To be clear, at this moment, I have not visited every MLB stadium. I have six to go. But I have little doubt the remaining stops are better than this overturned trash can in central Florida.
Tropicana Field has been home to the equally overlooked Tampa Bay Rays since their inception in 1998. Every few years, the Rays play pretty good baseball. The abomination of Tropicana Field, however, is eternal.
The domed stadium was complete and ready for business eight years prior, which is a testament to how little desire other teams had to play in it. They have given the concourses paint jobs and added a bar in the left-field upper deck, but make no mistake, The Trop is the case study to stop this idiotic quest American men have to visit every Major League Baseball stadium.
To get here, you make a pleasant drive over Old Tampa Bay on Interstate 275. Ahead, St. Petersburg beckons with clear skies and gorgeous blue waters (unless you are traversing one of Florida’s famed daily monsoons) and you think to yourself: A fella could live here.
Sure, you could. Until you see that giant concrete pimple on the horizon.
Where to start on how bad of an experience this is? … OK, first of all, nobody there particularly likes the Rays. Half of the upper deck and parts of the lower bowl are covered in tarp, lowering seating capacity from about 45,000 to 31,042. Why lower your seating by one-third? It’s because the Rays are a way for the locals to see their beloved Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have played spring training games about a block away from the Buccaneers stadium for decades.
Therefore, if the townies won’t provide the Rays with a home-field advantage, what is the point of making the home field appealing at all?
When the Yankees aren’t in town, you can get in the lower bowl of the place for about $20 on StubHub.
Know this, however, when you go it is most uncomfortable. Florida is a giant retirement community. Imagine being boxed into an enclosed space with 15,000 octogenarians. Try getting to your seat when the four people in front of you are blocking the slender concourse because they can only advance their walker a painful quarter-inch at a time. After a lifetime of binge smoking, Rays fans can’t fill their lungs to cheer. As a result, the team sells small cowbells to rattle.
Oh, that doesn’t get annoying.
Aesthetically, Tropicana Field is like Daubigny’s Garden, which is to say it’s Vincent Van Gogh’s last work before committing suicide. Sportswriters, in their short-sightedness, complain about the catwalks. It’s not just the catwalks. It is a genuinely ugly interior, the same color as your work cubicle — which you wanted to flee from in the first place. And consider the place isn’t even that clean. It’s not exposed to the outdoor elements! It’s indoors! Wipe the place down, for Pete’s sake.
Also, Tropicana one of two stadiums in MLB that stubbornly clings to its artificial turf. The outfield seating, of which there is little because of space, are park benches. The scoreboard also can’t be upgraded, due to the enclosed stadium’s size.
Home runs are celebrated not by fireworks and hype videos, but by the Tropicana logo lighting up and rattled cowbells.
I made multiple laps around the stadium in a desperate search for redeeming qualities. I found one. Take a walk on the dingy lower level behind the outfield wall. Eventually, you will see an opening to centerfield, with a chain-link fence. There you are, level with the centerfielder, getting his view of home plate.
The kids might like petting stingrays in a tank over centerfield, but the water isn’t clean and isn’t that how Steve Irwin died?
The Rays take great pride in being a cutting-edge franchise in terms of analytics — the fancy-pants term used to discover inexpensive players by going blind over spreadsheets. To be fair, every so often, the Rays play well. They are currently 10 games over .500 with a payroll of about $71 million. That would be a reason to watch the Rays play, when they come to your town.
As for taking a trip to central Florida, take the kids to Orlando or head east to the Atlantic Ocean for Cape Canaveral.