As lots of you probably know, I was down in the Tampa/St. Pete area last week for the very first time. Yes, I know - it's totally weird that I'd never been to see a Rays' game in the Trop before. I'm a rather unique Rays fan - living in the Northeast, but not a Florida transplant - and traveling down to Florida on pleasure simply doesn't get to happen all that often. But hey, now I've finally rectified that hole in my fandom.
Since it was my first time in the area and I can post here whatever the heck I want, I figured I'd share some of my...well, thoughts and impressions. This is definitely a more self-centered post - I mean, y'all live down there so it's not like I'll be saying anything new to you - but I thought it might be interesting for everyone to get an outsider's perspective on the area and Trop.
You've been forewarned.
What are people talking about? The Trop is fine. Tropicana Field gets lots of crap hurled at it by writers and fans, but I thought it was a comfortable, fun stadium. I was there for one of the Yankees-Rays games last week, so it was decently full, but it was still very easy to get around and navigate through the stadium and it really didn't seem like there was a bad seat in the house. I was sitting way up toward the top of the nosebleeds, but I felt much close to the action than I have in similar seats at other ballparks; they were fine seats and rather cheap too. I'm sure there are some seats in the Trop that have sight-line issues, but that's the case in nearly every stadium; even the new Yankee Stadium - that uber expensive, high end palace - has some really poor sight-lines in places.
And visually, I don't get the big deal about the dome. Everyone has different tastes so I'm sure there are people that disagree, but the roof and catwalks weren't an eyesore for me. It gave the stadium a unique feel, and anyway, I don't see how you can have a strictly open-roofed stadium that far south in Florida. This was a mid-May game, yet it was still 80 degrees and humid outside when the game got started at 7 PM. I can only imagine what it's going to be like over the next three months, so at least in my mind, having an open-air stadium in Tampa Bay would be as silly as putting one in Minnesota. It doesn't mean you can't do it, but you're making yourself vulnerable to some extreme, uncomfortable weather.
Inside the Trop, I thought the decorations and paint gave the corridors a lively feel. It wasn't like I was entering the dark, dingy environment that I've heard people complain about. It's no Camden Yards, but for a 20 year old stadium, the Trop is doing just fine.
Downtown St. Pete is beautiful. I arrived in St. Petersburg midday on the day of the game, leaving plenty of time to cruise around the city before the game. Erik dropped by and showed me and my brother around, and I really liked the downtown area. There are lots of fun little places to stop and eat, and the waterfront is beautiful. Of course, this comment comes from someone that's used to looking at gray clouds and 50 degree weather, so almost anything would have looked pretty to me in 80 degree weather with sunny skies. But still, St. Pete seemed like a really great area.
I was also really impressed that you could find really cheap parking right in the downtown area; I'm so used to having to drop $20 on parking garage costs, it was a great change of pace. Although I guess the reason for this is closely related to my next point...
The Trop's location is....odd. St. Pete is lovely, but I think a large reason I liked it so much was because it didn't feel like a city. If anything, St. Pete felt almost like a large suburban town to me. The downtown area was relatively small and easy to walk around, without tall building towering above you everywhere. There was easy parking on the streets, open spaces all around, and there was even a small traffic circle halfway between the downtown and the Trop. I wasn't expecting anything like it; it was totally different than any other major city I've been in. Comparing it to places I've been, it felt more like a Bethesda, Maryland than a Washington D.C; more like West Hartford than Hartford.
This has got to be awesome for residents, as it makes St. Pete the best of both worlds, but it makes the Trop's location one of the weirdest I've seen for a major league stadium. Heck, there was a classic suburb shopping plaza just a couple blocks from the Trop. And Ferg's is literally the only bar in the area? I figured it was just the most popular one, but there really isn't much else around the Trop. No huge apartment complexes, no major commercial development - just suburbs. What is that about?
All this leads me to believe that any writer that criticizes the Rays' attendance must never have been to the Trop. How can you draw in a location like that? When I was around 15 minutes out from the Trop, I was crossing over a bridge and looking at water as far as the eye can see, while 15 minutes out of Yankee Stadium would have me driving on the Cross-Bronx Expressway and passing towering apartment complex after apartment complex. Obviously New York is a separate world in and of itself, but the Rays are facing a really tough challenge with the Trop's current location.
Anyway, I don't mean to turn this into an attendance thread, but I was just so thrown off by the Trop's location that I can't help but bring it up. I love ya St. Pete, but you're definitely one of the most unique cities I've been in.