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When was the first homerun off the catwalks in Tropicana Field History?

The answer may surprise you!

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Yesterday, Michael Clair of published a list of `One weird fact you may not know for every team.` It’s a fun and informative read, all with the exception of one thing.

When you look for the weird fact for the Tampa Bay Rays, Clair went with this:

Plenty of weirdness happens when a ball hits the catwalk that hangs under The Trop’s domed roof. But the first player to test the rules was Edgar Martínez. On May 28, 1998, Martínez launched a ball off the “D” ring for the first ground-rule home run at the stadium. Former Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was the first to do it in the postseason.

That would be a really fun fact, if it were true!

Yes, Edgar Martinez did hit that homerun. Playing in his very first game at Tropicana Field against the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and during his first plate appearance, Martinez absolutely obliterated that offering from Jason Johnson (who you may, or may not have known, was the first player to wear an insulin pump on the field).

It was a no doubter and ricocheted off of the “D” ring in left-center field. It was probably the longest blast up to that point in Tropicana Field history.

However, someone had already beat him to the punch in regards to playing pepper with the catwalks of The Trop! Another future Hall of Famer visited the Trop in early April of 1998 for just the second series in Devil Rays history, and did the very same thing a month in advance.

The Chicago White Sox were in town that April, and coming along with them was the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, and he too gave the rafters the business.

During the second game of the series, Thomas was hitting in the top of the 4th inning against Devil Rays hurler Dennis Springer when the catwalks in Tropicana Field would come into play for the very first time.

With the count 1-0, Thomas launched a ball high into the domed canopy of Tropicana Field. Bear in mind, this was in the infancy of Tropicana Field, just the 5th Major League game ever being played at the stadium.

On this particular play, the ball was absolutely crushed but struck the “B” ring and descended into foul territory, causing all kinds of confusion on the field.

As most Rays fans know, Tropicana Field has a bizarre set of ground rules should the catwalks come into play. They were even more bizarre when the franchise first came into existence as the ground rules were a lot more archaic.

Per Mark Maske of the Washington Post, circa May 1998:

The ground rules state that any ball that hits a catwalk can be caught by a fielder on the rebound for an out. A ball that hits a catwalk in foul territory is a foul ball. A ball that hits a catwalk in fair territory but caroms into foul territory is foul. A ball that hits a catwalk in fair territory and lands in fair territory is in play. A ball that gets stuck on a catwalk in fair territory is a double. Any ball that hits the lower catwalk hanging beyond the outfield fence is a home run.

Technically, this batted ball should have been a foul ball, but the umpire, the late Jim McKean, ruled it to be a homerun.

Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild, who had made himself well aware of the ground rules of his home stadium, argued that it should have been a foul ball and Tampa Bay would play the game under protest (the protest was dropped following the Devil Rays victory in the game).

McKean’s reasoning for the home run call was simple, if you hit a ball that far, you deserve a home run, rules be damned. McKean advised Rothschild, “Why don’t you walk over there and tell Frank Thomas that ball he hit is not a home run.”

Larry Rothschild pleading his case to Jim McKean - Tampa Bay Times

It would be just the first of numerous occasions of which the catwalks came into play for the young franchise and the principal owner at the time, Vince Naimoli, would have the ground rules changed just two months into the season to respond.

Since then, the ground rules have been changed at Tropicana Field numerous times with various results. But, in this instance, one thing is for certain.

Michael Clair was wrong!

Further Reading