Monday, September 18, 2023

The Trop is history

 I’m not sure if this has made any news outside of the Florida area, but various places are reporting that the Rays are going to announce a new stadium deal tomorrow
This news doesn't come as that much of a surprise to me, as I'm a member of a pretty big Rays fan group on FB, and a few days ago people were buzzing about an interview Rays Principal Owner $tuart $ternburg gave where he said he was certain the Rays would have a new stadium deal in place by the end of the year. I'll spare you having to read the article, but from what I got out of the article, it is going to be a domed stadium (not retractable roof), still be in St. Petersurg, it might even be built in the current Tropicana Field parking lot, and the Rays are going to be on the hook for about half. 

I have several problems with the proposed deal, and here's why. First off, no matter what anyone tells you, the reason of the poor attendance is because of where the stadium is located, not the condition of it. People still pack out Fenway and Wrigley, and they have been getting patchwork renovations for decades now. If you pull up a map of Florida and zoom in good enough, you can see that St. Petersburg is a peninsula that connects to Tampa with a series of bridges. Basically, in order to get to St. Petersburg from anywhere other than the greater St. Pete area, you have to go through Tampa and cross a bridge. Studies have shown that a stadium has most of it's occupants on any given night come from a 50 or so mile radius from the stadium. If you make that 50 mile radius from St. Pete, a decent portion of that is located in the Gulf of Mexico. I don't see any fish at Rays games, and I've been going since year 1. 
St. Pete is also just a crappier town than Tampa. Tampa isn't much better, but out of the 12 or so MLB ballparks I've been to (Tropicana, Turner Field, Kauffman, US Cellular, Shea, Miller Park, Minute Maid Park, Wrigley, Comerica, PNC Park, and Nationals Stadium), I've only had more bums accost me for money in Detroit at Comerica than I have in St. Pete. Tampa isn't much better of an area, but I've been there enough to know there are good parts, like where the Lightning play, the Aquariam, and at the whole Buccaneers complex. St. Pete has had bums take over the nice areas with marinas and concert venues and parks. The issue with the attendance has never been the Trop, it is location, location, location. Maybe partly with the Rays not doing much advertising, but if I weren't a huge baseball fan, after going to my first Rays game in St. Pete (at the Trop or the new facility), I probably wouldn't be back. 

Second, if you are going to build a billion dollar stadium in the parking lot of the old one, why not just reno the old one? You can still build the apartment complexes, restaurants, bars, shopping centers near it, just why put so much money into a new park that is right on top of the old one if you can spend less to reno it?  Chances are the Trop is going to get demolished anyways. You are just going to drive my ticket prices up, and in 10 years when the owners realize that the problem is that St. Pete sucks, then you can kiss baseball in Central Florida bye-bye, and by then, Manfraud will have his expansion teams playing in Portland and Nashville, and won't want any more for another 30+ years. 

Have you ever been to the Trop? If you can get over the park being a dome, it really is a cool place. It sits along a river on the one side, there is a cool tile mosiac section leading you to the OF entrances (beware of bums asking for money), the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame is located near the OF section when you first walk in, there is an area in it with some cool Rays memorabilia, a touch tank where you can pet a real stingray, a cigar bar in CF, an arcade for the kids/teens, and this year they added RandyLand, a section where Randy Arozarena fans can purchase tickets, have a good chance at getting a ball thrown to them by Randy himself, and get a free beer if he HRs to the area. I've been to the park close to 50 times, and I haven't seen all of the cool things to do there. I just don't see why it needs to be demolished. The new park might be flashier and have a bigger scoreboard and no catwalks, but the dome-haters are going to hate a dome with or without one. Sure it might attract 50 or so new people a night who just want to try it out, and when they see the same 50 bums at the new park that they saw at the Trop 15 years ago when they last went, they won't be back, no matter how realistic Yandy Diaz's face looks on the jumbotron. 

Third, I think $ternburg must've done something to rush this deal being done without even trying to look for a decent offer from Tampa. Not even Tampa, I would've been overjoyed to see them come to Orlando. There is already a park in Disney waiting for a team. You wouldn't have to fight or pay off the Yankees for local 'rights' (the Yankees train in Tampa and I believe the Rays would have to pay them for broadcast rights if they would move to Tampa). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe anyone trains at the Wide World of Sports anymore in the Spring. It is close enough to Tampa that people would come. You would have the entire 50 mile radius going to your games. I would probably go to closer to 10 games a year instead of 1 every 2 years just due to my location alone. Tampa is about 3 hours, Orlando is 45 minutes. You would also be away from the transplanted Yankee fans in Tampa who have retired and live in Tampa during the winter and don't go back to NY until Spring Training is over with. 
Back to the point about $ternburg rushing the deal, I think he wanted to get this deal done so Manfraud could move on with his next pet project to make baseball worse more money: Expansion. Both Manfraud and $ternburg know that with MLB expansion comes expansion fees. Reports are they will be a billion each. $ternburg wouldn't have to spend that on payroll or players, that would just be straight up profit to him. 2 billion for 2 teams is a lot, even if it is divided by 30 teams. I think Manfraud may have payed $ternburg off a little just to speed up the process of getting the Rays a new stadium. Everyone knows the Las Vegas Oakland A's stadium situation is all but over with, and the Rays stadium situation is what is supposedly keeping Manfraud from expanding the sport (I don't know what stadiums and percieved deficiencies in them have to do with expanding). WHat else would explain how $ternburg came up with a stadium deal so quick and how it just seems so half-assed? Building a new domed stadium in the parking lot of a domed stadium when what everyone wanted was a retractable roof stadium in Tampa or Orlando? Hello, Expansion 2027!  While the kid in me is giddy about expansion just to see 2 new logos, to get to watch an expansion draft, and to get new team cards in a Topps set, I think it is only just because of technology. In 1998, nobody knew the top prospect lists. We had the internet, but I feel like it was young enough that only top baseball execs and really deep minor league guys were the only ones who knew who might be too picks. Now, I figure there will be numerous lists of guys who might not be protected from the expansion draft. The expansion draft for the Rays and Diamondbacks was in November 1997, and the first cards of guys taken in the draft didn’t come till 1998 Series 2, after the real team had been playing for 2+months. And remember that these cards were just posed shots, not action photos. I anticipate if the new teams will play in 2027, the draft will be in the fall or winter of 2026, and there will be ToppsNow cards the day after. The team will have cards in 2027 Topps Series 1 of half the team (in either photoshopped action shots or posed shots), and the other half will have action shots in Series 2. 
Those are the only reason I’m looking forward to expansion. Other than that, with an already weakened postseason, we may have to add another 2-4 teams to the playoff mix, yet another round of playoffs, and more teams for my Rays and Tigers to have to overcome to win a title. With really bad luck, they will be in the AL Central and East and have owners with big pockets. With good luck, the newly created AL South will have Tampa, a relocated and cashed-strapped Florida, a penny-pinching Nashville team, and the Las Vegas A’s under current ownership. Either way, get ready for a 3-month NBA style playoff system with weak teams winning titles. 

I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve been in Central Florida since 1990, and feel I know the area well, as well as the problems of where the Trop is located and what the Trop itself has to offer. I’m also just sad to see the park go. Maybe the designers will make it like the new Yankee Stadium and cater the short outfield to the teams left handed power hitters. Hey, if New York can get away with that advantage, so should Tampa. If we shorten the LF distance, I’m calling Isaac Parades breaking Judge’s AL HR record by a dozen in 2028 (that is if $ternburg will actually extend players once he gets his new ballpark). 
I figured I would write a tribute to the park with all of the cards I have of it, along with some fun memories I have from it. 

The first Tropicana Field card I have that isn’t a team issue is from 2009 Upper Deck OPC. 2010 Upper Deck has my second card, then 2011 Topps Attax. I figured I would have more cards from team sets, but the only one is from the 2011 Topps team set. The 2018 Topps Big League set has a card for the touch tank, but I count it as one of the ballpark, and I have the gold version as well. The 2019 Topps set actually featured stadiums in the regular set for the first time in Topps history, I believe. I have the base, Gold, and Rainbow versions. The latest one I have is from the 2020 Topps Openong Day set. Hopefully I can get a few more before the end. 

I have a few favorite moments from games/events I’ve attended. Number 1, Opening Day 2009. The team raised the 2008 AL Championship banner, beat the Yankee$ by double digits, and forced them to have Nick Swisher pitch. To be honest, besides that one, there are a number that are tough to rank. First game with my wife in 2013 against the Red Sox, going to fan fest in 2012 and touching the 2008 AL championship trophy, going with my friend Josh and his brother in 2011 and getting tons of autographs, first game with Kyler against the Royals with a bunch of family, Opening Day this year, my first Rays game and getting to trade baseball cards with Kenny Rogers’ Mom, Opening Days, Closing Days, and many in between. 
I’ll miss the park, and hope to get to go to a few more games before it closes. 

I figured I would show this card as well, since we’ll probably be getting expansion in the next 5 years. This card came out in the 1996 Upper Deck set (a vastly underrated set design and insert wise) just after the Rays and Arizona were announced as new teams. While Topps put cards of minor league guys for both teams in Bowman and Topps in their 1997 series 1 & 2 1998 series 1 sets before the major leaguers came in 1998 series 2, this was the first card of the Rays logo. Kudos also goes to 1996 UD and 1996 Stadium Club for the first cards of D-Backs manager Buck Showalter. Let’s hope Fanatics hasn’t got too crazy and Topps, Bowman, and whatever becomes of Panini/Donruss gives us some freebies like this before the real new expansion cards come out. 

Looks like unless the Rat-Birds choke pretty bad (which is entirely possible since they play Houston and Cleveland), that the Rays won’t win the East. Hopefully they can ride a makeshift pitching staff and whatever half-cocked SABR metric determined matchup/platoon-driven lineup Kevin Cash writes up to a World Series title. That would, after all, be a fitting finish to one of the final seasons of the Trop. 

Thanks for checking out my latest post. 

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