Twelve years ago, I sat next to my grandfather just past the Rays dugout, cowbell in hand, ready to take in game one of the 2008 World Series. Fast forward twelve years and I, along with my grandfather, were on a plane to Dallas, Texas to attend game three of the 2020 World Series.
So, there we sat on an American Airlines flight in row 19, seats D and C with masks and hand sanitizer, rather than cowbells, in hand. Under no circumstances did I expect to attend a major sporting event this year in the midst of a pandemic. After the past seven months of quarantining and socially distanced encounters, the concept of attending a professional sporting event felt foreign.
Heck, the only sporting events I have been to with a crowd over the past months were my college summer ball games in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where anywhere from 100-150 Wisconsinites would flock to watch some college baseball. Now, I was on my way, along with 11,500 other people, to take in America’s pastime for the first time this year.
There is a distinct difference between a regular season game and a playoff game. You can feel it as you watch from home and you can feel it while at the game. You live and die with the pitcher’s mounting of the rubber as he comes set to pitch. With your team’s success, comes elation. With their failure, comes despair. In close games anxiety grows, stress creeps in, and the nerves build.
The question was, would a neutral site with limited capacity and socially distanced seats provide that same atmosphere? The answer, simply put, was a resounding yes. While it wasn’t a sold-out Tropicana Field filled with a sea of waving yellow rally towels, it was still electric. The tension built prior to the first pitch and lasted through the last. Sadly, despair was a common theme for Rays fans in game three rather than elation. The Dodgers’ Walker Buehler put on a show while Charlie Morton struggled to find a way to get the third out. Mookie Betts continued to showcase his five-tool dominance, Randy Arozarena made history, and the Rays lost 6-2
Nonetheless, Globe Life Field lived up to the hype that surrounded it prior to our arrival. A monstrous ballpark that just screams, “Everything is bigger in Texas!”. It looms large over the Rangers’ old stadium just across the street. The concourses provide countless options for ballpark fare and drink. It has the equivalent of that “new car smell”. It’s exterior reflects the bright Texas sun and its vast interior is a cathedral built to host baseball games.
Just outside the left field gates is the Loews hotel built to accompany the new stadium along with the stunning and expansive sports bar and restaurant hub, Live! by Loews. The epicenter of pre and postgame entertainment features more than a handful of unique bars, restaurants, and stores all under one roof with a multi-screen television set-up at the center that rivals the size of the video board in Tropicana Field (Honestly, it is probably bigger!).
Dodgers fans showed in droves. At times it felt as though our plane had landed in Los Angeles rather than Dallas. Nevertheless, Rays fans made the trip as well and made the Bay’s presence felt. There was a fairly even mix of fans at our hotel. But, you could hear the difference inside the stadium. It is to be expected though. The Dodgers, as recognizable of a brand that baseball has to offer, have a fanbase and history that spans generations. The last time the Dodgers won a World Series was in 1988, the Rays wouldn’t even play their first game as a franchise for another ten years. So, the fan representation was expected.
Regardless of the loss and the overwhelming amount of Dodger blue in the stands, it was electric. At the end of the day, it was the World Series after all. There is nothing better.