Tuesday night, as I sat and watched my favorite baseball team surrounded by 3500 of my closest friends, I had an epiphany. "What if I wrote a brief recap of my evening without all the snark and Trop-hate I usually spew? What if I focused on the positives?" I realized fairly quickly that, much like the Trop, that task is a bridge too far. Instead I think I'll split it up. Positives first, negatives next. Haters gonna hate.
- After reading the Thrillist.com article on the Perfect Beer for Every Major League Baseball Team (link) my curiosity was beyond piqued about Green Bench Brewing Co. We decided to head there instead of Ferg's or the tailgate lot before the game this time. As soon as we pulled in and parked (for free... for the entire game.. shhh don't steal my spot), we knew we were in the right place. Only open about 6 months, it's got a terrific little atmosphere and from the decor to the name of the brews, Green Bench seems very focused on the "local" aspect of being a local craft brewery. The best part was that this place is quite literally a matter of footsteps from the Trop. I'm told Three Daughters Brewery and others are just a hop, skip and jump away as well. So far so good.
- About an hour before first pitch we made our way to the ballpark, but upon entering we noticed that one thing was missing (besides the fans), there was NO LINE FOR THE RAYS TANK. Somehow, after going to countless games over the years, I've never pet the rays in that tank. Today was the day. Look, I've been to Sea World (before I saw Blackfish #FREETILLY), I've touched all sorts of sea life. Just never at a baseball stadium. It's a nice touch. Glad I got to do it once.
- The Porch in Center Field: Guys, this is great. This is really, really great. Tons of standing room, TV's showing the game, some quality views of the field with a little counter to set down your food or beverage, and a decent little selection of local brews. On tap at the porch I saw Cigar City Jai Alai, St Pete Brewing's Orange Wheat, a Three Daughters and another local brew I can't recall. It's quite the spot to mingle too. I ran into DRB celebrity Dickie (SRQman) and his lovely lady, hung with Orestes Destrade and apparently just missed $tinky $tu out there turning his nose up at the $9 pretzels like he does productive free agents. Spent some of pre-game here, and came back a couple of times here and there for a half inning or so and a refill. Pro Tip: there is also a lovely handicapped stall tucked away in the men's room back there. Very roomy in case you need to pinch out a Trop and prefer your seat not be covered in yellow liquid.
- Next stop, Cuesta Ray Cigar Bar. Now I've been here before, but usually during a game when I'm frantic to get back to my seat and not miss any action. This time was different, as we still had a good 25 minutes until first pitch. We ended up playing a few games of pool with a delightful father and son we met in there, had a few drinks and took in the terrific smell of Cuesta Ray's goods. No time to smoke one, but this is a hidden treasure at the Trop. Slightly less hidden now with the new Porch.
- There is now sushi. And legit sushi, not LeeCaz garlic fry stand questionable sushi. Apparently, a local restaurant is operating a sushi stand around section 116 or so for some of the more well attended games. They won't make the mistake of showing up for Game 2 again I'm sure, but I digress. Ended up having two reasonably priced ($8-14) and even more reasonably delicious rolls. I'm a big fan of non-traditional ballpark grub. The sliced meat and sushi at Yankee Stadium, the cuban fare at Marlins Park... and now the local sushi at the Trop. Yum.
- Look, the game was a bore until the 9th. The game was not well-attended. Both of those things are pretty clear. I'm not going to dwell on those things today. I feel like I've done that enough.
- The crowd was, as always, a total dud. The loudest cheers I heard were for Adam Lind's 3 run homer. Look, there wasn't much to cheer for when it comes to the home team, but come on... not even a boo or two or a steroid chant for Melky?? Nothing??? Here are the things I did hear:
1. During Zobrist's first plate appearance, a man behind me loudly telling his lady that the Rays made a huge mistake not cutting Ben Zobrist. Cutting. Ben. Zobrist. I waited for chuckles. There were none. He goes on to explain to her that he's just not a good player, making sure to point out to her his .000 batting average.
2. A man with Bose noise-canceling headphones on in a hawaiian shirt loudly proclaiming that the Rays Front Office constantly makes bonehead moves. He did face a little resistance from fans around him here, but he insisted that moves like re-signing Molina are just one of many examples of the bonehead things the RFO dummies do to save a few bucks. He went on to say that with the right people in charge, the Rays would have won several World Series by now. It was Heater Theater LIVE!
- While continuing to narrowly avoid #attendancetalk, I'll say this. These games and this ballpark have a very different feel to them depending on the size of the crowd. When the Trop is loud, packed and rocking, the place can be a blast. Last night felt like baseball being played in a hollowed-out warehouse. It's nights like this one that keep me hoping and begging for a new park across the bridge one day.
As you can see, a lot of positives here. Several new things to check out that have some promise. It was no Lobaton walk-off into the Rays Tank like my last game here, but I left feeling a surprisingly positive vibe.