May 18, 2004



So to follow up on what I was saying 6 days ago, I went with a few friends to a Tampa Bay Devil Rays game.

There wasn't anything special about the game, really. There were no giveaways at the door. It was a Wednesday night. It was only the Texas Rangers in town. We were late getting out of work.

But it was baseball. It was Wednesday night. The Texas Rangers were in town. Rommie, Jose, Sean, Andrew, Steve and I didn't have to work that night. And we'd received special dispensations from our significant others.

Perfect excuses, I'd say.


If we were wondering how weird the night would get, this should have been a sign. I know, it is a sign. But it was what the sign said that tipped us off.


Grilled salad? No thanks, I'll pass.


Approaching the Tropicana Dome from any angle is a breathtaking experience. Sort of what a Betty Crocker Jello mold gone wrong looks like. Or a half-baked souffle. This is the view from First Avenue South.

To say there was an abundance of on-site parking would have been to understate things vastly. Air Force One could have executed an emergency landing and had more than enough room to do a few figure-eights.


It's hard to tell who's more underwhelmed at this experience - Rommie or the parking attendant.

A side note: The parking attendant was unfailingly polite and tried to engage us inconversation. My guess is that his friendliness had somewhat to do with his lack of customers.

"That's the loneliest parking attendant in the world,'' I told Rommie.

As you walk closer to the Trop, you take in this lovely view:


It's a drainage culvert, and while it affords a lovely vista of rocks and low-lying foliage, it also, under direct and intense sunlight, provides a pungent, aeromatic assault on the nasal passages.

Just like the Devil Rays.


We saw this metal plate embedded in the concrete on the walkway leading to the centerfield gates. Here's what it says.


I sometimes wonder what cliche baseball enthusiasts would employ if they had no "Field of Dreams" phrase to lean on. Ball Four? Church of Baseball? The American Express Card. Don't steal home without it?


At various places around the stadium, there are sculptures of players making huge catches. Inside the centerfield mezzanine, a player crashes through a wall going for the ball. In the photo above, a player skies for a fly ball.

But the face is a tad disturbing.


Damn thing looks like a blowup love doll.

When I was photographing this, a black guy walking behind me goes, "Nice face on the brutha."

There's something about these poses that strikes me as a team having a low self esteem. They aren't posed hitting home runs or stealing home. They're posed playing defense. In the worst situations possible.

Might as well pose them moving to a larger market.


Leading from the parking lot to the centerfield gates, there is a very scenic path filled with palm trees and landscaping and tasteful lighting. There used to be a band that played as people walked up. That kind of stopped a long time ago. I think the band got depressed.

Anyway, a closer look at this photo says a lot about the team's predicament in the marketplace. After all, look what the kids are wearing to the ballpark:


A Tampa Bay Lightning jersey, and...


A Bucs jersey. And not of a player that's even still with the team.


Another sign of the relative health of the team: how many scalpers are doing business outside the stadium.

At the centerfield gates, I counted... one. This guy. And he unloaded his tickets about 20 minutes ahead of time.


My friend Andrew, on the left, bought from another scalper on his way to the park. Face value: $7. Andrew's price: $5.

We bought our third-deck seats for $7 and then sat in right field.

With the Rays pitching being so bad, they turned out to be the best seats in the house.


The St. Pete Times is the official newspaper of the Devil Rays. (Nice get there, marketing guys! Give yourselves a raise!)

As you walk up, the paper has a kiosk that sells subscriptions and lets you go online.


I went over to see what he was typing...


I wonder if people remember the Times when they see this on the scoreboard:



The second thing you see as you head to your seats is the The Drunk Hut. Guess they figure you might want to be loaded if you're going to watch this mess.


The price of one beer? Fiddy cent more than I paid to get in the door.


This nice gentleman poured me a brew. It was a special micro-beer that was named Devil Ray Red.

"How nice," I said. "Red... just like the team's budget."


We had awesome seats in right field, three rows up from the front, behind the right field players. As you can see, we had lots to choose from.

By the way, that's Jose on the left. He's not drunk. He just never stops smiling. Which, you know, is a good trait to have at a ballgame where you're supposed to have fun.

Only problem is that Jose is the eternal optimist. He thinks the Rays are a good team with a great manager. I agreed with Jose and then pointed to the pitching and bullpen.

Jose's solution to the Devil Rays' losing slide: bunts. And lots of them.

"Just like the Angels do, dude."

So every time someone got on base, we'd yell, "BUNT HIM AROUND!"

Just for Jose.

The best moment came early, after he sat in his seat for the first time and took in the view:


"You know,'' Jose said. "This isn't such a bad ballpark."

It was then that the five of us held Jose down and beat the optimism out of him. We were only a half-inning into the game and we weren't going to listen to such foolishness for another eight and a half more.

Here's a larger version of that photo.


I don't want to say it was quiet in the park, but it made the Sistine Chapel sound like a mosh pit.


We were able to establish a rapport with Rays third baseman Damian Rolls. Not sure why he was in right that evening, but nothing makes sense for the team at this point. Why question that move?

But it gave us the chance to chat with D-Roll. He posed for a photo. He laughed when we asked if he saved a locker for Jeremi Gonzalez back at AAA Durham. He was a nice kid.

But all that silence was deadly, because it made our heckling that much easier and more effective when the Rangers came out on the field.

The poor recipient of our abuse? Rangers right fielder Kevin Mench.

Now, I had never heard of Kevin before. He's only been in the league about two years. He has a career .278 average. Nothing too crazy. That kind of average saves you from abuse from fans when you're on the road.

But not from us.

We started out chatting - literally chatting - with him as he took the field for the first time. We chanted his name. He doffed his cap and said hello. It's the first time a player has reacted that way when I've been at the ballpark. Usually, they're all business.

Not Mench.

We took that as a sign that he wanted to be our ball of twine.

It started with a simple chant of his name, "MENCH!" It de-evolved from there.

In fact, Andrew made Mench his personal project. Especially as more beer came into play.


MENNNNCH!, he'd yell, How does it feel to make league minimum?

MENNNNCH! Are you taking Propecia?

Then it got ugly. We questioned his manhood.

MENNNNCH! It's okay to come out of the closet!

MENNNNCH! If you go play in Japan, they're much more accepting over there.

At a certain point, Mench stopped paying attention. And he hit a home run to shut us up. He actually had a pretty decent night:


We gave him his props and left him alone.


A lot of people got home run balls that night. The guy on the right caught this ball from Tino Martinez that got the Rays on the board with a two-run lead.


And in a night with a lot of weirdness - some of which won't be discussed here - Steve came away with not one but TWO home run balls. The first hit by Aubrey Huff had to be wrestled away from a couple women who looked like they could kick our butts. They complained to an usher that Steve took their ball. It was bull***t, but that wouldn't have stopped them from pounding him.

"Steve,'' Andrew said. "If they come at you, we don't have your back.''

The second ball was hit by a Ranger. That one appropriately got thrown back into the field of play. I mean, who wants that sort of souvenir, you know?

Posted by Jeff at May 18, 2004 08:30 AM | TrackBack

this is just the kind of thing I'd expect from those pave-the-road-to-hell-with-good-intentions types at the St. Pete Times.

"We MUST have a pro ball team!" they cried and cried.

There are double-A teams drawing bigger crowds than the Rays.

Posted by: tom at May 18, 2004 11:49 AM