Last Tuesday morning I flew out of Atlanta and into Fort Lauderdale. Flying into Fort Lauderdale saved me over $100 as opposed to flying into Miami. From there I rented a car and drove the four hours up to Tampa (couldn’t find a good flight). I highly suggest taking a few weekend trips to ballparks so you can enjoy all the parks and cities thoroughly. For my blog, I’m trying to squeeze in all 30, so I don’t have a lot of leeway with trip planning. When making the drive to Tampa, take the toll road (I-75)! The alternate route (I-27/80) is through the middle of nowhere so you better have a full tank of gas! My GPS took me through there the way up and I made sure I took the toll back driving at night. I didn’t want to run into any gators! The drive none the less was scenic if you like plants and I saw some cows, so all was good. I took a quick detour to St. Pete’s Beach for a couple of hours of fun in the sun before heading over to Tropicana Field for the game.
Driving from St. Pete’s Beach to Tropicana was a quick shot up I-275 N and took less than 20 minutes. The exits are clearly marked and since the field was right off the highway, it was kind of obvious where to exit. There was parking next to the stadium for $25, but I went down 1st Ave S and found parking for $5. This was closer than the 1st Ave N which you have to take to get to the other street and cheaper. From here I walked down 16th street to Ferg’s for a pre-game meal. Ferg’s looks lame on the outside, but the restaurant and bar expanded in all directions and the place was packed. I ended up meeting a Yankees fan and hanging with him and his Mets fan friend while I ate.
After my chicken fingers (still my favorite food, I’m 8 at heart), I walked around the outside of Tropicana Field. The dome is decked out with metal baseball bats and balls along the sides and the stadium is surrounded by its very own moat. A first for MLB parks I believe. The mosaic tile from the parking lot ushers fans in as beachy Rays songs play on speakers getting you ready for the game. There are six gates around the park, but the most popular entrance is Gate 1 off center field. Next to this gate are some ticket offices and while I was waiting in line a woman came up and gave me an extra ticket. Free game for me, score! It was a $1 ticket, but I was still pumped with my good fortune and entered into the park.
Once you enter the park you are in Rays’ country. Every square inch of the inside of this park is painted- Rays colors, logos, history, pennants, you name it, it is on the wall somewhere around the concourse. I have to hand it to the Rays, they’ve made the dome work.
The outfield concourse is split into three streets- Left, Center, and Right. Each street had a plethora of baseball-related activities for fans of all ages (but mainly kids) to enjoy. The Rays tank is in Centerfield Street and tends to have a line. I waited almost a half hour before being led up to the tank. They give a few rules and demonstrations on how to touch the sting rays before setting you loose. The sting rays swim really low and quickly past your hands, so you have to really stick your hand down in the tank to touch them. Or maybe they don’t like Yankees fans (they’re jealous)! After about ten minutes they ask you to wash your hands and make your way back down for the next group. I thought this experience was pretty cool, glad I braved the crowd of children!
From the sting ray tank, I walked to Left Field Street and explored the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters HOF. The museum is located above the team shop and has great displays on the game’s past legends and history. I enjoyed the displays and could have spent all game walking around! Once I exited the museum I passed the Brewhouse Bar and climbed up the steps to the lower bowl for batting practice.
No matter how many times I have visited domes, it still doesn’t feel right for baseball. I wonder how long it takes for players to get used to the feel of being inside. Tampa’s field is really nice and felt larger and more open than Rogers Centre up in Toronto. On either corner of the outfields were special restaurant seating areas on the field level where the regular seating ended. Like Wrigley, there are no bullpens, but little plots of turf for pitchers to warm up on along the foul lines. Before the game, the Rays ran a proper cow bell ringing etiquette for fans- no purposeless ringing! Hope that was a joke.
There wasn’t standing room behind the 100 or 200 levels due to the field’s design, so I made my way up to the 300 level, passing through the food concourse that sits next to both the third and first base lines. The 300 level is sloped closely to the field and the higher seats are covered giving fans a good view of the field action. I walked over to the tbt Party Deck to mingle and watch some of the game. The Party Deck was a lot like the Sky View zone at Turner Field, but there were a few bars and concessions and a row of seats so fans don’t have to stand. Pretty sure the section earns its name on Fridays with their $4 Dos Equis draught special. The view of the field was fine from here and I hung around a bit before walking to my section in 309. My seat was in row 14 in the upper reserve and just to the left of home plate. Attendance must be hurting if they’re selling these tickets for $1!
Around the 7th I met back up with my Yankee fan friend and traded tickets with him so I could watch Hideki Matsui from the 100 level (Yankee fans are the bestest!). It was nice to see Matsui play again and my sister Alex was so jealous (he’s her fav)! The girl next to me was playing Rays Bingo, which is a pretty cool idea by the Rays. Instead of numbers, its fielding plays, so you play Bingo along with the game. A good way to learn scoring and whatnot! My new friend told me he got his seats for only $40. That’s a great deal; they were pretty close to the field and against the Mets. He said the only time tickets got expensive or sold out were games against the Yanks and sometimes the Red Sox.
After the game (Mets helping out the Yankees by taking down the Rays 11-2) I headed back to Miami to crash at my friend Gautham’s place. Long drive back but totally worth it. For this trip I spent nothing on my ticket (was $1), $5 on parking, $123 on my car (included two tanks of gas), $11 on food, and $5 on St. Pete’s beach parking, so $144 in all (took care of my flight in the previous post, will do a grand total after Nationals Park).
Tropicana Field wasn’t my favorite park, but kudos to the Rays organization for making lemonade out of lemons. They could have easily left the concrete walls bare and the outside plain, but they’ve put a lot of money into sprucing the place up. I would definitely come back for a Yankees game and long weekend- St. Petersburg area is beautiful!