Major League Baseball Park #20 out of 39
Tuesday, August 26, 1998
Minnesota Twins 7, Tampa Bay 3
W– Bob Tewksbury
L – Tony Saunders
Attendance – 23,059
Tropicana Field began its existence as the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1990. The NHL Tampa Bay Lightning moved in and the building was renamed "The Thunderdome" until 1996. The Devil Rays didn't become a team until the 1998 season. For the better part of eight years, several other baseball franchises used the stadium, its geography, and thousands of baseball-after-spring-training-starved fans to get more money and/or a new stadium from their civic leaders. In 1989, the city of Chicago signed an 11th-hour deal to keep the White Sox from moving to Florida. In 1992, the San Francisco Giants did the same thing. The Seattle Mariners were widely rumored to be headed to Tampa in 1992 because then-owner Jeff Smulyan couldn't get much financial cooperation from local businesses or local government. Finally, in March of 1995, Major League Baseball (apparently, because no other franchises could hold anyone hostage) granted Tampa Bay a franchise -- so they could play their games down the road in St. Petersburg.
While the Arizona Diamondbacks (the other 1998 expansion team) decided to build with veterans and a high payroll, the Devil Rays went the minor-leaguers-and-veteran-castoff route. The Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in the 2001 World Series and the Devil Rays finished out of last place for the first time ever just last season. Now, I'm not saying the D-Rays did anything wrong. Arizona is tens of millions of dollars in debt, a lot of the players from their title team are gone, and Phoenix-area fans are already jaded enough (attendance ranked 15th out of 30 in 2004) to hang back and wait for another contending team. In a division with the Giants, Dodgers, and a Padres team ahead of the D-Backs on the road to contention, it looks as if they'll be waiting for quite a while.
Getting back to Tropicana Field, though, it's strange that a place as sunny as St. Petersburg would need a domed stadium (MLB had told them they'd get an existing team faster if they didn't) but "Florida's Sunshine City" does average 10 more inches of rain per year than Seattle. The park also appeared to be in a largely residential area that could use a lot more attention. They still managed to find enough room to create 7,000 parking spots, though, and that's been a lot more than they've needed.
I was very impressed with their main concourse area. Large video screen to watch the game while you're walking/standing around underneath the home-plate stands. High ceilings. Escalators. Light-colored interior for the main concession area. There's also a restaurant behind the center-field bleachers. They've also replaced their AstroTurf with FieldTurf.
The rest of the stadium, however, is something that has to be seen in person to be properly understood. The roof isn't symmetrical and it made me wonder if the builders ran out of money or something. There are three levels of catwalks in concentric circles around the inside of the roof. Some areas of the catwalks are in play and some aren't.
We left Fort Lauderdale -- and eastern Florida -- on Tuesday and drove west through the Everglades, stopping for lunch in Naples. On our way over, one thunderstorm followed us from Miami and another one appeared to be heading our direction from the Gulf of Mexico. By the time we arrived at Long John Silver's, it was raining hard enough that we were drenched just running 20 feet from the car to the restaurant. Our waitress told us that this kind of thing happened every afternoon during the summer and my wife and I seriously considered moving to Naples -- because thunderstorms just don't occur very often in the Puget Sound area.
When we finished with our lunch, we chased the storm north up the coast until it headed off into the Gulf. A few hours later, we drove across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (which, because it's the largest cable suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere -- was absolutely amazing) and arrived in the St. Petersburg-Tampa area.
Five months into their inaugural season and the D-Rays managed only 23,000 fans (of course, it was a Tuesday night and the opponent was the Twins who were smack-dab in the middle of a decade-long contention drought), so I believe we had fairly good seats. There wasn't anything particularly memorable about the game itself, but we had other things to do. Like I'd mentioned on other pages, we were on our honeymoon during this trip to Florida and we'd already received a few newlywed perks (free champagne on the plane, patio seats on the dugout for the AA game we saw in Orlando). One of us had the idea of trying to get a game-used baseball so I drew up a sign that read "On Honeymoon From Seattle. Can You Throw Us A Ball?" Between innings, Dawn stood up and faced the Devil Rays' bullpen, holding that sign. A few of the other folks sitting behind the bullpen (and off to our right) saw the sign and waved and smiled at her. Finally, some time in the 7th or 8th inning, then-bullpen coach Orlando Gomez was trying to throw a ball to the folks who had seen our sign and they pointed to it. Orlando then turned, saw the sign and threw the ball to Dawn.
Orlando Gomez was the bullpen coach for the Mariners for a few seasons, but the ball -- like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark -- has been buried in our storage area so we haven't been able to get him to sign it.
There are pictures of these events, but they're not digital, so I need to scan them to get them up here.
I do hope the Devil Rays do something good soon. Lou Piniella managed the team for several seasons and he was great for the Mariners. Plus, the Florida Marlins have two World Series titles and they've only been around five more years, so it really doesn't seem fair.
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