This week, Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said the league will take a look at intervening in the Rays negotiations with the city of St. Petersburg for getting out of the lease at Tropicana Field. On the same day, I sat down with St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to find out his response to the matter. Mayor Foster said he would be open to MLB coming to the table to discuss the topic, but he also prefaced the notion by adding he only owes communication with the Rays and to the taxpayers of St. Petersburg.
After the camera was turned off, I brought up my personal thoughts to the mayor on what was lacking and why more Rays fans don't show up to the Trop. Here are the three points I brought up:
1) The Trop lacks a ball park-like atmosphere. I understand the more the people, the more alluring the atmosphere will be. But in order to draw more people, there needs to be more ambiance. There are certain smells and sounds at a ball park. Most of the sounds around the Trop come from the reverberation of quiet bouncing off the concrete walls mixed in with music so no one notices.
Tropicana Field is a relic, and not in the way Mayor Foster described, a relic like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. The Trop is a throwback to the multi-purpose stadium i.e.. Veterans, Three Rivers, Riverfront Stadium, or even the Astrodome. At the time the city built Tropicana Field to the status quo of baseball stadiums, yet completely missed on the cutting edge charm of providing a unique baseball experience.
Mayor Foster said MLB looked at the Trop at the time and said it was "adequate" for baseball. Someone doesn't spend their hard earned money at a restaurant that is just adequate, so why would they make a night of going to the Trop? The only thing not adequate at the Trop is the team on the field.
Growing up in Clearwater, I attended the first four events at the Sun Coast Dome, plus multiple Lightning and Rays games. I've seen the venue filled with fans, but never once have I felt the feeling under its roof that I experienced prior to moving back to Tampa Bay last year. Before the pilgrimage home, I worked in the Northeast, which allowed me to go to games at Camden Yards, Citizens Bank Park, PNC Park, and even the new Yankee Stadium. Those venues have sounds, smells, and a good time atmosphere associated with the game of baseball.
2) People have many more financial obligations in Tampa Bay than simply enjoying a night at the ballpark. This is a very big boating community, and retirees live on fixed incomes. Plus, we are paid in sunshine in this area. In the north, they make more money for doing the same job, and our disposable income is not the same. So, instead of going to the Trop to watch David Price, some folks would rather pay the price of gas to take their family fishing on the boat they're making payments on. Remember the sun is out 12 months a year down here, plus there are so many free things to do, like the beach and going to parks. In the northern United States, this is the time of the year when the leaves start to change and cold nights trickle south out of the arctic. Our neighbors to the North don't have as many options as Floridians to go outdoors and soak up the sun.
3) Like plenty of you, my grandparents still reside in Tampa Bay, and when I ask them why they wouldn't want to go to a Rays game, they simply say, "I watch them on TV." The reason they watch them on TV is because they don't want to fight the rush hour traffic in a hot car around five to seven at night. Sure the Trop is a pleasant seventy-two degrees, but so is their living room, and it's a heck of a lot cheaper to park and eat at their house.
Remember a big part of our community is the retirees, and given their fixed incomes they don't have the disposable cash a young twentysomething does. The one thing I noticed at the ballparks up north is that it's the hot spot to be. Twentysomethings hang out in the outfield stands, line up in the beer garden for a micro-brew, and only really pay attention when the ball leaves the yard. For the next stadium built in this area, there must be a mix of family atmosphere in the infield seats and a sense of a nightclub vibe in the stands in order for it to be successful. This is what's missing at the Trop; it's not an adequate ballpark anymore.
What are your thoughts? I'd like to read what you think because I know we all have an opinion on this.