Saturday, May 19, 2012

Living Every Boys' Dream

This was really supposed to be a post about Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.  I was going to talk about the experience.  Maybe a few thoughts about the game between the Rays and the Atlanta Braves (and, yes, I still loathe interleague play).

I could spend a paragraph or two about walking around Steinbrenner Field, spring home of the New York Yankees, and seeing Raymond James Stadium, where the Buccaneers play, and a team from Pittsburgh won a Super Bowl.

I was going to go into a rant about Bud Selig, the man who keeps tweaking with our beloved National Pastime (really?  Now the new playoff format?  Now pitchers can't do that fake to third, then first base thing?  Will the hidden ball trick be next to go?  Stupid.)


OK, first to The Trop.  Parking was fine, and if you drop the car a few blocks away, it is fairly affordable (we paid $15, and another block down it was $20).  Walking up and buying tickets was a snap - as we paid $26 for two ducats that put us in the second deck, down the third base line.  Also, tickets started at $22, and that's not too bad.

The concourse leaves one well away from the action, but there is a lot to do, from the customary team shop, to food (pulled pork nachos?  YES, PLEASE!?), to the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame.

There were carnival games for kids to play.  There was the touch tank to visit an actual ray (the line was too long for us and we almost inadvertently cut it).

Of course, there was baseball (a fairly sleepy 5-3 loss for the Rays, but always nice to see a future hall of famer, as Larry "Chipper" Jones went 1 for 3.  We also saw Jones get hit by a ball, off the bat of BJ Upton, in the third inning.  Jones is fairly certain he won't play again in the series, as he has a bruised calf.
Chipper Jones is tended to.

We didn't spend that much time in our seats.  We moved around and took in as much of The Trop as we could.  It was a fun place to be, despite a paid attendance of only 19,693.

It would have been easy to leave early, as plenty of people did, but Kris and I picked out a couple of seats in the right field stands in the bottom of the 8th.
The woman in front of me insisted of clapping with her hands in the air.  News flash: it ain't about you, sweetheart.
Quick aside: I know the whole "cowbell" thing is Tampa Bay's "schtick", and they can be fairly innoculous, but there's a guy in the right field seats that has one so loud that you can hear him in Sarasota when he hits the damn thing.  Ugh.  And there was a woman with him with a horn that was bigger than her.  Double ugh.

The game came to an end, and Kris and I took a few more pictures.  We were getting ready to leave when an announcement was made.  Something about "exiting the stands via the field."



Sure enough.  It's called the "Center Field Shuffle."  A DJ comes out, the lights go down, the beats start pumping, and the fans are allowed into the outfield.  Throw a beach ball around.  Dance.  Maybe lay on the turf.  Maybe take a pose as if creating a baseball card!
Pretend to be Derek Jeter, going back on a ball from shortstop into the outfield.  Pretend to make a diving catch.  Chat with the friendly guards.  It's all good!

Or pose with the mini baseball bat that you bought for your son!

Reality says, as usual, I get it.  The Rays have trouble drawing manatees (or flies).  Their average attendance is, well, not good.  It's shameful, considering they have one of the best teams (and organizations) in the game.  So they need to do as much as possible for their fans.

But, still.  It highlights to me that other teams could do so much more, but won't because, hey, they don't have to.  Think the Yankees would ever do this?  The Red Sox?  No...and no.  Now, I'm generalizing here.  I'm not saying that either organization doesn't have their fan friendly moments, but neither team bends over backwards either.  Simple supply and demand, of course.  The Yanks and Sox both have consistently full stadiums.  The Rays have the fans off at the beach, or the clubs, or somewhere else.

I think I'm still making my point clearly enough.

Let that stuff go for another time ("The Press Box", 7-9 Monday nights on WGCH!).  For on this Friday night, it was about two big kids living the dream.  Sure, I've stepped on the greatest of all sports turf (161st and River in The Bronx) but Kris had not, and had never been on a Major League Field.  So for him, and his not-jaded-second cousin, it was a moment not to be forgotten.

And it was next to impossible to wipe the smiles off of our faces.

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