Friday, July 20, 2007

Roadtrip Stop #2: Tantalized in Tampa Bay

Stop #2 on this year’s SoSG Baseball Road Trip was in Tampa Bay, for the New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Devil Rays (July 14, 2007).

Of course, it’s not a road trip without a little color on how we got there from stop #1. And leave it to SoSG’s own Delino DeShields to provide some of that color, courtesy of a patch of his leg which unfortunately escaped his sunblock lathering. One afternoon on the beaches of Miami later, the result was tragic, especially since all we had to wear all weekend was shorts. Luckily, stripes are in this season.

For any of you who attempt this cross-Florida trek from Miami to Tampa, courtesy of Interstate 75, know this: there is NOTHING to see on Alligator Alley. Nothing. In fact, there was a stretch of highway in which there wasn’t a gas station at which to stop, or a restaurant at which to get food, or even any semblance of civilization. Needless to say, in our hungover state, we should have heeded Delino’s earlier warning that “this might be the last Denny’s we’ll see for a while.” But we scoffed at DeShields, and forged onward, only to be struck by hunger pains and a dire need for grease to counteract the concoction in our unsettled stomachs.

Behold, when we finally came upon a Waffle House, it was like finding the oasis in the middle of the desert, and we could barely keep ourselves from cutting across the divided highway to get there in a straight shot. Waffle House isn’t known for its expansive menu, but what they do serve was certain to be covered in the grease that I so needed. Here’s my meal, the Grilled Texas Chop Steak Plate (note the grits, with coagulated butter, on the side).

Given our famished state prior to the House o’ Waffles, we topped off the full meals by going next store to a drive-through pizza and buffalo wings restaurant, to share an order of 20 wings and celery sticks. Gotta eat your vegetables!

But back to the baseball trip. Three hours later, we came upon The Giant Askew Yarmulke, Tropicana Field.

I confess that this was my second trip to the Juice Bowl, as I had been here three years ago on a business trip. For my three colleagues, this was uncharted water. And there’s nothing that says “baseball” like an all-enclosed, unretractrible roof dome! So we hustled over to Lee Roy Selmon’s for some fine ribs for dinner, before heading back to the stadium.

Imagine our surprise to find out, during our drive to the stadium, that Saturday’s game was sold out. This was only the sixth sell-out in Tampa Bay’s ten years of existence, so it was pretty amazing for the Devil Rays’ organization, but it spelled bad news for two reasons: (1) the crowd would likely be 90% Yankees fans (it was); and (2) it would be difficult for us to scalp tickets outside (it sorta was). There was no hope for the first issue, but for the second issue we were lucky to have Delino score us four seats, “right behind the Yankees’ dugout” (sorta), for a minimal upcharge over face. We were in our seats in the first inning.

Tropicana Field is much nicer when it’s full (relative to my earlier visit to the stadium).

However it is still beset by a crazy ceiling structure, complete with catwalks all over the place—some of which are in play, according to the wacky groundrules:

And if you think the ceiling looks bad, check out the field. The Rays’ website proudly announces ”Tropicana Field is the only Major League park to feature an artificial surface and all-dirt base paths. It features natural-looking FieldTurf.” As you can see, the FieldTurf (re-installed before this season, no less) looks like fur on a dog:

But picking on the Rays is like shooting fish in a barrel. So instead of griping, Sax here will take the unusual stance of looking at the good side:

  • It was great to be in an air-conditioned space, admittedly. Even though I hate domes, it was better than sweating to death the night before in Miami.
  • There were many, many between-innings promotions, one of which was “Spot the Cow” by Chick Fil-A or something like that, in which a fan has 30 seconds to swing a camera through a crowd and identify a man in a cow suit standing somewhere in the stadium. I have to think that this promotion is rigged, for if the contestant were to focus in on to identify an overweight person, there might be hell to pay.
  • Another in-game promotion was “Ray’s Anatomy,” involving a quiz question to a third-grader that referenced an enzyme or something like that. The kid got it wrong (unlike any Dodger Stadium Coca-Cola contestant I’ve ever seen), but the Ryan Seacrest wannabe announcer (A. Martinez has job security in LA) awarded him the prize anyway, further contributing to the erosion of our country’s intellectual fiber.
  • It was Festival Latino night, complete with Rays Maracas for the first 10,000 fans. There is nothing that strikes fear in opponents like the sound of 10,000 maracas rattling (especially when the din of 38,000 people talking ends up carrying more volume) (crap, I’m getting sarcastic again). Of course, our ticket-scalping escapade left us far from maraca-ness, but allowed us to see Dodger Rafael Furcal [Dominican Republic] get mentioned on the ribbon scoreboard (after his sacrifice fly won the 12-inning game vs. the Giants, in a rare instance in which a west-coast game result preceded an east-coast game result.

Unfortunately for me, two of the three of my road trip colleagues, and about a dozen other fans in the stadium, the Yank-Me’s won 6-4, despite the fact that the Rays had a 3-0 lead after one inning. We didn’t get to see much action on the Kane’s Furniture strikeout meter, but it sure made me proud of our CPK meter back home.

And you can only imagine what we thought we read when, in an inebriated state, we saw this message on the ribbon scoreboard:

I will say, I appreciate the fact that the Rays are trying to make the best of what they’ve got in a bizarre facility (which one vendor told me holds the record for the largest crowd to see an indoor hockey game, but I don’t know if this is true). Given the bones that they’ve got, the only major qualm I had came from a quick visit out to the concourse area, where I found this mural painted on a wall:

And why, again, wound Jackie Robinson be sliding into third against a Devil Ray player (I can only assume that is Wade Boggs)? And why is Jackie in black and white? At least he’s beating the throw, I suppose.

Overall, this second visit to the Trop’ was a much better experience than my last one, despite being surrounded by Yankee fans. The Devil Rays have made some upgrades to a questionable facility, but they are clearly trying to improve their fans’ experience (e.g., adding the stingray tank in center field) and managed to handle an unusual sell-out crowd rather well. Perhaps my thoughts are colored too fondly by the fact that a pretty woman handed me a ticket for a Free Small Fry from Checkers Restaurants on the way out the door, or perhaps it’s because I really, really like air-conditioned environments.

And you’ll have to ask Delino about the other key highlight (deliberately omitted from my recap)…


Orel said...

So you sweated off pounds in Miami but gained them back with the Grilled Texas Chop Steak Plate?

Great. Now I'm hungry.

Damon said...

How were the cowbells?

Delino DeShields, Sr said...

In defense of my naked leg, the camera adds ten pounds of hair.