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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rays Win!

Last night I had my first opportunity to take in a game at Tropicana Field and so what follows are a few impressions.

  • The park is easily accessible from the I-275/175 split in St. Petersburg and despite a little traffic arrived at the park from near downtown Tampa is less than an hour.

  • More importantly, though, the parking was free to the first 7,000 cars. I think this was policy that started last season. Since the crowd was just over 20,000 last night I easily made it in and was able to park just a 100 yards or so from the entrance.

  • As you walk up to the facility you're greeted by Rays cheerleaders or whatever they're called and you begin to get the feeling that the experience will be more like a football game than a baseball game.

  • I understand there have been fairly significant changes to the facility in the last couple of years and where I entered behind right field you get the feel that they're working hard to make the park fan-friendly. Large murals on the history of baseball in the St. Petersburg area cover the walls and along with a wide variety of food you find booths for kids activities include a science and baseball activity and a number of video boards. Apparently the park also include a Ted Williams museum and a rays "touch tank" (I assume full of rays) neither of which I found on my brief foray in the 6th inning to survey other parts of the park. The new video board in right center and the strip along the upper deck in left center are both large and crystal clear. In fact, the one in right-center is so large and dominating that I scolded myself a couple times for failing to watch the field instead of the board.

  • On this night the staff were giving out cow bells to the Rays faithful and upon seeing my Colorado Rockies hat refused to give me a bell (for which I'm glad since my eight-year old would have had no end of fun clunking all throughout the house). But they also give out free programs that while smaller than an 8 1/2 by 11 style magazine that most teams have, is packed with information including a nice article on Rays prospects by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. And when I approached a vendor to ask about a scorecard it turns out they're small and free as well (the scorecard not the vendors). I found myself writing incredibly small and still not able to fit in the notations I usually use.

  • After I finally found my seat in the third deck behind home plate (passing a very nice mural of the back side of an old baseball grandstand visible as you ride the escalators) I was surprised at the number of pregame activities underway. Several giveaways, a pregame song or two from a couple of female singers I didn't recognize, and a bunch of announcements all emceed by a good looking youngish man with a big voice and an overabundance of energy. I've seen this sort of activity level at minor league games and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox do something very similar with a "host" of sorts who entertains before the game and between innings but never at the major league level. At each half-inning break the emcee would run some contest or game and all eyes were glued to the video board and accompanying some of the contests were musical selections with the "cheer squad" merrily dancing on top of the dugouts. And of course inside the dome all of it was pretty loud and I'll have to admit the purist in me was a bit taken aback although I did enjoy the Imperial March background music as the Yankees were being introduced. The introduction of the Rays starting lineup was akin to an NBA introduction with the announcer at the top of his voice and the video board doing its part. One wonders whether the perceived need to turn baseball games into spectacles like football games will ultimately be good for the sport. Be that as it may there is no denying that younger fans find the gaudiness of those sports attractive.

  • The game was of course interesting as well as the Devil Rays jumped all over Kei Igawa who simply didn't look sharp. His fastball topped out at 90mph and he was throwing his changeup alot which comes in around 80 as well as a slider in the low 80s. In any case his location wasn't good as he walked three and gave up eight hits and seven runs in four and third innings going 97 pitches. Roco Baldelli and B.J. Upton both homered off of Igawa. Baldelli's was a long blast to left center in the first and Upton was a line drive that actually hit the left field foul pole just a couple feet above the low fence line at the 315 foot mark. Since the ball ricocheted to the foul side it wasn't immediately obvious it was a homerun. Casey Fossum wasn't much better giving up 10 hits and six runs in five and two-thirds. He gave up the first of the two Alex Rodriguez homeruns although it was entertaining to watch him throw the "Fossum Flip" to several hitters getting Bobby Abreu in the third to fly out and Derek Jeter in the fifth to ground out. The pitch to Abreu was clocked at 52 mph.

  • Other than A-Rod I think I was most impressed with the throwing arm of Elijah Dukes. He made three throws on fly balls that were strong and accurate and although he didn't catch any of the three runners, it's clear that his three outfield assists thus far (to lead all rookies) is no fluke.

  • There's not much else to say about A-Rod. His two homeruns give him 14 for the month and so with six games left to play he should break the pre-May homerun and RBI records which stand at 14 and 36. He also made a sparkling defensive play in the first inning on a sharp grounder by Ty Wiggington.

  • In the end the Ray won the game 10-8 with A-Rod's second homerun plating the final two runs in the top of the ninth off of Rays closer Al Reyes. Each team used six pitchers and with names like Bean, Meyers, Bruney, Vizcaino, Glover, Camp, Salas, and Stokes all making appearances it's not surprising that there were 28 hits and 11 walks in the game. The fans used their cow bells effectively in the bottom of the ninth although there were plenty of Yankees fans and there was plenty of celebrating on the way to the parking lot.

  • All in all a nice evening.


    Anonymous said...

    Hey Dan... did you happen to hear the heckler there at Tropicana? I figured he'd be out in force with the Yanks in town.

    Dan Agonistes said...

    Actually I didn't. I was sitting in the upper deck and so perhaps I missed him. I did see Dicky-V sitting in his usual spot I assume behind the plate.

    JEY said...

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