Ranking 30 MLB Stadiums in 30 Days: #30 Tropicana Field

Last year, I achieved a life goal: seeing all 30 active MLB stadiums.  It’s a fleeting achievement though, which will become obsolete the moment the Atlanta Braves open their brand new stadium this April.  So now is the perfect time to rank the stadiums, since I’ll need a new ranking in only a few weeks.

Over the next 30 days, I’ll countdown the best stadiums in MLB–Turner Field included, since this is the last time I’ll ever get to rank it.

Rankings like this are inherently subjective.  I won’t try to give them a faux-objectivity by creating a point system like you’ll see in other rankings on other websites.  I also don’t rank peripheral factors like food, beer, and fan support.  I only care about the building and the location.  I’m ranking stadiums, not stadium experiences.

We have to start somewhere, so lets’s start at the bottom.

#30 – Tropicana Field – Tampa Bay Rays

Tropicana Field came to us by accident, and now we’re stuck with it.  Built by the city of St. Petersburg, Flordia in 1990, it actually predates the Rays franchise by eight years.  Setting aside the oddity of an American city building a stadium without the guarantee of a Major League team, the timing of the stadium’s arrival was far from fortuitous.  In 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards began the retro-ballpark era, ending the practice of soulless, aesthetically indifferent stadiums like Tropicana Field.  Had the city of St. Pete waited a few years, they likely would have caught the trend and build something entirely different.

What they did build is a sad home for baseball–a game not meant to be played indoors.  I understand the climate of Florida probably necessitates a climate-controlled arena.  But the Trop’s lack of a retractable roof doesn’t even give the team the option of an open-air game when the weather is cooperative.

Almost everything about the stadium is stale.  The seating bowl is unimaginative, the catwalks above the playing field give a warehouse vibe, and almost nothing in the decor is distinctive. Even the turf is uninviting; the artificial playing surface has a bizarre color inconsistency.

The outside of Tropicana Field offers nothing architecturally.  St. Petersburg is a very pleasant bayside city, but the stadium doesn’t really fit in with the skyline.  It’s just there and too far away from downtown to be convenient for those who live/work in the city.  The design of the building is a cylinder with a slightly sloped roof.  I’ve seen some interesting designs for replacement stadiums for the Rays over the years–retractable roof parks with a sailing or nautical themed architecture.  Almost anything would be an improvement over the current stadium, which invokes the era of the 1970’s and 80’s when domes and multi-purpose cookie-cutter parks proliferated MLB.  In an ironic twist, Tropicana Field doesn’t even have the functionality of the cookie-cutters.  The stadium concourses are actually very difficult to navigate, depriving fans of the only good thing about generic stadiums–convenience.

The Rays are in an unfortunate situation.  The Tampa market is not well-suited to support baseball.  For a good discussion of this, check out Jonah Keri’s book on the Rays, The 2% Doctrine.  The Tampa Bay area has a sizable population, but it’s demographically old and spread out.  Of all the teams in MLB, they actually have the fewest number of fans within 30 driving minutes of the stadium.

The park, of course, doesn’t help.  It’s simply not an attraction.  The team, for it’s part, has tried it’s best.   Without putting forth the resources to rebuild a stadium in its entirety, they’ve tried to dress up the Trop to be something useable.  Party suites have been added.  There is a fishtank in center field where kids can pet real-live Sting Rays.  The Ted Williams Museum/Hitters Hall of Fame in the stadium is actually a pretty good way to spend an hour or two.  But overall, this park is just marking time until a permanent solution arrives–whether that’s a waterfront downtown stadium in St. Petersburg, a stadium up north in Tampa, or a whole new team even farther north in Montreal.

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