Baseball and The Open Road (Part 3)


I woke up at a hotel yesterday on the north side of Tampa just down the road from Busch Gardens and hustled my brother out of bed at the hour of 0800.  We were waiting in line for the parking lot to open at Busch Gardens by 0830 and when the park officially opened at 9 we were standing at the gate waiting to begin our roller-coaster adventure. Over the course of the next 4 hours we made 13 trips down 7 different coasters.  The humid morning kept the crowds away and we were able to breeze through lines waiting only when we wanted to get a front or last row ride.  By lunchtime we were ready for a break.

We left Bush Gardens and headed to Holy Hog’s BBQ for some GREAT BBQ action, easily the best BBQ I’ve had since I moved to Florida in April of 2009.  A quick stop at Sand Key Beach for some sunshine and a dip in the Gulf of Mexico and both of us were ready to head over to Tropicana Field for some baseball.

A good friend of mine recommended we park across the interstate from the park to alleviate post-game traffic issues, and for $15 we were able to park just across from the stadium at an easy in, easy out location, and a short walk later we found ourselves standing before the dome at Tropicana Field. As a Twins fan, memories of baseball at the Metrodome came flooding in.  As usual, I was sporting some @DiamondCentric Twins gear, I decided to get things Perk-o-lating in Tampa.

We entered the stadium near home-plate, however, you’d never know as none of the field is visible from the walkways and vending areas around the stadium.  The team store was nice, and the restrooms and eateries were well spaced around the stadium, but as soon as you left your seats, you were cut off from the world, walking around the stadium was strikingly similar to walking around a mall on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The beer selection at the Trop was decent, premium beers went for $10, $9 for domestic and at the food vendors you could get a “regular” beer for $5, or a large for $9.  I had an IPA from the Brewery located somewhere around centerfield and was pleasantly surprised by the hoppy goodness.

Our tickets were marked Section 149, Row T, Seats 5-7.  Row T sounds like it would put us 20 rows up from the front, but a strange numbering/lettering system at the Trop meant that our Row T seats were FRONT row in Left Centerfield.  Great seats, aside from all of the screaming Yankee fans who made up the majority of our section, and throughout the stadium.  My friend Scott confirmed that the out of town fan problem I had grown accustomed to in Miami was not just a Miami thing, the issue extended statewide.  The large number of transplants living in Florida, coupled with the relative newness of most Florida sports franchises (with exception to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) means that sports allegiances were well established before the people, or the teams came to Florida and that the visiting team would enjoy decent fan support on any given night.

The seats gave us a good view of a great game, the Rays were victorious over the Yankees by a score of 4-3. The game was back and forth, and was decided on a Mark Teixeira error in the bottom of the 8th that allowed the Rays to take the lead for good after the Yankees had gained the upper-hand in the top half of the inning.  Anytime the Yankees lose, my heart leaps for joy, and tonight was no exception.  The Rays victory was due in large part to solo shots from B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena, coupled with 7 strong innings from Matt Moore (who continues to struggle with walks this season).

I had a hot dog and was a little disappointed.  The hot dog was quite plain, and although I added some mustard and a couple packets of relish and onions, the hot dog from the Marlins game was far superior, in practically every way, and that seemed the by the theme for the day except the Trop did have one item that was suspiciously missing in Miami, the Cuban Sandwich!

Tropicana Field is filled with many things that seem to be trying to make up for the less than pleasing aesthetics of the stadium.  Nestled all around the stadium are fun fan activities and little stores.  You can get your photo taken for your very own baseball card, test your arm speed, pet rays at the fish tank in Right Center or stop and get some Rays gear at just about every turn.  Bathrooms seemed to be plentiful, and you were never more than a few paces from somewhere to get some food and a beer. As a Twins fan growing up with the Metrodome as my baseline for what a baseball stadium is, or is not, it’s hard for me to classify anywhere as a dump.  I remember going to the Oakland Coliseum in 2007 and being impressed with the place, so I’m not going to dump on the Trop.  Tropicana is definitely not a great place to catch a game, and when I asked around Twitter for must see things to do at the stadium the best response I got was “the exit.” However, as my friend @MaxwellPirate observed it’s “such a decrepitly adorable stadium.”  Miami’s ballpark is definitely the standard for ballparks in Florida, and if Tampa Bay can get out of their lease it would do them well to take notes from their neighbors to the south.

Next stop: Turner Field in Atlanta to watch the Braves take on Cubs.

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