At first glance, an enclosed baseball field in the middle of the Sunshine State would seem to be an improper way to honor the national pastime. However, the stadium experience is much more than the playing surface and the difference between ceiling and sky. It’s the appreciation for history and the surrounding neighborhood that makes Tropicana Field not only special, but a must see.
FANFARE Score: 27
Food & Beverage: 4
With several restaurants and plenty of vendors around the concourse, there is a lot to like at the Trop. There are the obvious beer choices, with some interesting options interspersed. While not a food option, the cigar bar is both unique for baseball stadiums, yet true to its Floridian roots.
It’s hard to stay in your seat, with all of the options available. So go on and wander around and try some of the delights available.
A common misconception is that building a dome was the wrong decision for the Rays franchise. The truth is that without the dome there would be rain delays, and rainouts to contend with, not to mention the exasperating humidity that would saturate the fans. The dome was the right choice. And although the aesthetic of Astroturf is a turn off for many fans, there is a lot to like indoors.
For one, the relocation of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame is a distinguishing addition. With great photographs and memorabilia, it’s worth the walk upstairs. The Hitters Hall of Fame began with the induction of the 20 greatest hitters of all time, according to the Splendid Splinter in 1995. Since then, 39 additional hitters have been added, making it a must see for any baseball history buff.
There is a perfect pre-game walk that links the past with the present in the history of Florida baseball in the St. Petersburg area. Less than a mile from Tropicana Field sits Al Lang Stadium, named after the former mayor that helped to draw Major League teams to Florida for spring training each year. A walk north from Al Lang to Central Avenue will start you along the Baseball Boulevard, marked with placards shaped like home plate, explaining the history of baseball in the area.
Along the walk, you’ll not only find a history lesson, but a plethora of bars and restaurants that are worth a stop for a quick bite or drink. The first stop should be the Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant attached to the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Have some sangria or a beer, and a couple of tapas before you head along your way.
The next stop should be the Central Avenue Oyster Bar for some raw oysters or other fresh seafood. It’s a quiet, jazzy place. Far from being a baseball hangout, it can be a good place to begin.
Solid chicken wings and 16 beers on tap, Paddy Burke’s Irish Pub, just south of Central Avenue on 4th Street, is another great stop. Outstanding bartending is part of the key to this being a good place to hangout, and its far enough away from the stadium (about ½ mile) that it won’t get crazy before or after a game.
The official Rays bar has got to be Ferg’s, just a couple of blocks from Tropicana Field. There’s indoor and outdoor seating available, with the standard bar fare and drink selection. In a word Ferg’s can be described as big, which is either good or bad depending on your interpretation. The greatest draw here is its proximity, so take it or leave it.
A final destination for your consideration is the Ciderhouse with an excellent beer selection, and a good place to debate sports at the bar.
It’s disappointing that Rays fans haven’t become more ardent after the team’s success making the 2008 World Series. The stadium remains half full on a good night. One of the saddest thing is when a fanbase abandons its team in the bad times (see the Pirates attendance). Even more depressing is when that fanbase fails to turn out when the times are good, and it’s easy to be a fan. Here’s wishing Rays fans come back soon with more fervor.
Parking can be had for as little as $5 near the stadium, or if you are willing to walk you can find it for free near Al Lang Stadium. You won’t deal with lines for food or for bathrooms.
Return on Investment: 4
The tickets are one of the best values in baseball, and I would have happily paid more. The food can be a bit overpriced at times, but not that much more than what one can expect at most stadiums. The free admission to the Ted Williams Museum, makes this an outstanding value.
Extra Points: 3
The Rays tank is certainly unique, and even though the outside seems unappetizing, what lies within is a true gem.
You’ll be surprised how much you’ll like Tropicana Field. What seems like an inadequate and ugly facility, is really a inspiring treasure for baseball fans. I look forward to my next trip to Florida and its abundance of sunshine, but mostly, I’ll be excited to get indoors, to catch a Rays game.