FanPost

Rays baseball, from the Minors to the Bigs - A Visitor's Perspective

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Greetings, Rays fans.

A wandering Atlanta Braves fan here, on the man-quest to visit every Major League Ballpark.  A little while ago, I swung by to ask the Tampa/St. Pete's locals a few questions about the Trop and the area, and many of you fine DRaysBay folks gave me a lot of great suggestions and ideas, and for your help, I am grateful.

As promised, I'm giving you guys a write-up of my experience at the Trop, from a neutral perspective, and not some Boston-loving talking head.  This is slightly different as well, because I didn't realize how Rays-heavy this trip would be for me overall, but to your benefit, a little bit of bonus coverage of the Rays' AAA kids, since I was in Durham, North Carolina the night prior to my Trop trip, to see my Gwinnett Braves taking on your Durham Bulls.

There are about 30+ images in this FanPost, so please keep this in mind - it is going to be a bit graphic intensive.

When it comes to my baseball travels, I'm not particularly picky about who's playing in the game - Originally, this weekend in time, I was planning on going out to Colorado to see the Braves take on the Rockies, but due to some spotty looking flights (I do the whole standby thing), and the fact that a friend of mine who wanted to come not being able to come made me realize how little I wanted to wander around Denver on my own.  So, with my heart still set on traveling for baseball, I relegated to making a day trip to somewhere closer, where the cost of going solo wouldn't be as heavy.

There are only four parks in the eastern divisions I haven't yet gone to, and they were all in Florida or New York.  And since I think I made it clear that cost was an issue, that kind of eliminated any New York trip, but when I saw the July 9th game between your Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays, it made sense.  This is when I came here to bombard you with questions, to which so many of you helpfully came through and gave me ideas, to which I will again say my thanks for.

BUT, before I made my way down to St. Pete's to see the Trop, I made a detour up to North Carolina where some of my closest friends live, because I hadn't been to the newer Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and they just so happened to be playing against my Braves' AAA affiliate, well (Gwinnett) Braves.  And this is where my journey begins.

 

DURHAM, North Carolina

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A long time ago, I went here when it was just "Durham Athletic Park," and they were still affiliates of well, my Atlanta Braves.  A lot has apparently changed - the Rays moved in and they have kicked the Devil out, the Braves AAA went from Richmond, Virginia to Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the park is completely different than what I used to remember.  No matter.  The bottom line is, Rays fans, that for this evening, you and I, were rooting for opposing teams.

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A shot of the infield, during the Star-Spangled Banner.  They've really done up the park a whole lot than from what I remember - The giant office buildings in center field, as well as the buildings in RF (not pictured much) give the park kind of an enclosed feel, slightly different than the other AAA-level parks that I've been to, but considering the Bulls are the closest thing to ML-level baseball in the entire Carolinas/Tri-state region, I guess it kind of works.

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One notable change is the newish Bull in LF - I'm not sure how many people remember the hurricane that more or less destroyed (ripped off the head and one of the legs) the old bull, but apparently the City of Durham had changes in mind prior to the destrucity, and a more "Bull Durham"-inspired bull is the one that takes it place now.

Something that annoys me, and might annoy some of you faithful Rays fans, but "The Blue Monster" - are you serious?  The Bulls have never been, and I hope never become, a Red Sox affiliate, so why they felt the need to give this acknowledgement to the Red Sox by parodying the Green Monster, and worse off, creating a manually-operated scoreboard in the same vein as Boston's is completely beyond me.  It's bad enough that Boston infects the city of Atlanta during Interleague, but to go on the road to a minor-league club that has zero ties to the Red Sox and see this nonsense?  Kinda unneccessary.

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Matt Joyce manning right-field.  He had a hell of a night this evening, as he scored three runs, as well as drove in two more with his bat.  The way he punished AAAA pitcher Tony Armas, Jr. was making me cringe in my seats as the Bulls jumped all over the Braves and raced to a 3-0 and 5-2 leads within the first three innings.

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Henry Mateo doing his best impersonation of Craig Counsell with his helicopter-like batting stance.  This picture doesn't quite do justice the amount of activity the bat has when he's simple just waiting for the pitch.

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As the game got later, and it was clear that nobody was going to fill the seats, I just made my way down as close to the net as I could, and started taking pictures.  Unfortunately for you guys, they were mostly the Braves players, but at least here's one of Luis Valdez pitching to Justin Ruggiano.

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I'm not going to lie, I thought there was no chance in hell that the Braves were going to leave Durham with any wins at all.  The AAA pretty much lost all their best starting pitching to trades or the big club, and their bats were never anything to brag home about.  Furthermore, all my previous MiLB Braves games resulted in a paltry 0-6 record, and with the early Bulls lead, it was looking more like 0-7 was on the horizon.  But one big 3-run home run by rehab-assignment Atlanta 2B, Kelly Johnson in late innings captured the lead for the Braves and they somehow managed to hold on to the bitter, tense end.  Final score, Braves 7, Bulls 6.

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida

I'm sure this is what more of you guys would be interested in, so sorry if I made you wait a little bit.

I awoke super early on the 9th, to make my early, early flight out of Raleigh-Durham, because I was flying Delta, naturally a layover in of all places, Atlanta stood in my way of getting to Tampa.  But upon arriving in Tampa, I was disappointed to see that the skies were gray and unpromising, but then I realized that the Trop is indoors, and that the rain shouldn't be an issue.  I picked up my rental car, and with time not really on my side this afternoon, made the drive down I-275 into St. Pete's.

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Despite the fact that the signs pointing to the Trop said one thing, I still followed GPS, which put me onto I-175 for a brief moment.  I'm the jerk on the road who tries to take pictures while driving, and here is the Trop while steering left onto the ramp of I-175.

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You guys want to know what really sucked?  Time.  It was not on my side this afternoon, and the bottom line is that I really wanted to try some restaurants or find some hookers from the places you guys suggested, but the car rental place was a little slow, and the weather, sure it might not affect the game, but it would certainly affect my standby flying and getting back to Atlanta.  So, pretty much, as soon as I got to St. Pete's, it was about 45 minutes until game time, and I had no idea what the parking situation was going to be like, or the lines for tickets, etc.

I wish I asked what the Trop cost to park, because the $15 cost kind of caught me off guard.  Not that I'm not capable of paying it or anything, but I suppose I was expecting less from a place that used to be, well free, four people or not.  Atlanta is $12 to park, and Philadelphia is $10.  St. Petersburg doesn't exactly strike me as Seattle ($35), Washington ($20) or Boston ($115), so I guess I was just a little blindsided there.

I walked around the entire park vicinity, and couldn't find a single scalper, either.  I found several people looking for tickets, but not a single person scalping them.  So, now a sweaty mess, I made my way to the box office, where surreptitiously, most of the ideal seats I would've wanted were already gone, so I had to settle for something upper-deck.  No big deal, I wasn't planning on doing a whole lot of sitting anyway.

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Love the old school lineup boards outside.  I had no idea who would be pitching this game prior to getting here, and seeing a matchup of Roy Halladay vs. David Price made me feel like I lucked out immensely.  Seriously, I couldn't have stumbled upon a better pitching matchup than this one.

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I did however, take the advice to see the Ted Williams Museum.  Not a whole ton of "history" to be had from a team as young as the Devil Rays and Rays, but still a pleasant walk through some nice visuals (and air-conditioning).

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If any of you guys are the least bit curious to why I took this photograph, you need to read more, or watch more Robert Redford movies.  Or at least, look at my username.  This, made me immensely thrilled to see, and quite possibly might've been the best thing I saw at the Trop.

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I don't know what they're called down in St. Pete's, but the ones in Atlanta are quite resentful if you refer to them as "the Braves cheerleaders."  Kinda cute, but I was more amused by the "VOTE FOR LOS" t-shirts that they, and all the staff were wearing.  A little bit of a shame, because I totally dig chicks in jerseys.  But I did try to bribe a few Trop employees, and offered $20 to several of them if I could have their VOTE FOR LOS shirt.  Unfortunately, none of them bit.

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I was amused by the sheer amount of stairs everywhere in the Trop's outfield seats.  Architecturally, the Trop is definitely one of the more uniquely laid out parks I've seen.  But climbing stairs to get into the bathroom?  Man, I really feel bad for those who ate something kind of rough, and suddenly have to run down a flight of stairs, only to have to turn and run up some more stairs, all while clenched like a clam.

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The big, uh, Rays guy coming out of the wall.  Totally inadvertent, but the ceiling light looks kind of like the ball that he's apparently diving out for.

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I enjoyed the comic strip-style artwork on the walls.  Stan the Man Musial was my favorite one.  Obviously, I took this shot while waiting in line for the Rays Touch Tank.

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If it's not obvious already, I'm a big fan of the really unique things about every ballpark.  I think the Rays Touch Tank is easily the most unique thing about the Trop.  As a enthusiast of aquatic life (I have a 60 gallon saltwater tank), this was an awesome experience, and I've touched rays before, but never fed them; I was very amused by the way they kind of just hoover the food, and you barely momentarily see a mouth, as the sardine heads just vanish from your fingers.  And if it's not evidenced by the photo above, I was probably the oldest kid there, surrounded by throngs of youths.

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David Price, warming up in the bullpen.  The worst part about most of the experience was the fact that the domed off sky and artificial lights were really messing with the way my piddly point-and-shoot handles the light, and often times can't tell whether a flash is suggested or not, and warning me of blurry images.  But a photo is one thing, but watching a phenom like Price work is always a pleasure.

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Okay, I'm not going to BS you guys - the Trop is full of more gimmicks, more games, and more distraction than I've ever seen at any of the other parks I've been to thusfar.  I'm theorizing a lot of it has to do with the demographic, which I noticed is very, very heavyily leaned towards children, so that's fine and all, but for guys like me who really still care about the baseball in the end, it's a little much, just walking around the Trop.

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But I suppose since I apparently walked in the opposite direction, I totally missed this little dlclaimer.  So it was themed all along - I guess I can't complain.

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So, after pulling the "old school no-nonsense at my damn ball game" stick out of my butt, I went back to the Latin All-Stars food joint in the Carnival, and picked up a Cuban sandwich, which would prove to be the only food I got to eat in Florida that day.  It wasn't bad as far as other typical ballpark fare is concerned, but just the fact that I'm eating a hot fresh pressed Cuban sandwich while watching baseball made this trip totally worth it.

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And since I made my way to my seat anyway, something I enjoy doing is going to the highest point in straightaway center, and just taking an obligatory shot of as much of the park as I can.  I also like making panoramics in my spare time (at work), and I have several other parks' folders, where I try to piecemeal six JPEGs into a  nice wide panorama of the park.

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I don't know how the locals feel about all the noise made during the games, but I can see both sides of the argument.  I can get how it might be annoying to hear cowbells, maracas and ThunderStix all game long, especially if they're like right in your ears.  But as a Braves fan who has to endure paltry crowds, apathetic "fans," and mostly people who don't give a turd about the Braves, it's also highly refreshing to see enthisastic fans, who take the effort and contribute by wearing team apparel, show up to the games, and bang objects in unison with their team's play.  I can admire that about the Rays fans at the Trop, and give credit to where it is due.

It was also really nice and cool up in the nosebleeds, fyi.

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David Price ends his outing after six innings, and racking up 7 strikeouts.  I like to identify where in every park, the strikeout meters are, whether it is done by the fans, or a sponsored scoreboard as such.

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So, remember how I said that I shouldn't be worried about the weather while inside of the Trop?  Yeah.  I think this is the first time in my history can I say that I endured a rain-delay inside of a dome.  It rained the day I went to Toronto's Skydome Rogers Centre, but didn't notice it until afterward, but this day at the Trop, sure, the rain didn't effect the game, but the massive amounts of lightning that came with it certainly did, as it knocked out a teeny-weeny bit of power in the stands behind home plate.  Right after Grant Balfour got out of the one-out bases loaded jam, which I would like to say was absolute awesome on his part.  As a proponent for changing the way relievers are credited with stats, I must say that 0.2 HUGE saved innings go credited to Balfour for his ballsy performance.

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Can you see the power outage?  It's in this picture here.  Yeah, exactly.  This kind of irked me badly, because any game with Roy Halladay and David Price mowing down batters, I was expecting to be a lot shorter, and give me the leeway to get back on the road and back to Tampa International, so I could get out of Florida before the weather really messed things up.  I hardly saw any reason to suspend the game for as long as they did, because a few lights in the stands were out.

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Another first in the history of my travels - Looney Toons being shown on the big screen during a rain delay.  I actually remember seeing "Baseball Bugs" back when TNT first started, and they used to show Looney Toons in like three-hour blocks.

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The best part about this was, when the usher I was standing near drew to my attention, were the Tampa Bay relievers who were all standing around watching the cartoon as well.  My camera isn't good ehough, but pretty much everyone hanging out in the Toronto dugout and bullpen were doing the same thing as well.

Unfortunately, as amusing as all of this was, I decided that it was time for me to make my exit.  The rain could be hear booming on top of the dome, and I could use all the opportunities I could get to make my way out of Tampa and back to Atlanta, ASAP.  My mentality was that if I could get to the airport prior to the end of buisness hours, my chances would be greater.  Even if it meant forfeiting the conclusion of a tight Rays/Jays baseball game.

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This is what I had to drive back in; sure the photo does not do justice, but it was kinda bad, especially considering I was in a rental that felt a whole lot different than from what I normally drive.  I was fortunately able to catch the conclusion of the game on the radio on my way back to Tampa, and as sure as you guys know, the Rays held on, and sent the Blue Jays packing with the sweep, which is awesome for you guys.

My risk paid off, as I was able to snag a very late, but available first-class seat back to Atlanta, but it did stink having to forfeit the additional time I could've spent in St. Pete's.  I really wanted to try Zurritos, or some of the other restaurants down between 1st and 4th.  I actually drove past a few of them, and cringed at the thought of not being able to actually stop.  Nevertheless, I thank all of you who gave me those good ideas, and perhaps in the future I'll make my way down to St. Pete's again for some baseball.  Oddly, despite the NLE vs. ALE Interleague schedule, we missed the respective matchup.  I blame the Red Sox, since the Braves had to play them SIX times.  I don't like Interleague.

In conclusion, the trip to the Trop was an interesting one.  I'm not going to sugar-coat it when I say it, but there were a lot more things about the Trop that I wasn't very fond of in comparison to many of the other parks I've done, but then again, I'm also the type of person who believes rain or shine, baseball should be outdoors, even in Florida's humid summer climates. 

But the Trop is also not without good, as I greatly enjoyed the Touch Tank, the Cuban sandwich, and I have great admiration for the fans who show up, and most importantly, I do like the way the Rays operate as an organization, and freely admit I was rooting for them during the World Series.

I hope that my honest opinion does not ruffle any feathers around here, but I'm not here to blow smoke and brown nose.  Instead, I'm hoping that those of you who have taken the time to read this far have enjoyed my experiences in both the AAA level as well as the ML level.  I'd appreciate any and all feedback, and flames too, because then I at least know you've been reading.

Thanks for reading, and good luck on the rest of your Rays' season.  Please do something about the Boston problem!

This post was written by a member of the DRaysBay community and does not necessarily express the views or opinions of DRaysBay staff.

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