29
Tropicana Field
21
8
8
8
5
1
4
8
63

Tampa Bay Rays

Along with the Oakland Coliseum, Tropicana Field is one of the two “bad” parks in baseball.

The Trop is the only MLB stadium with a fixed roof. It’s the smallest MLB venue with a capacity of just over 25,000. Its home club, the Tampa Bay Rays, is the only MLB team named after a body of water. And its home city, St. Petersburg, is the smallest municipality to host an MLB franchise.

The Trop can be depressing when the Rays are playing out the string. But like the team that seems to win a lot despite a bottom-tier payroll, it does a lot with a little. The food and drink is good, and by MLB standards, things are kept relatively affordable. Add a grossly underrated local scene, including many fantastic craft beer places, and a Rays game at the Trop is not a bad time.

STADIUM 21/50

Exterior aesthetics 4/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 5/10; Sightlines & seating 6/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 3/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 1/5; Grand entrance 4/5; Sense of place 3/10; WOW Factor 2/30. Total 42 points divided by 2 for 21.

Built before the retro ballpark craze, Tropicana Field is simply not up to snuff versus other MLB ballparks. There is ZERO “wow factor” here; it’s more like a “wtf factor”.

It’s one of the quirkier ballparks, and certainly the most unique among big league venues. I agree with those who call it “surreal”; there’s a great Salvador Dali museum nearby, and the Trop may still be the trippiest building in downtown St Pete.

It’s the only MLB park with six foul poles: the main ones and 2 each on each of the B and C rings that help support the structure. Its roof changes color. Half the park seating is now completely closed. It’s just a weird place to play Major League Baseball.

THE GOOD:

  • The main entrance from the main parking lot is a fairly impressive centerfield rotunda with lots of natural light
  • The semi-translucent roof lights up orange when the Rays win and red-white-and-blue during the anthem. It’s a little bizarre, but the effect is cool in a Laser Floyd sort of way.
  • Concession areas are fairly wide, and overcrowding is seldom an issue given attendance woes
  • The ray tank in left-center field is a neat feature, allowing animal lovers of all ages to pet and feed these critters
  • While you can’t walk around the concession area and see the game, the team did pull out a few rows of seats allowing you to cruise the stadium from the main seating area
  • There’s a lot of blue paint to keep it looking fresh and somewhat less dreary
  • There’s a large communal bar out in centerfield from where you can watch the game as well as large picnic areas for group outings alongside third base
  • The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters’ Hall of Fame is among the best in-stadium diversions in the MLB and is free admission with your game ticket. You can easily kill an hour with the impressive collection of memorabilia of not just Ted Williams but of many of greats. Why is a museum dedicated to a San Diego-raised Red Sox slugger in Tampa? The museum used to be in nearby Hernando, FL (where Williams lived out his last days) and when it shuttered, they moved the collection to the ballpark. An unexpected gem.

THE BAD:

  • You’re in an enclosed, drab, charmless, windowless dome. That alone knocks off 15-20 points. It almost hurts coming inside on a warm Florida evening for air-conditioned baseball. Plus it’s ugly. Try as they may, the Rays can only put so much lipstick on this pig.
  • The roof slants downward in the outfield. The catwalks that help keep it in place create occasional obstacles with which fielders must deal. It’s a unique quirk, but not a good one
  • Despite only seating 25,000 with the upper deck seats no longer being sold, it doesn’t feel particularly intimate. Rather, it feels like you’re sitting in a half empty stadium.
  • Once in the seating bowl, from a visual standpoint, there’s really nothing to tip you off that you’re in Florida, other than, perhaps, the average age of the fans around you
  • The scoreboard is tiny by today’s standards
  • There are some funky sculptures of players crashing through the wall near the main entrance, but they are more creepy than cool
  • It feels very artificial and counter to the natural aesthetic of baseball

It’s a poor structure placed in an out-of-the-way location made somewhat presentable with some clever renovations and low-cost upgrades.

FOOD 8/10:

You can eat well at the Trop. Florida food fare like Cuban sandwiches and Firecracker shrimp, as well as many other yummies ——— short rib grilled cheese, BBQ pork nachos, fried catfish, hot chicken sandwiches, fish tacos, spam musabi, lobster rolls and sushi bowls ——— augment the usual ballpark fare. Much of the good stuff is centered in three locations (centerfield, first base or third base) meaning you may have a bit of a haul to get something other than standard fare. Quality is fine. A nice touch: the soda fountains are self-serve meaning the unlimited refills on your soda won’t cost you an inning; great for thirsty non-drinkers.

My personal fave: The Medianoche Cuban sandwich is simple and well-made.

BEER 8/10:

Tampa has an amazing craft beer scene that seems to be largely ignored by the nation. Sure Cigar City’s Jai Alai has received some much-earned national acclaim, but there’s more, some of which is available at the Trop.

Brews from Green Bench, Tampa Bay Brewing (makers of Reef Donkey), Coppertail, 3 Daughters and the aforementioned Cigar City can be found in the park, along with a fairly nice range of macrobrews. It’s one of the reasons why I recommend visitors stay in downtown St Pete; you can avoid driving and enjoy the suds. My lone complaint is that you have to hunt for it a little.

NEIGHBORHOOD 8/10:

Located in the southern part of the Tampa Bay Metro area, away from the bulk of the area populace, the Trop gets deserved flack for being far away for many Tampa area residents. It sits on the outskirts of downtown St Petersburg and is surrounded by several parking lots, creating a bit of an island.

But head east and if you’re willing to walk just under a mile or so, you’ll find one of the most fun downtowns in America. Enjoy many craft breweries, some excellent. There are some good restaurants, many with a Floribbean or Hispanic flare. There is some nightlife and few worthy museums. It may lack the bustle of some of the larger cities, but you can have a good time without having to cross over into Tampa. (That said, Ybor City near downtown Tampa is also worthy of a visit).

COST 5/5:

The Rays are among the lowest cost teams in the fan index rating and still can’t draw. There’s little wonder why they need to keep payroll so low.

ACCESSIBILITY 1/5:

For a mid-week night game, if coming from Tampa, it can take an hour to get through traffic to the park. Parking is relatively easy, but it’s really your only option. Public transit is poor other than the trolleys running from downtown St Pete. Stadium junkies who plan to hit the Trop should seriously consider staying downtown St Pete and avoiding travel altogether.

WEATHER 4/5:

It’s a dome. You’re inside.

VIBE 8/20:

This is the lowest score in this category of any MLB team. A sparsely attended game in a dreary dome is usually a recipe for a poor atmosphere. If you’ve been to a meaningless Orioles-Rays game in mid-August with a 7,000-person crowd, you almost feel sorry for the vendors and wonder why you’re spending the money to be there. At its worst, it’s really the worst.

But it deserves some props. The mascots, Raymond and DJ Kitty, engage in some fun antics. Concessions are well run. And Game Day staff do their best to make the place feel inviting and you welcomed.

You’re likely enjoying a game in shorts any time during the season. The Outfield bar has pregame specials and some cool bar games making it a rare in-stadium pregame option worth considering. And the crowds, while small, older and often split for the visiting team, can get pretty loud, especially when the cowbells come out. Perhaps best of all, a day at St Pete Beach followed by a ballgame is a dang fine day, regardless of venue.

Except for when only 6,999 others decided to join you.

GALLERY


OTHER THINGS TO DO


Three fun Tampa Bay restaurants:

  • Columbia (Ybor City. A Tampa classic. White tablecloth Cuban restaurant in business since 1905)
  • Bodega Comida Cantina Café (near the ballpark for a quick Cuban sandwich and pressed juice)
  • Red Mesa Cantina (good Mexican/Latin casual restaurant in downtown St Pete)

Three places to imbibe before the game:

  • Ferg’s (Sprawling “Bro” sports bar and the hub for pregame festivities. Close to the ballpark)
  • Green Bench Brewing Co/Webb City (Two really good brewers beside each other a short walk from the Trop. Green Bench is considered by many to be the best craft brewer in St Pete. Webb City has all sort of interesting sours if that’s your bag.)
  • Five Bucks Drinkery (Classic Florida bar in downtown St Pete)

One bar in the area worth hitting:

Tampa Bay Brewing (Make it a starting point for an Ybor City bar hop)

Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:

  • Cigar City Brewing (Tampa. Acclaimed craft brewery in business since 2007)
  • Cycle Brewing (Nanobrewery about 1 mile east of the stadium in downtown St Pete rated by RateBeer in 2017 as the #5 brewer in the world).
  • St Pete Brewing Co (Classic taproom with a laid-back vibe 1 mile east of stadium)

Three fun tourist attractions in the area:

  • Busch Gardens (Tampa. The amusement park that’s also a zoo.)
  • Salvador Dali Museum (Downtown St Pete. A surreally good collection from one of the world’s most interesting artists)
  • St Pete Beach (Beach Bumming before a ballgame is pretty sweet)

SUMMARY

The Tampa area is a fun place to hang out. I hope a team stays here long term because I enjoy coming here. With the Ybor City Stadium plan shut down, this may be an issue. But the reality is, there’s a sizable gap between the experience at the Trop and all but one other stadium. A long-term solution is needed.