Sunday, May 04, 2008

Worth the Trip

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday night, I was in the stands at Tropicana Field watching the lifeless, flu-ridden Red Sox lose in extra innings on their way to being swept for the weekend. Rays starters Edwin Jackson and James Shields looked like the modern-day version of Koufax and Drysdale. Our hitters looked like they were standing at the plate in cement boots. Now the Rays are in Boston, the Sox' hitters have come to life, and the Sox are on the verge of returning the favor with a three-game sweep of their own. It's always fun to watch the Sox play on the road, so I thought I'd share a few observations on my Trip to the Trop, which overall was an enjoyable experience.

The stadium itself sits like a cratered flying saucer in the middle a working-class neighborhood. When we pulled into the parking lot, I immediately thought I was in Foxborough. Tailgating going on in every direction (imagine one big central lot at Fenway) with tons of Patriots and Red Sox jerseys walking around, with "Brady" and "Schilling" easily the most popular.

We were pleasantly shocked as we were waved into the lot and told we could park for free. Evidently, when you go to the game with 4 or more people in your car, you get to park for free. Imagine that. We talked briefly with Al the Security Guy, whose badge told us he hailed from Needham, Mass. He gave us a quick lowdown on navigating the building, and also told us about a promotion after the game involving women, roller derby, and free beer. There are lots of Al's from Needhams working at the Trop. It's almost like it's become the retirement job to get, replacing starter-sitting-in-a-golf-cart at the nearby country club.

At the main entrance, the Rays have images of young stars like Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir painted on the outside of the building, and the starting lineups are posted on a big board. Then you enter the mall. The whole ground floor of the Trop is ringed with shops and food stands, with little staircases on the right-hand side leading up to the field. There are stores specifically dedicated to Red Sox and Yankee gear. Walking up the ramp wasn't quite the same as seeing the Fenway green for the first time, but it's still always a cool feeling seeing a field for the first time. Even if it's an indoor abomination like this one.

The first thing I looked at when I walked in was the crazy structure that hangs from the ceiling of this bizarro building, the one with all the ladders and catwalks that has swallowed many a David Ortiz moonshot.Sure enough, Dustin Pedroia hit a ball up there in the first inning that never came down.

We had arrived early for the game, so we had some time to poke around the mall and observe. Always a nice plus if you can map out a food/beverage game plan for the whole night. We checked out a stand offering Corona, but with no limes. Egregious. We found the all-important sausage stand, and eventually the best beer bargain at the Trop, a 24-ouncer of Bud or Bud Light for $8. We checked out a souvenir store that carried only Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs gear. One fashion trend we noticed was that a lot of Rays fans like to buy the team jersey and put their first name on the back. This, too, is egregious. I always kid my wife that Maine is the personalized license plate capital of the world; the Trop is the personalized jersey capital of the world.

It being a Friday night and all, there was plenty of pre-game drunkenness. Some guy in a black satin shirt, jeans, black cowboy boots and a 70's haircut/mustache combo kept prancing in front of a largely Red Sox section during the game, belittling the Sox any chance he got. It became a pretty funny schtick as the night wore on.

The Red Sox scored first and the place erupted in cheers. I've always wondered if the pro-Sox crowds at the Trop and Camden Yards are as loud as they sound on TV and the answer - at least in St. Pete - is a resounding yes. I was watching some of the Rays players on the field, checking for any body language signs that they were disappointed in the cheers. They didn't show it, but the Saturday newspapers down there had some comments wondering why Rays fans don't show up.

They could be showing up in droves if the Rays keep playing well and the team can figure out how to get a sparkling new waterfront ballpark built. Tampa has a great young nucleus of players in Crawford, Evan Longoria, one of the Upton brothers (too lazy to look it up), Kazmir, Jackson, and Shields. They have the talent to finish at least third in the AL East, and they will most definitely be a royal pain in the ass for the Sox and Yankees all year. And if things really go right, they could be playing in a gorgeous new park on the water.

Another retiree who found work at the Trop - John from Watertown - was standing beside a table in the mall promoting plans for the Rays' new ballpark. All I can say is, yes please. Get it done. I tried taking a picture of the park, which hopefully comes through okay.

As for the game, it was tied up at 4-4 heading into the ninth and some ground rules were laid for extra innings. I was with my father-in-law, wife, and my wife's sister, and the girls had pretty much been troopers in coming along in the first place. They gave us one extra inning, and when it was still tied after 10, we left. Egregious, I know. But I justified it in my mind by envisioning the women's roller derby beer extravaganza. We were about halfway home when we heard David Ortiz ground into a killer double play, and then the Rays cooked up a run in the next inning to win it 5-4.

All things considered, while Fenway and the Trop are completely different animals, it was a cool experience. I like the direction the Rays are headed in - with new management, a good manager, and a very talented crew of young players. I wish they played in the National League, because they make you want to root for them.

yes please get it done, if the new trop is built, mlb might have all worldseries games here just like the nfl & superbowls in fla & bout the pinball wizard bout them rays chicks....a little more talent than the bean town beer hogs and a lot less clothing....m
Does a non-answer imply a "no" to the question posed: Do you have a job?
A non-answer implies that I don't know exactly why you'd be asking that question, never mind why you'd take the time to ask it twice.
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