Monday, May 25, 2009

Tropicana Field

Chicago White Sox @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays
May 9, 2005

Devil Rays 4, White Sox 2

W: Lance Carter
L: Freddy Garcia
S: Danys Baez
Attendance: 8,774
Time of Game: 2 hours, 45 minutes

Stadium Facts

Location: St. Petersburg, FL
First Game: March 31, 1998
Capacity: 43,772
Type: Dome
Surface: Artificial turf

After another long hiatus in these reviews, I'm back at it. I left off in the middle of my trip to the Southeast. After attending a Marlins game on a Sunday afternoon, the following day I drove across the state of Florida, through the Everglades, to the Gulf Coast. I arrived in the Tampa Bay area well in advance of the Monday night game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

I already mentioned my dislike of domed stadiums in the Metrodome review, but I will reiterate it now. It is especially mind boggling to be playing indoor baseball in Florida. Tropicana Field gets a slight edge over the Metrodome since it is primarily configured for baseball only and is newer, but it still ranks as one of my least favorite parks. This was my second trip to Tropicana Field. I was also there in 2000 during a family vacation to Florida. It was pouring rain that day, so the dome actually came in handy. For this 2005 visit though, it was a bright, sunny day, making me wish I was watching a game outdoors.

Originally built in 1990 in order to entice a baseball team to relocate, or an expansion team to be placed, Tropicana Field did not get a permanent baseball resident until the expansion Devil Rays came along in 1998. The first franchise they tried to woo was actually the White Sox who were in a nasty stadium battle with the state of Illinois in the late 80s. Fortunately, that was resolved and the Sox remained in Chicago.

Tropicana Field reminds me a lot of Skydome in Toronto, minus the retractable roof. It is a pretty nice facility, but has way too much of a mall feel to it. There are restaurants and shops throughout the park. You have to leave the concourse area to realize you are actually in a sporting arena.

On a positive note, the stadium is definitely built for baseball. There are no roll-away seats or temporary walls like the Metrodome has. There are also no upper deck seats in the outfield. The only really bad seats in the park are the top part of the upper deck, which are generally blocked off (except in the World Series last year). The Rays rarely draw enough fans to make this much of an issue anyway.

As small of a crows as I was part of in Miami, this one was MUCH smaller. The announced attendance was 8,774, and a good percentage of those were Sox fans. I got a ticket in the club level behind the Sox dugout, but honestly could have sat pretty much anywhere I wanted.

The playing field is quite unique at Tropicana Field. Despite the artificial surface, they have a full dirt infield. Also the fieldturf makes the playing surface relatively similar to playing on grass. The uniqueness is mostly in the fact that several catwalks circle the stadium up near the roof. I have no idea why it was built this way, however they frequently come into play on towering pop ups and fly balls. They have some interesting ground rules for what happens when a ball strikes, or goes over one of these catwalks. The dimensions of the field are pretty standard, though there are some deep parts of the park just to the right and left of straight away center field.

On paper, this game looked like a huge mismatch. The White Sox entered the game with the best record in baseball (24-7), while the Devil Rays found themselves in their usual last place at 11-21. The pitching matchup seemed to give the Sox a huge edge as well. Freddy Garcia started for the Sox while the washed up Hideo Nomo got the start for the Devil Rays.

But in baseball, anything can happen on any given day. The red hot White Sox were not clicking this night. After a Scott Podsednik walk and stolen base to lead off the game, Tadahito Iguchi scored him on a double and later scored himself on a sacrifice fly by Paul Konerko. Those would be the only two runs the Sox would score on the night. Nomo wasn't unhittable, but the Sox blew several golden opportunities to add to their lead.

The Devil Rays got on the board in the fourth on a double by former Sox Chris Singleton. They scored two more runs in the sixth inning, with Singleton once again driving in the go ahead run. An insurance run in the seventh gave the Devil Rays a 4-2 lead. The Sox did very little off the Rays bullpen and came up short by a score of 4-2.

Despite this loss, 2005 wound up being a very special season for the White Sox. They went on to win their first World Series title since 1917. Coincidentally, I've seen the Sox play in Tampa twice and both seasons the Sox wound up winning their division. Meanwhile, the Devil Rays struggled to another last place finish. It wouldn't be until three years later when the franchise would finally gain some life and win the American League pennant. One can only hope that their success in '08 will lead to more support from the community, because it was pretty sad when I was down there. Another move in the right direction would be to build an outdoor stadium, but that probably won't happen any time soon.

This was the last MLB stadium stop of the trip, however I did stop in Charlotte on my way home to see the Sox AAA team play. There was one more MLB park to see in 2005 though. I went up to Pittsburgh much later that season. Hopefully it won't take me another month to write about that one.

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Next stadium: PNC Park, Pittsburgh