Northside For Life

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Game report: Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays 4/20/05

What? A Devil Rays game report? Yeah well...

I went on vacation to Florida for a week in April. My girlfriends grandparents live in Tampa and were celebrating their 50th anniversary. My parents live in Orlando and I haven't seen them in almost a year so I figured it was a good time as any to visit. Checking out the sports landscape in the area I noticed the Devil Rays had a home series against the Rangers while we were there. Now Rangers-Rays isn't exactly a marquee matchup but I'd never been to Tropicana Field and I wanted to mark that park off on my list. That and the fact that the cheapest ticket there is $5 clinched the deal.

Now the Tampa Bay Devil Rays play their home games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg-not Tampa. It's a bit of a drive but the traffic was light so we got there pretty quickly. As most know, Tropicana Field was originially built as the Thunderdome (or some such stupid name) in the early-'90's to attract a Major League team from another city. They piqued the interested of the White Sox and Giants but those two teams essentially used Tampa as bait to get new stadium deals out of their respective cities. The Bay eventually got their own Major League team, starting play in 1998. The Devil Rays joined the ranks of the Major Leagues along with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of course the D-backs went on to make 3 playoff appearances and win one World Series since then. The Devil Rays have become one of the most irrelevant teams in professional sports.

At first glance, the Trop looks like some sort of UFO just crashed into the side of I-275. The roof is slanted at an almost 45-degree angle and is somewhat transparent, so it looks like the thing is glowing. Parking was cheap and fairly easy. The best thing about this stadium is the Florida Walk, a palm-tree-lined sidewalk that is covered tiles that depict a seascape. Pretty damn cool. We bought tickets for "The Beach", the $5 bleacher section, and walked in. Once inside, it looks like you're walking through a mall and not a stadium. A large statue of a Rays player stretching out to catch a ball looms from the ceiling. Stores and restaurants line the concourse. The walk to The Beach seemed to be as far as a walk to Clearwater, given that we had to go up two levels and walk to the other end of the stadium. Once there we could see why these seats were $5. It was a set of metal bleachers perched high above the leftfield fence, with a fake sand and palmtree motif in the concourse behind it, as well as a Tiki bar-type place. But hey, for $5....

By the time we got to our seats the game was in the second inning and the Rays were up 1-0. Looking around the stadium one could see the vast emptiness of the place. There were about a dozen or so people in our section, and about maybe 10,000 in the entire stadium. The place was a sea of blue seats. Not surprising considering the match-up and the fickleness of the Florida fan. My girlfriend and I watched as the Rangers took a 6-1 lead on a Mark Texieira grand slam. The place got so quiet you could hear pins drop. Even the jumbotron imploring fans to "get loud" and make some "NOISE!" didn't help. God, I hate places where the fans have to be told when to cheer.

The game got uglier as the Rangers took a 10-2 lead and the Rays were dropping infield fly-balls, and making all kinds of mistakes. It was really starting to look like Major League and I was starting with my Bob Eueker impressions. I wanted to move down closer to get a better look at the "action" but the girlfriend was bored with the whole thing and we left somewhere around the 5th inning. Of course that's when the Rays started mounting a furious comeback. I checked the scoreboard on the way out and it was 10-5. By the time we had left the stadium and were on the Florida Walk the announcers on speakers said the score was 10-7. Great, we decide to leave just as the Rays decide to make a game of it. The Rangers eventually won the game 12-10, but we missed out on what appears to be an entertaining high-scoring game. Or at the very least those listless Rays fans would have gotten loud and made the place feel like a real ballpark.

On a sidenote, I had forgotten that former Cubs SS Alex Gonzalez is now the Ray's 3rd baseman. I was reminded when he came up to bat in the 3rd inning and his face came up on the Tron. My girlfriend was surprised that he was in Tampa, especially since just a few days before she had asked about where he was playing (I wasn't sure but I thought I rememmbered him being in Tampa.) She commented on how "rough" he looked, beard stubble and longish hair. Of course he looks rough I said. Look where he's playing. Two years ago you're playing for a storied team, your home games at one of the best ballparks anywhere, on a playoff team on the brink of the World Series. And then your error in Game 6 sparks a massive Florida rally and your team loses the game and eventually the Series to the Marlins. Then the next year your team is picked to win the World Series, only you're traded midway through the season for Nomar Garciaparra. Well at least it's Nomar, right? Only instead of getting traded to the eventual World Champion Red Sox, you get sent to that baseball black hole known as Montreal, where they constantly live out of a suitcase because they're not sure where they're going to play next. Then after the season the Expos move to Washington where they're welcomed with open arms, but they don't really need you anymore so you end up signing with that other baseball black hole, Tampa. Now you're playing your home games in front of a small crowd of people in this ugly-ass looking shithole of a stadium where the fans won't even get loud when the Tron tells them to and if they do it's probably because the Red Sox or Yankees are in town and they're rooting for them. I'm sure Alex spends his downtime at his beachfront home drinking and contemplating how turning that double play in the NLCS could have changed his life. But hey, at least he's getting paid.

After that rant I wonder how my girlfriend puts up with me. I'm also sure I've pissed off any Devil Rays fan who reads this. Then again, I doubt anybody in Florida is reading this shit anyway...

But check off Tropicana Field from my list. My MLB ballpark list now stands at 5. Sad I know, but I'm working on it!

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