August 22, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays 6, Toronto Blue Jays 5
August 23, 2017
Toronto Blue Jays 7 Tampa Bay Rays 6
We'd been warned about Major League baseball in Tampa Bay. We'd read about it. We'd seen pictures of Tropicana Field. And I talked to a couple of people who had been to St. Petersburg to see the Rays, who are the newest team in the big leagues playing in one of the worst pro parks in America.
These stories and pictures and what-nots on this blog site are documentation of my wife Penny's and my journeys to Major League ballparks across the country. Tampa Bay was trip No. 21 out of a potential 30 - even though Penny says we have to go back to Atlanta, because the Braves have left Turner Field. So does Atlanta count? I vote yes.
Sadly, with life and work getting in the way, we haven't had much time to travel during the past year. We caught three parks last year; one this year. Our odyssey is now in year six (I think), and we still have nine more stops to make. They've all been good; some better than others.
One of the rewarding things for me has been the connection to baseball that Penny is making - I mean, she's the one with the scorebook every game, even tallying the balls and strikes - as well as the re-connection that I - a sportswriter in a past life- am experiencing.
Tampa Bay is one trip we've talked about. It almost felt as if we were getting this one out of the way before we hit more traditional, historic and/or just plain well-known places that remain to be seen: Dodger Stadium, for example, or the New York parks. ... But to get to 30 you've got to check Tampa Bay off the list. So off we went.
I have a work friend from the Sebring, Florida, area, an hour and a half from St. Pete. He offered a curious, but accurate, analysis of going to a Tampa Bay Rays game.
He said, "Well, it's ... it's ... actually kind of interesting. It's not as bad as some people say. One of the good things is that the Rays don't draw big crowds. You can always get good seats. And it's inside, so you don't have to worry about the heat."
All of those things were true. In fact, in retrospect, it was kind of quirky and fun. ... What's not to
|It's not an optical illusion. The roof is slanted, apparently|
in deference to preserving cool air.
Seriously, D.J. Kitty spins tunes. His first video went viral. Almost a million people saw it within a week. ... The Rays drew 11,000 a night during the two games we attended. Interesting doing the math on that.
Check out the kitty: D.J. Kitty on the scene
In fact, we saw two close, event-filled, one-run-victory games between the Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays - and the loudest crowd-noise moments during our evenings at Tropicana Field happened when: (a) the Blue Jays scored, prompting rowdiness from the 300 or so (apparent) Canadians that dotted third base-line seats; or (b) D.J. Kitty made his sixth-inning nightly appearance.
Speaking of quirky, allow me to mention an oddity about Tropicana Field. Penny talks about this in her entry, too, but there is a museum behind centerfield that has some interesting, but unusual exhibits. Since there's not enough Tampa Bay Rays history to house a museum, the Rays have broadened the scope. The bell cow of the Tampa Bay museum is the Ted Williams "wing."
If you're a baseball historian, your first thought is: Ted Williams - considered by many the greatest pure hitter of all time - was born in San Diego and spent his entire career in Boston. The connection to Tampa and St. Pete, we found, is that he liked Florida and once caught a big fish in the Gulf of Mexico near the St. Petersburg-to-Clearwater coastline.
The museum's historian told Penny: "Ted Williams really, really liked Florida." To the historian's credit, Williams was living in Inverness, Florida, in 2002 when he passed away.
Two members of T.L. Hanna's athletic hall of fame are Jim Ed Rice (as we knew him then) and Radio, of Hollywood movie fame.
Before quickly discussing the two games Penny and I saw, let me offer a two-day visitors' version of St. Petersburg.
If fact, my first thought was that Central Avenue in St. Petersburg wasn't all that different than Capital Street in Charleston, West Virginia, the state in which we reside. Only Capital Street has more bars, seems busier and has more people meandering about. St. Pete had a smaller-city feel, in other words. Not that that's a bad thing.
Of course, Charleston, West Virginia, doesn't have beaches, theme parks and a major city, Tampa, right up the road. So there's that. But St. Pete and the beaches we cruised were pleasantly not overcrowded. That was kind of cool.
It being August in Florida, however, the weather was scorching, which might account for the lack of bustle. Perhaps Gulf Coast Floridians are smart enough to stay indoors.
|Penny and I pose, 10 minutes prior to the first pitch ...|
Did I mention that the announced crowd of 11,000 seemed
a rather generous assessment?
The first night we were in St. Pete, the Rays won 6-5. The second night the Blue Jays won 7-6. Two excellent games that came down to the final at-bat.
Our Game 2 was an odd affair that included nine home runs, six by the Blue Jays. And they weren't exactly the just-over-the-fence variety. These were titanic shots.
|This makes me proud.|
Penny's observation, I had to admit, was astute. I, who have seen lots of baseball games (and played in a few) in stadiums with playing fields ranging in size from the 180-foot fences at Embler Field little league field in Anderson, South Carolina, to the 420-foot centerfield fences at Fenway and Comerica parks. (By the way, I never played at Fenway or Comerica - just Embler.) When Penny said the outfield fences look short, I said, "You're right, these home runs are making the place look small."
So I jumped on the Worldwide Interweb and checked the stats, only to discover that Tropicana Field is not considered a hitter's paradise. In fact, it's not ranked in the Top 10 in terms of homers given up.
But I swear, from our seats behind the third-base dugout, when Kevin Pillar hit a solo shot in the eighth inning to give the Blue Jays the 7-6 win, the ball looked like it was shot from a howitzer.
Oh, one other thing. During much of the 7-6 game, a torrential downpour with a lot of thunder and lightening were hammering St. Pete. We were indoors, and the temperature was 72 degrees.