For a California boy such as myself, driving through Florida is a treat. In my home state, they’ve outlawed water despite being next to an ocean. So leaving concrete, desert, boarded-up water fountains and authoritarian rule for a lush green and blue state feels a lot like Bob Haskins driving into Toon Town in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” What? You’re parched? Run the spigot all night and smile, darn ya, smile!
And you can have a lot of fun in the Sunshine State, first discovered when explorer Ponce de Leon crossed the treacherous Atlantic Ocean, reached land and said, “I claim this land for Spain. Now, I want Epcot Center over there, Harry Potter will do nicely there…”
Regrettably, perfection across an entire state does not exist. Imagine driving through such breathtaking vegetation, azure skies and tourist traps only to find a giant overturned trash can off Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg. It makes your shoulders spasm from the double take. Who put that giant concrete wart over there?
Then you find out Major League Baseball is played there? Who’s the idiot who decided that?
The short answer is former commissioner Bud Selig, which makes Tropicana Field and the Tampa Bay Rays the two biggest gaffes in a mistake-filled reign as the leader of MLB.
For a moment, I want you to consider that Tropicana Field and the equally forgettable Tampa Bay Rays are conjoined twins. Without one, the other would never exist. The stadium was originally built in 1990, with the goal of luring an existing franchise to Florida. Other teams, such as the San Francisco Giants, leveraged their cities to fund newer, shinier, happier stadiums with Tropicana Field as the alleged alternative. Had any of those local politicians bothered to take one flight to central Florida and seen this rat trap, they might have dared the team to move.
Anyway, after having the stadium sit vacant for five years, Selig took pity on the area and granted them an expansion franchise in 1995. The Tampa Bay Rays first took the field in 1998, and nobody has noticed since.
Selig made multiple mistakes in granting Tampa a team. First of all, he never asked himself why baseball had a following there. It’s because the Yankees hold spring training in the region. The Yankees are popular. The Rays are not. The only time the stadium is even close to capacity is when the Yankees come to town. To refer to The Trop, however, as “Yankee Stadium South” would be an insult to the Bronx.
Secondly, Selig didn’t take into account that millions of retirees on fixed incomes live in Florida.
As a result, Tampa Bay Rays home games are played in an empty architectural abyss with about half of the seats covered in tarpaulin. The Trop is a case study that major tourist projects should be handled by a presumably sober architect because…
A) it is the only stadium where home runs are often hit without the ball clearing the outfield fence. The catwalks suspended above the field are so low if a batter hits one hovering over first base, extra credit!
B) the walkways are about as wide as the hallway in a bachelor apartment. If you get stuck behind an elderly fan with a walker, it will take you 10 minutes to advance five feet because you can’t pass.
Oh, speaking of elderly fans, take a moment and appreciate your lungs. With them, you can breathe, speak and yell. Rays fans no longer have that ability after a lifetime spent binge smoking, so they bring cow bells. You may not have the energy to cheer, but even if you have rheumatoid arthritis with a side order of osteoporosis it’s possible to wiggle a bell.
Rays games are thus, affordable, because few people want to sit three hours in a dirty building that’s too small for walking with fans who are more likely to complain about Medicare than root root root for the home team.
But it’s damn sure uncomfortable, not fun and you’re unlikely to make a lasting memory there. And the fan base is comprised of transplanted New Yorkers with emphysema.
Unless you happen to be there when your favorite team is in town, you should avoid Tampa Bay Rays games and Tropicana Field. This is the top reason — the convincing argument — that visiting all MLB stadiums is an awful idea.