A Fan’s View of the Experience at Tropicana Field
A gentleman by the name of Kurt Smith publishes guides to major league ballparks under the title of Ballpark E-Guides. He has done one on Tropicana Field and I thought it might be interesting for our readers to get a review of the guide from one of us who spend a fair amount of time at “the Trop.”
The guide is divided into four sections: Opening remarks, Tickets and seating, Getting to the ballpark, and Food and drink. The guide covers each section very thoroughly and I couldn’t find much that they missed. However, it was a bit harsh in one area and didn’t give justice to others. With that in mind, I will give you a true fan’s version of my experience at the Trop. Please note that I am talking about the time since the Sternberg group took over the team.
In his opening remarks, Mr. Smith lashes out at Tropicana Field and watching baseball indoors. That’s a very popular theme with national baseball writers and quite misguided. Yes, Tropicana Field is pug ugly on the outside. I would have done faux bricks or something to make it look more like a ball field. However, that has nothing to do with the game. Inside the Trop is a great place to watch a game in Southwestern Florida. It’s a perfect 72 degrees and there is never a rain out. The field is well lit and the electronics are state of the art. This year the Rays and St. Petersburg have spent over a million dollars to open up the concourses so that you can see the field while you are out for food, drink or just a stroll. The seats are roomy, the facility is clean, including restrooms, and the staff is super friendly. Mr. Smith complained about Astro Turf but you can’t grow grass indoors and I have rarely seen it influence the game. He did leave the catwalks alone.
The section on tickets and seating was very complete. However, he did not get into how bad the Rays website is when it comes to buying tickets or ticket packages. Maybe it’s just me, but the site is very difficult to navigate and get exactly the seats you want. I live 5 minutes from the ballpark and resort to driving over to the ticket window or going to Stubhub to buy my seats. The ticket packages are worse. They have any endless choice of plans but they never seem to fit my needs and yes, I am a ticket snob! However, if you are not fussy about the teams you see or exactly where you sit, you can score some really good deals, even on the day of a game. The guide also does not do justice to the Hancock Bank seating area. The section offers outstanding food, good seats and excellent service. It is not cheap but if you want luxury at the ballpark it’s the place to sit. Overall, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
The section on getting to the Trop is complete but a little unfair. He starts out by pointing out the lack of public transportation and that is a legitimate complaint. Floridians do not believe in public transportation and so most all travel in done by car. The ballpark is right off the expressway and there is plenty of parking with 7,000 spaces at the ballpark and numerous private lots but when you have several thousand people coming to the game along with rush hour commuter traffic, it can be a mess. However, it’s nothing compared to trying to get to Yankee stadium by car. Fans coming from Tampa have the worst time and unfortunately, they would rather complain and stay home than find a way round the issue. Actually, the best way to handle the traffic situation is to go to downtown St. Petersburg, park in a garage and take a free shuttle to and from the park. It’s easy to do and puts you in the middle of the very hot St. Petersburg nightlife scene.
Food and drink is plentiful at the Trop and the guide points that out. You do have to be a little selective because too much of it is carnival food. I’m a hotdog, fries and an imported/craft beer man myself. The Kayem hot dogs are good, the fries are outstanding but the beer selection is a little slim. Florida is a Budweiser state and most fans are not fussy. I am among them, and with the craft beer scene exploding in St. Petersburg, I’m hoping the choices will improve. Beyond my preferences, the Outback Steakhouse stand, a new barbecue stand, the sausage cart and a great deli on the third floor are good choices. I would stay away from the Everglades. It’s the main restaurant, but, even under new management, it’s dark and dank.
Obviously, I am a fan of the Trop. I’ve been in a lot of ballparks from Yankee Stadium to AT&T Park and as wonderful as they look from the outside, watching a game in August heat outside in New York or the chill in San Francisco anytime, can make you wish you were inside in perfect 72 degree weather. I will further say that I have never taken anyone to a game at Tropicana Field who didn’t enjoy themselves and ask “what’s all the fuss about this ballpark.” So to the Peter Gammons’s of the sports reporting world who endlessly bash our ballpark, I say “keep your falling down, rat infested, urine stinking Fenway Park and I’ll take the Trop.”
I have my quibble here and there, but in closing, I would recommend the purchase of one of Kurt Smith’s publications if you are coming to a ballpark for the first time. It will maximize your game day experience. They can be found at www.BallparkEGuides.com.