With the Rays were back in town hot off winning a series with the Yankees in New York, I thought I would take in my first live game of the season on Tuesday. Here are a few reflections on my ballpark experience and, after seeing them in person, a few observations on Rays.
To get in the ballpark, you must have a ticket. So, I drove over to The Trop and the Rays’ ticket window. It’s only a few blocks from my house and you save the online service charge from Ticketmaster. I picked out a lower box seat 14 rows behind the third base dugout. I like those seats because you can see the play develop on the bases and you can see into the Rays dugout. Ticket cost: $45.00.
The night of the game I walked a few blocks from my house and hopped on a free trolley and was inside the stadium in 10 minutes. Even if you are driving to the game, it’s cheaper to park downtown and take the trolley than parking at the stadium. Cost of parking: Nothing.
I got to the Trop early to check out the new renovations. The city and the Rays chipped in a million dollars to open up the entire outfield walkway so you can now walk from the left field foul pole to the right field foul. They have torn down the ugly old Batters Eye restaurant known for its bad food and dank atmosphere and replaced it with an open-air bar called the Porch. A full bar and ballpark food is available and you can pick a spot in back of the outfield seats and enjoy batting practice or the game. I got a nice local craft beer and watched Baltimore Orioles batting practice. A guy five feet down from me put his beer and casually caught a batting practice home run! The area was also packed during the game.
On the way to my seat, I checked out the food and drink choices on the second level. They continue to have a good selection of ballpark food with Outback and a great barbecue place leading the way. I chose a hot dog and their great fries. They have added a gourmet grilled cheese cart this year. It’s on my list for the next trip and looking at the number of them coming down the aisles, it is going to be a big hit. My only disappointment was the lack of craft beer choices. Craft beer has taken off like a rocket in St. Pete and I thought I would see a stand with maybe a dozen choices. Perhaps, that will come or maybe baseball fans are a “buy a Bud from the vendor” crowd. Total food and drink cost: $21.00.
The stadium continues to be clean for a facility that is over 20 years old and the scoreboard is state of the art offering more information and stats them you need to know. The only downside was a 20-minute delay as a lighting bolt knocked out a bank of lights. Hey, Florida is the lightening capital of the country and they didn’t have to evacuate the stadium because of a storm!
On the field, things didn’t go so well. Chris Archer needs to trust his stuff. He gets ahead of a hitter and starts to nibble. I was surprised that Ryan Hanigan didn’t get him on track. Archer was not helped by yet another botched double play. Brad Boxberger replaced Archer and looked very good. I had never seen him in person and he has a 92-94 mph fastball and an active breaking pitch. The ball comes out of his hand very smoothly and his mechanics are excellent. Joel Peralta had nothing going for him and maybe too many years of 80 plus appearances per season is catching up with him. Juan Carlos Oviedo looks to me like a mess. His fastball and breaking ball are very ordinary. He threw almost as many balls as strikes. Somehow, he got a way with it, but the former Leo Nunez he is not!
The Rays offensive game continues to be as frustrating as the pitching. Evan Longoria hit a two run homer in the first inning and the then the offense literally disappeared for five innings. They hit the ball hard but had nothing to show for it. After scratching together a run to tie in the seventh., Peralta blew up in the eighth and the Rays are looking at a two run deficit in the ninth. Two quick hits open the ninth and we are in business. Then, for some reason, Joe Maddon tells Hanigan to bunt. This move blew my mind. Hanigan is the winning run! It was almost as if Maddon was playing for a tie at home. Hanigan successfully sacrificed the runners to second and third. but Desmond Jennings flew out to shallow center and the run can’t score. The next hitter is Logan Forsythe. With no left handed batter on the bench, Forsyth strikes out on a very ugly at-bat. Longoria is left on the on deck circle as a result of Hanigan’s wasted out. Game over.
It was great to be back watching live baseball in a stadium, Tropicana Field, that I have really grown to like. However, this current Rays team is certainly not what I was looking for in late March. You can blame some of it on the injuries to pitching but the whole team is off kilter. Maybe they will get it together and go on a tear. If so, they had better do it soon.