October 22, 2008
If I've heard the question once since Saturday, I've heard it at least 20 times.
Friends, family and colleagues, they've all wanted to know: Is Tropicana Field a dump or what?
Honestly, it's like they think I've reached some forgotten ruin of a city and want me to describe the horrors of what I've seen for the folks back home. Only thing is, while it's still among the lower echelon of ballparks I've visited, it's really not as bad as I thought it would be. It's not anywhere close to as good as even the most bland of new parks, but I believe it's better than McAfee Coliseum in Oakland and Dolphin Stadium in Miami and the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
While I'm not sure "not as bad as I thought it would be" and "better than Oakland" are good arguments in support of anything, there are a few things to like about the home of the Rays as a World Series host site. While acknowledging that my five days spent here may be leading to a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome, I've taken the liberty of listing 10 of them below the jump.
Ten reasons to like Tropicana Field as a World Series site
(Listed in no particular order)
1. The Catwalks: Let's get these out of the way because they're usually one of the first criticisms. Yes, it's ridiculous that four rings of supportive walks can come into play. But it's usually on no-doubt-about-it home runs and at least they give the place "a feature." They're not quite Fenway's Green Monster or Wrigley's ivy orscoreboard, but the reason we like ballparks is because they're not all uniform and all feature different nooks and crannies. The catwalks give The Trop that kind of feature, however annoying they may be.
2. It's Loud: I'm sure I wouldn't have been writing this defense had I visited during the lean times when only 3,000 people were in the stands. But fill up The Trop like a big OJ glass and it gets loud enough to the point where I can't converse with my colleagues even during "quiet" moments. Throw in the cowbells and you have as much atmosphere as you could ask for. Even if it's from a Jonny (Gomes)-come-lately crowd, it's still exciting to see and hear on TV.
3. It Has A Roof: Yeah, baseball should be played outside, especially on days like today, when it's in the mid-70s in Florida and a Chicagoan like me is thinking about just staying down here for the winter. But having a roof also means having a guarantee there will be no rain delays or no conditions (paralyzing cold, slippery grass, bug swarms) that will take down the quality of play a few notches.
4. The Rays Were Built To Play Here: If the GM is any good, most MLB teams are tailored to the parks they play in. Still, it's nice to see the young and quick Rays play on the fast track of The Trop's turf and their young pitchers take advantage of a park that is surprisingly pitcher-friendly.
5. It Was Built For Baseball: Finished in 1990 and unsuccessfully used in attempts to lure the White Sox, Giants and Mariners to town, it's worth noting that this place was built specifically for baseball. That means all the seats point in the general direction of the plate (unlike the Metrodome, Dolphin Stadium and McAfee Coliseum) and weren't built to also accomodate a football team (unlike the Metrodome, Dolphin Stadium and McAfee Coliseum). One big quibble I have with the place, though, are the lowel-level concourses. They're narrow and an absolute disaster to navigate.
6. It's a Reminder We All Make Mistakes: Did you know that Tropicana Field (formerly the ThunderDome, formerly the Florida Suncoast Dome) was designed by HOK, the same firm that designed Camden Yards and got the retro-craze a-rollin' in the early '90s? Hard to believe, I know. The rumor around the press corps this week is that if you called up HOK trying to get a comment, you likely wouldn't get a callback as it's treated like the dirty family secret. However, Tropicana Field can be considered a lasting reminder that a lot of things seemed like good ideas in the '80s. For some reason, I think there's value in that.
7. The Warning Tracks Are Painted: Actually, wait, that's a reason to dislike The Trop and one of the stupidest things I've ever seen. Rays, please bring the dirt back.
8. There's A Tank of Live Rays In Right-Center Field: Go check out a World Series game, see some cool sea creatures at the same time. It's the best of both worlds (for someone, at least) and goes back to that unique ballpark feature argument I was making up top.
9. The Tailgating Scene Ain't Bad: Born from this state's unquenchable thirst for college football, there's a decent tailgating scene in the parking lot — where you can also park for free so long as there are four people in your car. The grilling doesn't quite rival Green Bay's Lambeau Field or Kansas City's Arrowhead, but there's plenty of pigskin-tossing and libation-imbibing to make for a lively scene on big game days (however rare they may be). Extra points for the newly-famous Ferg's, a great bar located a short relay throw across the street.
10. The World Series is Being Played Here: Seriously, do you need any more reason? They could hold this thing in Siberia and I'd tell you I like the way everyone gets to order beer popsicles.