With all of the recent posts on soccer, some of you loyal readers may be wondering if our site has been infiltrated by communists. But worry not friends, I was merely on vacation last week, and now I am returning most triumphantly with a report on all-American activities: baseball, traveling and boozing; complete with photos and even a bit of what porn directors, as well as people opposed to homosexuality, describe as “hot lesbian action.”
It’s all part of the Tropicana Field Experience. If you decide to visit St. Petersburg to watch your favorite team take on the Rays (or if you actually are a Rays fan who has been too lazy to ever attend a game), let me offer you these footsteps to follow in — or, for that matter, not to.
If there is anything for us to learn from the Bloods and Crips, one should exercise caution when showing up in enemy territory wearing another team’s colors.
But in docile Tampa, I figured I’d be safe coming into town as a walking Cubs billboard. After all, everybody there is 75 or something, and certainly none of them care about the Rays enough to talk trash. I did not make it very far past the terminal before this preconception was smashed.
No less than three airport workers had a comment for my sartorial selection, which I found incredibly ironic since the sports store in the Tampa Airport has roughly 12 times more Yankees stuff than Rays stuff available for sale. No worries, though — I just assumed that Rays fans are a small but proud lot of hardy fans who obviously have a tremendous amount of patience. And it wasn’t like they were going about their heckling in a mean fashion. Yet.
But before my traveling partners — Cousin Charlie and AK-47 — and myself could venture to historic Tropicana Field, we first had to visit our hotel: the Comfort Inn At Tropicana Field. As the name implies, the hotel was conveniently located — some 2.5 miles from the stadium. Or maybe it was 3 miles. At any rate, it certainly wasn’t across the parking lot, which is what one would assume when reserving a hotel “at” Tropicana Field.
Nor was it possible to walk to the ballpark, because in addition to Florida’s stifling humidity, the hotel was just a couple blocks north of a neighborhood filled with all sorts of seedy-looking characters. And by seedy-looking characters, we mean hookers. Including one with a bandaged knee.
Upon our arrival at the ballpark that sat empty for nearly 10 years before the Devil Rays existed, we were immediately drawn to message boards promoting the team’s Saturday Night Concert series. As an apparent ploy to bring more fans into the ballpark, the Rays will be hosting such acts as Kool and the Gang, LL Cool J, Loverboy and MC Hammer for post-game concerts this summer.
As my cousin pointed out, the conversation with Hammer probably went something like, “Hey Hammer, are you available on…”
As our awe over the concert series subsided, we headed into the ticket line. Which is to say we walked straight up to a ticket window. However, the ease with which we got to the window belied the fact there were no seats available in the section we wanted to sit in: the Left Field Party Deck, which sounded like a pretty good deal for $15.
Fortunately, the Cubs fans standing at the window next to us overheard our predicament and were in the process of upgrading their seats in the Party Deck for ones closer to the action. Against all odds, they happened to have exactly three tickets available, and with that stroke of luck we were able to gain entry into the House That Boggs Built. But not before we walked through security, which went through the unusual measure of having everyone in line remove their cap before walking in to the stadium. Seriously. I could have had a grenade in my pocket and no one would have noticed, but for whatever reason you weren’t getting in unless they could see your whole head.
Once inside the stadium, I was surprised to find out that Tropicana Field is far from the barren wasteland that it appears to be on TV. Maybe it had something to do with the fact I had just escaped the humidity. Or that sitting on a table in the concourse were programs and scorecards FOR FREE. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen a deal that good at a minor league park — which prior to this season one could easily argue the Trop was.
My experience was further enhanced in the Party Deck. The sightlines were great. From where we sat in the front row, there was not a single blind spot on the field. Perhaps the only down side to our seats was the fact that the stadium sound system seemed to consist of a guy speaking into a megaphone made out of paper cups and string.
It didn’t hurt that the Party Deck also allowed us access to a concession stand that sold, in addition to beer, cocktails with generous portions of liquor. For very good reason, this is a development that you will never find at Wrigley Field. We’ve already had enough idiots charging onto the field, and all they’ve been fueled by is copious amounts of Old Style.
As I recall, the alcohol prices were all quite reasonable by Major League standards, although in a way that is like saying you’ve found reasonable gas prices somewhere.
The game itself was less than stellar from a Cubs’ fans perspective. One of the first things we saw after this bad-ass “Rays from Space” player intro (yes, the commentary on the video is ours) was a bird’s eye view of Mark DeRosa’s first-inning error that ended up making the difference in a 5-4 loss.
That was followed by Carlos Zambrano’s four-run implosion in the third, and his ill-fated visit to the mound from the trainer in the 7th (which hung over us like a dark cloud for the rest of the trip before we learned it was just a minor strain. Or maybe we were the ones who were hung over.)
As tough as it was to travel 1,195 miles to watch the Cubs lose, it had nothing on the sheer aggravation of dealing with suddenly hostile Rays fans after the game. Over and over and over I heard the same old crap about 100 years without a World Series, how the Cubs will choke in the playoffs, and premature cries of “Sweep!” after the second game of the series.
After seeing a guy holding a “100 Years of Losers” sign near the stadium exit, I finally lost it.
“Your team has never lost LESS THAN 90 GAMES IN A SEASON!” I thundered. “YOU HAVE FINISHED IN LAST PLACE EVERY YEAR OF YOUR EXISTENCE!”
Though slightly abetted by alcohol, this logical argument seemed to be falling on deaf ears to Rays fans, who still were insistent that the Cubs sucked. This only fueled my rage further — it was like the pot calling the kettle black, only in this case the kettle (the Cubs) are the only ones who have ever even been on the stove.
Fortunately, Cousin Charlie and AK-47 were able to calm me down by pointing out that these people have never had success before, and therefore don’t have any clue as to the protocol for celebration. When you’re getting some for the first time, you just can’t hold it in, so to speak.
My mood was also lifted by an encounter with a drunken Cubs fan who could not find her friends (shocking, I know). We offered to help her, but she was insistent that she could find them solo. Considering that she said “Where the hell am I? Disney World? I’m going to Disney World!”, I have my doubts as to her success. At least we didn’t see a missing person’s report the next day.
Our first stop in the St. Petersburg nightlife scene was a hot spot across the street from the Trop known as Ferg’s. And it literally was a hot spot, since there were hundreds of people crammed onto a huge covered patio on a still-humid night.
We eventually figured out that there was an air-conditioned and much less crowded inside, which I would highly advise to anyone seeking easy access to the bar sans armpit stains.
After the bar began to clear out (this was around midnight) we decided that it was time to head someplace else. And with the help of our meth-addled cab driver, we were able to find the hottest spot in St. Pete. A place so hoppin’ that we gave it its own blog entry. Because chicks love ballplayers.
Originally we had hoped to spend the second day of our trip at one of Tampa Bay’s many fine beaches before attending the final game of the Cubs-Rays series. Unfortunately a raging hangover that was acquired partying alongside Cliff Floyd the previous night rendered us unable to do anything other than watch parts of the remarkably awful films The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension and Waterworld, both of which were inexplicably being shown on a channel that was not called Turner Extremely Shitty Movies.
Oh, we also ventured to a nearby Pizza Hut for lunch — a trip that was highlighted by the appearance of a passerby wearing a Kordell Stewart jersey (he was walking in the direction of that seedy neighborhood I spoke of earlier). Amazingly, this was not the only incredible vintage jersey that we came across. While lounging at the hotel pool, some guy brazenly walked past us wearing a Boomer Esiason Bengals jersey.
But both of these sightings could only prepare us for the mother of all jersey sightings upon returning to Tropicana Field later that evening.
A guy in a Gary Gaetti jersey was not the only fascinating thing we discovered while wandering around the Trop. There’s also a tank in the outfield where you can touch a school of rays if you so desire (please hold all Steve Irwin jokes), though with all the Cubs fans in attendance the line to get to the tank was probably a lot longer than usual. If you get to the ballpark early enough, though (an hour before the game wasn’t quite enough), it seems like a cool thing to do.
There’s also several other attractions in the outfield concourse area, like the Ted Williams Hitters’ Hall of Fame (which I would have fully explored had I been allowed to carry my 96 oz. Pepsi inside — though it’s good they didn’t since I spilled half of it by the 3rd inning) and the excellent Center Field Brewhouse, which has more beer selections on tap than any other ballpark I’ve been to — or at least is in close running with Miller Park.
There are also plenty of features aimed at the kids, including a bizarre mural of Rays players as comic book heroes, though I can’t remember anyone’s superhero name at this point. But by far the coolest thing we came across was a batting cage where you got to take seven pitches against a video screen of a real big-league hurler of your choice.
In most stadiums something like this would figure to be $10-20 a pop. But not at the Trop, where the fun could be had at the mind-boggling price of $3. And we only had to wait for one kid to finish his cuts before getting into the cage ourselves.
AK-47 faced Curt Schilling (because he hates him), I took on Roger Clemens (because I hate him) and Charlie picked Troy Percival (because he figured he could get a hit off of him.)
Unfortunately, the game itself once again got in the way of our Tropicana Field experience. Not even the devotion of Gary Gaetti’s greatest fan was not enough to prevent the Cubs from encountering complete disaster.
Taking a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the 7th with Mr. Automatic, Carlos Marmol, coming out of the bullpen, the Cubs completely imploded and gave up seven runs. Or maybe it was eight. I’m not sure since I stormed out of the stadium at that point. (To be more accurate, I actually stormed out of the seating area following Carl Crawford’s grand slam off of Scott Eyre, and then kicked my hat around the concourse while the Rays added two more runs before deciding I’d seen enough.)
Since I knew exactly how to get to Ferg’s by this time, it went without saying that I marched straight to the bar and ordered a Jack Daniels on the rocks for the highly competitive price of $4. There, I found an old Cubs fan also drowning his sorrows and engaged him in conversation. And like old guys are always able to do, he was able to provide the proper perspective on our seemingly ill-advised vacation.
It seems that in 1969, he and his buddies had the same idea and decided to follow the Cubs against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and New York to see them wrap up the NL Eastern Division title. Instead, they witnessed one of the greatest collapses of all time, as the Cubs didn’t win a game and went from five games up to a game behind the Mets by the time the horror ended. (Also included in their trip was the infamous black cat game.)
Needless to say, his story had me feeling a lot better about myself by the time the other guys met up with us after the game. (Though I am slightly jealous that he was able to pull the entire road trip off for less than $200, which wouldn’t even get you enough gas to drive to Cincinnati these days.)
The old guy, who I wish had a name, also regaled us with the story of how the Pirates drafted him out of high school as a catcher in 1965.
“When I went to the tryout at Lincoln Park in Chicago, there were 50 other catchers there,” he recalled. “About 48 of those guys were the same as me. But this one guy, he looked like he was about 25 and could throw 100 MPH to second base.”
That guy was Johnny Bench. Our nameless old guy realized at that point he wasn’t ever going to make the bigs “unless someone got struck by lightning” (please hold all Geremi Gonzalez jokes) and heeded his dad’s advice to go to college so he didn’t get drafted by Uncle Sam and get sent to Vietnam. This raises a pertinent question for modern times: if you were drafted by the Pirates, would you hope there was a chance of getting sent to Iraq?
Anyhow, our spirits buoyed by the old timer, nothing held us back from enjoying the St. Petersburg nightlife. Particularly the part where we ran into two hot Cubs fans making out with each other.
I’m sorry to disappoint by not ending the blog there, but there were a couple of important developments from the trip home that needed to be mentioned.
– According to Friday’s St. Petersburg Times, Bud Selig is not a fan of The Trop. In a bold move for a guy who dragged his feet over steroids, he told ESPN’s Howard Bryant that “they can’t make it in that ballpark. Have you been there?”
The St. Pete Times pointed out that Selig has only been to the stadium one time, and that was in 2004. This information blew my mind away more than the $3 batting cages. Rumors and Rants has been represented at more Rays home games than the commissioner of baseball. I know they were nothing to write home about before this season, but don’t you think you would try to visit every one of the stadiums in your league at least once a year if you were the commissioner?
As noted Rays fan Dick Vitale might say, “THAT’S UNBELIEVABLE, BABY!”
– We did finally witness the Cubs winning a game while on a trip. It was their Friday win over the White Sox, as seen on my computer in the corner of the Charlotte airport while waiting for our connecting flight.
– The pilot of our plane introduced himself over the PA system as Captain Ron. I just hope he was not flying with an eye patch. Or Martin Short.
– Finally, if you are flying United this month, be sure to check out Hemisphere in-flight magazine for this inexplicable ad for Colorado State football season tickets: