat that? As long as you don’t try to bring in glass containers, you can bring in whatever you want. We normally bring in foot long subs and chips. You can purchase a huge soda in a souvenir cup before the game starts and get free refills all game long.
Weeknight game tickets are so affordable, they are like paying for a minor league game. Tampa Bay Rays tickets on popular ticket exchange websites can sometimes be as low as $10.00.
So while Tropicana Field is not like going to a sparkling new park like Citi Field or AT&T and it doesn’t have the charm of a Wrigley field or Fenway Park, it is not the dump it is made out to be by the media.
Graphic via wikipedia