Even though I live about five minutes away from Tropicana Field, I usually pass on Opening Day. I’ve been to numerous Opening Days in my years of following baseball, so the novelty has worn off. Also, I can get a better choice of tickets on day two of the season and the Rays need more cheering voices in the strands for their second game. With all that in mind, I purchased four lower-level box seats behind the Rays dugout, and my wife, a couple of long standing baseball friends, and I set out for the stadium.
Our baseball friends like to get to the park early and soak up all the pregame activities such as batting practice, on-field stretching, and the starting pitcher warming up in the bullpen. Upon our arrival at the Trop, our first pleasant surprise was free parking for the first 100 cars with four occupants. As parking costs $15, it was a nice way to start the evening.
As we entered the ballpark, I once again marveled at what an underrated venue Tropicana Field really is. It features friendly ushers, a free fan guide, most areas newly painted, and a perfect 72 degree temperature. Stuart Sternberg may bark about the location, but he has never skimped on maintenance.
After watching batting practice, we were all hungry and set out looking for food and drink. The Trop has many food and beverage stands and the Rays try to add new things every year. This year they have gone heavy on mac n’ cheese. They have also added a popular Cajun food place and a fresh taco stand. Finally, more craft beers are frequently added. We went for typical ballpark food and craft beers.
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Once we settled into our seats to nosh and watch the rest of the pre-game activities, I was amazed at the electronics and information that was available to you on the numerous electronic billboards and scoreboards. Again, Mr. Sternberg has gone overboard to present the fans with the most current electronics. As the team was finishing their outfield stretches, Evan Longoria walk over to the stands and spent a long time signing autographs for kids. He really is the face of the Tampa Bay Rays!
At 7:10, an enthusiastic young fan shouted play ball and the Rays took the field. Smarting from an embarrassing loss on Opening Day, the team was hoping that rookie Nate Karns would lead them to their first victory. However, it was not to be as Karns looking totally confused in the first two innings and the Rays were down 6-0 before I could finish my craft beer.
From that third inning on, it was all Tampa Bay Rays as the home team scored five runs and limited the Baltimore Orioles to one hit. Unfortunately, the team with the most runs after nine innings wins and the Rays went down to their second defeat. Their nice comeback simply fell one run short. The Rays did score five runs, but they ought to be a little frustrated at their inability to get a couple more guys home when they had runners in scoring position and less than two outs.
There were some nice moments for the Rays. After he got over the early-inning case of the nerves Karns pitched very well and the bullpen was, for the most part, stellar. Kevin Kiermaier and Logan Forsythe looked very good both in the field and at the plate. Kiermaier looked good against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen and I think sitting him down against left-handed pitching at this point in his career is a mistake.
On defense, Tim Beckham was smooth in executing three double plays at second base and the entire outfield looked like a track relay team. The Rays were last in double plays turned last year, and this year’s group promises to improve upon that.
All-in-all, it was good to be at the ballpark. As I have said many times, I have never heard anyone complain about Tropicana Field who has actually sat in the stands for a game. The flaw with the ballpark that everyone mentions is the location, but probably the bigger problem is that the evening at the ballpark cost us $200.00 without parking.
That’ sort of price is not bad for four people on an evening out, but the Tampa Bay Rays are asking fans to do so repeatedly over 81 home games. Those costs may be standard fare in New York or Boston, but not in Tampa Bay. Perhaps Mr. Sternberg needs a new economic model just as much as a new stadium.