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St. Petersburg baseball forever: A new stadium roundtable

Sharing our thoughts on the stadium that will be

For many of us, the Stadium Saga has, like a baseball season, seemed to go on forever with some wonderful highs and some disappointing lows. The high points included the so-called “sail stadium,” and while we still wonder how that would have felt on an August afternoon there is no doubt the design was intriguing, and the location was breathtaking. The low point: it’s got to be the time the team tried to strong-arm us into a throuple, right? (All our stadium coverage can be found in one handy story stream here.)

But here we are, September of 2023, and a deal has been made that will keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area for the foreseeable future. We’ve asked some of our writers, all long-time Rays fans, for their thoughts on some important questions:

Any features (beyond the usual field, seats, etc) you hope this stadium will have?

Lizzie: my dream has always been to “work from stadium” so I’d love some seats with tables or even those little flip school desks so you could sit with a laptop. Good Wifi too!

Ian: Make it a pitchers’ park! In any single game park effects apply equally to both teams, but over the course of a season, where you pitch half your games matters. Quicker outs means fewer PAs, fewer total pitches, and less wear and tear on the pitching staff. Indoors at sea level is a good start but make sure there are no short porches, plenty of foul ground, and that the turf plays slow.

Danny: The new stadium must have a more robust and dynamic Rays tank. The feature at the Trop is great, but it’s fairly simple and not well adorned. Intentionally approaching touch tanks with a variety of aquatic life would make the new ballpark all the more welcoming to families, and provide a unique flare among US stadiums.

If public transportation is coming to Tampa Bay, I think bringing a monorail station into the plans could be an interesting feature as well. Think the Contemporary Resort at Disney World, or the train above left field in Houston that isn’t actually functional. Passing fans could see baseball happening in real time! That would be a draw for the train and an iconic Floridian addition to the park.

Darby: A fixed-roof stadium is kind of a no-brainer in a state as hot and humid in the summer as Florida, but that doesn’t mean the stadium has to be a cave! New stadium architecture like that in the new Minnesota Vikings stadium (U.S. Bank Stadium), the Seattle Kraken’s Climate Pledge Arena, and the NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters stadium are fantastic examples of how a dome can still bring in natural light. So what I am hoping for, and early design renderings are showcasing, is tons of glass and ways to bring in natural light. Large floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around the stadium, a huge centerfield wall of glass, and glass slots in the roof, are all ways to try and make a domed experience still feel like you are getting the natural baseball experience (without having to melt). I’m encouraged that natural light seems to be a priority in early designs, and as much as they want to push that envelope is A-OK with me!

Elijah: I hope the new ballpark brings the same, or better, food offerings that the Trop offers. I hope the local places that have set up shop at the Trop migrate over to the new building, and hopefully some of the old corporate sponsors that have since left, such as Outback Steakhouse, return in some form or fashion. Publix subs would be a cool touch!

Jared: I’ve been on the lazy river hype train for so long, I’m pretty much the conductor. You could charge a daily pass rate, have a separate entrance/exit. Swim up bars, and a swim up viewing area. Even a “dry” viewing area so you aren’t spending 3 hours in a pool!

Brett: To be hyper-specific, I want to see some kind of quasi-partnership with Cigar City Brewery, ideally accompanying an outfield bar where you can watch the game and be served $15 beers. After visiting Minute Maid Park in Houston and drinking a frozen marg by the outfield tables, I yearn for continued local partnerships that’re fully on display during a 9th inning three-run homer by Rays All-Star Junior Caminero. Broadly speaking, I’d love a more open space while still maintaining that outstanding dome feel. I hope the Rays make full use of those glass walls I’ve seen on all those stadium designs.

Editor’s Note: Credit to TheRaysin on Twitter as well with the idea for a victory beacon from the top of the stadium, which would be a cool, new way to see if the Rays won...

If you had to choose a few iconic images for the first statue or banner to adorn the new stadium, what would it be?

Lizzie: Maybe not the first, but I want a statue of the fan host who kept a dreadlocked John Jaso at bay when he tried to approach the field. May her spirit and work ethic guide us.

Ian: There's been baseball in Tampa Bay since the 1880s. Let's mark that with a mural featuring Al Lopez, Andrew Espolita, Juanelo Mirabal, and the rest of our under-remembered baseball heritage.

Danny: I would love to see a celebration of the uniforms for those teams as well Ian, the Smokers and legacy Tarpons had incredible jerseys. Additionally, the flags of Tampa and St. Petersburg are compelling and interesting sources of inspiration for colors and patterns. But more specific to the question at hand, the Rays greats of years gone by like James Shields, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and the hall of fame inductees need celebrated. Great franchises embrace the legacy of their best players to don the jersey.

Darby: I love the Mariners Hall of Fame walk at T-Mobile Park, with memorabilia and profiles of great Mariners of the past, so some sort of Rays history walk in the stadium would be amazing. Not every player is legendary enough to warrant a statue or a retired number, but there is rich history through the 25 years of the Devil Rays and baseball at large in the Tampa Bay area to honor. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good museum.

Elijah: I would love to see some sort of tribute to the late Dave Wills, and also DeWayne Staats. Perhaps something similar to the Jerry Coleman Broadcast Center at Petco Park in San Diego? Both figures are so beloved by the Rays community, and I feel that would be a great touch.

Jared: Besides the Longo and Aki statues already being unveiled, I think moments the fans remember best, like a mural of Randy slapping home or the Brett Phillips airplane from Game 4 of the 2020 World Series or in that same run, the Mike Brosseau HR off of Chapman deserve attention.

With St. Pete having one of the largest Pride celebrations in Florida and a large LGBTQIA+ community, it would be incredible to see the Rays’ continued support of the LGBTQIA+ community with a mural or feature at the new Rays stadium.

Brett Phillips: Brett Phillips Airplane. Obviously.

The stadium will probably be named for some soulless, forgettable financial company that buys naming rights, but if you could name it yourself, what would the name be?

Lizzie: I actually love the name Tropicana Field, so maybe as homage but without giving advertising to a company no longer paying for the privilege we’ll call it: The Orange Grove.

Ian: Sell the naming rights to Gas Worx (in Tampa) at any cost, to make sure people stay confused about where the stadium is. Confusion is the brand.

Danny: The original name of the Historic Gas Plant district is Cooper’s Quarters and I think finding ways to bring that name iconography into the park would be more ideal than the gas plant that doomed much of the soil and initially displaced so many residents before future development exacerbated the ethical concerns with the land beneath Tropicana Field.

Elijah: I think Bloomin’ Ballpark would be cool if Outback Steakhouse were to acquire the naming rights. A free Bloomin’ Onion if the Rays win?

Jared: First choice would be to keep the Tropicana Field name, but if it can’t be that then Publix Park?

Darby: Tampa Stadium of St Pete because I enjoy the mass confusion from fans and media outside of the area that is already caused, so why not go for maximum?

Overall thoughts/feelings about this announcement?

Lizzie: I was hoping it would be built in Tampa. That is partly selfish (I live closer) but also largely my reading of the next 20 years, with the Tampa side of the bay still gaining population, more likely to get a rail connection (via Brightline), and perhaps a tad less vulnerable to sea level rise and hurricane impacts (although not much less vulnerable). But sometimes your second choice can be absolutely fine, and I’m quite ready to love this new home of the Rays.

Ian: I don't love public funding for sports stadiums, but over the years Liz has convinced me not to judge these things purely by return on investment (no, there is no significant positive economic impact — especially not considering the opportunity costs — and anybody who says otherwise is either gullible or lying to you). But baseball matters to communities generally and to this one in particular. Museums and orchestras and parks and schools and all sorts of other things that receive public funding (not as much as they should) don't have significant measurable economic impact either. I'm a baseball fan and I'm relieved to know the Rays are staying my Rays.

Danny: I’m predominantly grateful that major league baseball is staying in Tampa Bay, but I can’t shake the concerns related to attendance with St. Petersburg. The Rays have spent the better part of a decade declaring how St. Pete could not support a baseball team, but 180’d the moment money became available. So were they being truthful before? Or is the public funding enough to make them stop worrying?

Additionally, I have serious concerns regarding how long it will take for the overall development to be complete. The baseball stadium might be going up first, but it seems like this won’t be a situation like The Battery where the stadium and surround area was built simultaneously. How nice is a new ballpark if it lives in a construction zone for 10 years?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Press Conference Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Darby: The Devil Rays came into existence in a stadium that was 10 years old by the time they played their first game. This franchise has never had a place that was entirely its own, its own history, and not that of antiquated design or the threat of relocation. And now, for the first time, as the fanbase grows and new generations of fans that have followed this team for a 2nd generation, will have stability and a home that begins at the beginning (and not a decade late).

There are a lot of emotions behind whether St Pete or Tampa was the right place to build, and the business of stadium building is a dirty and corrupt one filled with greed and sleaze. But all of that comes secondary to the overall emotions I’m feeling: relief that the Tampa Bay Rays are not going anywhere.

Recently, Zach Eflin mentioned postgame that he “grew up a Rays fan”. That was almost mind-blowing to hear. It takes time to develop history, and the Rays are doing that for a region, for people my age who became a fan when they came into existence, and now for a whole new group of kids who have gotten to root for a team that has always and now will always be their hometown team.

Elijah: I am extremely happy that the Rays are staying in the Tampa Bay area, but a waterfront ballpark in Tampa would’ve been awesome. However, I am grateful that I currently live less than 15 minutes from the Trop, and will not have to fight traffic to make first pitch.

Jared: Overall, very good. I’m glad the Rays are staying in the Tampa Bay area. As an Orlando resident, it was always going to be a trek for me, but a trek I’m always willing to make. Hopefully some transportation improvements both in Tampa & St. Pete (and maybe between the two) are implemented, but either way I can’t wait to explore the new park and continue supporting the Tampa Bay Rays.

Brett: My entire Rays fandom has been overshadowed by the threat of the team leaving the area. I’ve endured the “Montreal Rays conceit,” both from online folks and from ownership. I’ve had to fake laugh at the “Las Vegas X-Rays” joke you’ll see 400 times from folks who think they’re the first to have thought of it. I’ve felt like I’ve had to defend the existence of my favorite team, my hometown team, my first sports love, for my entire life. So yeah, I don’t care where the stadium is built, as long as it’s within driving distance of my hometown. Put it in New Port Richey for all I care. Build it on a floating barge just off the shores of Clearwater. I don’t have a lot of nuance to my opinion here. This is my team, it always will be my team, and I’m ecstatic that they’re staying in the Bay area.

What’s next for the Rays?

Rays assigned 18th overall pick in the 2024 draft

Rays Your Voice: Juan Soto traded, Winter Meetings recap