I’ve always considered myself a bit of a Rays fan. It started the same year they did—1998—when I fell for baseball. Here was this new team with wacky uniforms and old-school stars like Wade Boggs & Fred McGriff. The
Devil Rays were unique from the start.
Over time—and thanks to fantasy baseball—I also began to notice that Tampa always seemed to have a top pitching prospect in the pipeline. David Price, James Shields, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell, Scott Kazmir, Chris Archer, & Shane McClanahan (this year) have been constant residents on my make-believe squads of yore.
So, when I got the chance to pull together a mother/son trip to St. Petersburg for some Twins/Rays action, I made it happen.
The long weekend didn't get off to the greatest start baseball-wise, what with TB jumping on Dylan Bundy for four runs out-the-gate, ending the Twins’ 7-game winning streak. Fortunately, touching a stingray—pictured in the header—and living to tell about it was still a fun time. Redemption was had the next day with the Twins pounding TB into 9-1 submission. We didn’t make the finale, what with a few beaches to explore on the peninsula.
Far more interesting than wins-and-losses, however, was the overall ballpark experience. Each field I’ve been to has a unique feel, like the super-serious Cardinals fans, the crazily passionate Dodgers crowd, and the nasty—to visitors in Twins attire—White Sox brigade. After years of calling Tropicana Field the worst stadium in baseball, I now have to invoke the old adage “don’t knock it till you try it”, as I found it to be a great baseball atmosphere.
Some notable observations:
- Everyone knows the Rays should have put down roots in Tampa Bay proper—not St. Pete, where a 20-minute drive across a bridge severely limits the paying customers. But this creates an atmosphere —not unlike the Metrodome—in which everyone present is there for the baseball (not the open sky or hipster bars). The fans that do show up love their Rays and rattle their cowbells accordingly (simply because TB’s owner loved the Christopher Walken SNL sketch and wanted to incorporate it into his team’s legacy!).
- With the possible exception of Kansas City, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more welcomed by stadium personnel—and that includes Target Field. One lady recognized us from the previous night! Multiple “I used to live in MN...” or “I had family/friends in MN who...” stories were conveyed to us by strangers without an ounce of vitriol.
- The Rays are an exciting, fundamentally-sound team—they simply have no other option. Perpetually cash-strapped, “hustle & analytics” are their only building blocks. A small example: when Sanchez was behind the plate, they ran on the Twins at every opportunity.
- McClanahan could be a star in the making. He was absolutely untouchable, getting ahead of hitters with a 97 mph heater perfectly dotting the corners and then wiping them out with tantalizing curveballs and sliders in the dirt. Keep an eye on that kid.
- Ballpark-wise, Tropicana isn’t that bad. There are many interesting things to look at, the in-game presentation is wonderful, and the seats we had—middle deck between home and third—were incredible. One can also be caught endlessly staring into the bizarre, cat-walked ceiling. Perhaps 12 years of outdoor baseball have conditioned me otherwise, but I forgot how much ruckus even 10-20 thousand folks can raise in an enclosed space.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience that I’d recommend to any fan of the Twins, Rays, or baseball stadium connoisseurs in general! You may not get every bell-&-whistle, fancy bar, or tip-top modern amenity, but you will receive a fun and exciting atmosphere where well-played baseball is at the forefront.
What more can die-hards like us ask for?