With the Red Sox in St. Petersburg this week for a quick two-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays, The 300s will take a look at the bastard ballpark of baseball, Tropicana Field.
Though it opened in 1990, there are only seven ballparks left in Major League Baseball that are older than Tropicana Field. It’s one of only three “multipurpose” stadiums still in use and one of only two baseball stadiums that still use artificial turf. It is the last baseball stadium with a fixed roof.
The Rays website claims the venue has hosted 16 other sports and competitions. The Thunderdome, as it was known at the time, was the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 1993 to 1996.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays moved in in 1998, but not before $85 million in renovations. Renovations included the addition of a rotunda inspired by, I kid you not, Ebbets Field.
It’s hard to forget how bad the Devil Rays were their first ten years, but the team has had some good seasons over the last ten years. They do a good job of trying to incorporate their recent success into displays throughout the stadium.
My view from the upper level wasn’t bad. I felt closer to the field than I do in the upper level at a lot of other ballparks.
But it can be a tough place to actually watch a game. The atmosphere was similar to the atmosphere at the South Shore Plaza on a weeknight. Very quiet and very bright. Being so far away from downtown doesn’t help generate any buzz or walk-up ticket sales. And you’re also likely to get yelled at by an octogenarian if you try to get by a slow one in the concourse.
The Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame is at Tropicana Field and had some interesting items on display, but it looked like it hadn’t been updated much since Ted passed away.
The ray tank gives fans the opportunity to pet a ray, but I passed on that opportunity. I couldn’t stop thinking about Steve Irwin.
The concourses were wide and seemed to have plenty of food options…
But I’m going to hold back on giving them too much credit, after this came out on Tuesday:
— TampaBayTimesSports (@TBTimes_Sports) August 8, 2017
Tropicana Field often comes in 30th in ballpark rankings, and I won’t argue with that. Teams shouldn’t play in domes where pop ups can hit the roof. It’s hard to believe that Major League Baseball actually agreed to put a baseball team here 20 years ago. It seems like the Rays have been wanting to move out since almost day one.
A lot of the “dome and gloom” talk wouldn’t be so loud, though, if the Rays could draw better crowds on a regular basis. Tropicana Field is a better experience than the Metrodome was in its last years, but Tropicana Field hasn’t hosted two epic World Series and the Rays don’t have the same fan support the Minnesota Twin have. The Twins were actually fifth in the American League in attendance in 2009, their last year at the Metrodome.
Maybe the Rays don’t have that support because it’s felt like they’ve had one foot out the door for the last decade. But a new ballpark wouldn’t fix the issues with fan support by itself. Marlins Park is only a few years old and already features large swaths of empty seats on a regular basis. The Marlins are currently dead last in the National League in attendance. The only teams behind them in attendance in the major leagues are the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays.
[Maybe Florida doesn’t need two baseball teams, but that’s another topic for another day.]
Tropicana Field may deserve a lot of the ridicule it receives, but it doesn’t deserve all of it. Tropicana Field is trying to work with what it has, but there are larger issues at play than just the hot dog stands and the scoreboard. Still, its days are numbered.
Big Z Ballpark Rating – 2.8