An Interview with Tropicana Field Expert Kurt Smith

Tuesday April 24, 2012

Chuck Booth- (Lead Baseball Writer and @chuckbooth3024 on twitter)- Today’s expert is Kurt Smith.  Kurt will be the interview subject of the following parks: Citizens Bank Ball Park, Turner Field and today’s featured expert Article of Tropicana Field  Kurt is highly respected in the ball park chaser community for his BallparkEGuides.  After you are done reading this article  I implore you trust in Kurt to deliver up tips and suggestive idea’s on how to make your stadium visits affordable and pleasurable.  I had a chance to ask some questions of the man recently.

CB: “Welcome to the MLB Reports Experts Interview Kurt.  Please tell us about yourself and then give us a bit of background information on your life as a Rays Fan?”

KS: “Well I’m not a Rays fan per se, but wouldn’t they be a fun team to root for? They consistently come out on top or near the top in a division that includes behemoth spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox; and last year’s finale was one of the most exciting regular season games in history.  It’s too bad this team has so much trouble getting people to come out and see them, because they really are an exciting team to watch. And I love the cowbells. It’s great to hear the ringing in a dome when an opposing batter has two strikes on him.”

CB: “As one of the ballpark experts who takes it to the extreme, how do you rank Tropicana Field versus the rest of the Ballparks?”

KS: “Tropicana Field isn’t a great venue; of all the ballparks I’ve visited I’d put it at or near the bottom. I don’t like indoor baseball, and I really dislike artificial turf, probably like most fans. The Trop is the only non-retractable dome left in baseball now that the Metrodome is gone, so you’re inside regardless. It may be okay to have the air conditioning and protection from thunderstorms in July or August, but who wants to go indoors to see baseball on a beautiful April Florida day? The timing of Tropicana Field’s construction couldn’t have been worse. A dome seemed like a great idea at the time, but just a couple of years after it opened Camden Yards debuted and completely turned ballpark construction upside down. Suddenly indoor baseball on artificial turf couldn’t be less cool.

If the Tampa Bay area’s government had listened when baseball told them not to build a stadium, they would probably have a retractable dome today.But the Rays signed a lease, so for the moment they’re stuck with it. And it’s not all bad. The humidity of Florida summers is nothing to sneeze at, so the air conditioning can be pretty nice. And at least you know you’re going to see a game whatever Mother Nature says, which is of great benefit to a road tripper.”

CB: “Despite the Rays being one of the best franchises over the last 5 years, the team still does not draw well. Why do you think that is Kurt?”

KS : “Here are the reasons that I’ve heard, all of which I think have some merit:

1 – Location. The ballpark is in St. Petersburg, and it’s not all that close or easily accessible from Tampa, where much of the fan base is or should be. It’s also in Florida, where there are a lot of New York transplants, so Yankees games draw well but the team has had a hard time establishing its own fan base.

2 – Entertainment Competition. Tampa Bay is not far from beaches or from Orlando, so there isn’t much elbow room for promotional people to convince residents to come to a ballgame rather than go to Universal Studios. The venue doesn’t help; on a beautiful day most people might rather go to a theme park in Orlando or a beach than go indoors for a game.

3 – Venue. I don’t know if I necessarily buy this one; a good team usually draws no matter where they play. But the Trop isn’t on the bucket list of most ballpark trippers, so that doesn’t help matters any. People get enthused about a game at Wrigley Field or Camden Yards, they don’t get enthused about a game at Tropicana Field.

4 – Weather. The indoor venue notwithstanding, perhaps people just don’t want to go somewhere and be outside for at least a short time in a climate where they may be dealing with hurricane-level thunderstorms or oppressive heat.”

CB: “The Rays seem to have a lot of gimmicks to promote a family atmosphere what have you seen Tropicana Field do in order to boost attendance?”

KS: “It is to the Rays’ great credit that they’ve made the Trop more entertaining for families and adults. The Rays tank is an especially popular attraction. You can reach into this tank in right center field and pet the slimy rays that are swimming around in it—all while watching the game go on. The concourse areas of Tropicana Field are like nothing you’ve seen in baseball—comic book style murals of baseball history, picnic areas and tons of interactive games for kids. On my last trip there, the Jumbotron showed a hilarious video of a cat “mixing” on a turntable.There’s also several party areas, like the Everglades BBQ in the batter’s eye in center field, the Center Field Street Brewhouse (with drink specials before games!), and several lounge areas where people can enjoy a “Blue Storm” drink. Baseball buffs should get a kick out of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame, too. Unfortunately the Rays can’t do fireworks, but they do get some big name acts to play after games.

CB: “What is your favorite method of transportation to and from Tropicana Field?”

KS: “Well if I lived close enough, I’d ride a bicycle, because there’s a lot of nice bicycle paths in the area and a place to lock up your cycle at the ballpark. But as it is, the only way most people get to Tropicana Field is by car, and it’s right off the interstate and easy to find. So I’ll just add that I’d find some people to carpool with, because the Rays offer free parking to the first 100 cars with four or more people in them. Free parking is always a great deal.

There is a new service for Tampa area fans called the “No Excuses Tour”. It takes riders to the game from a couple of local taverns, and I think the price is very reasonable. I believe they serve beer on the bus but the bus doesn’t have a bathroom, so there’s some kinks to be worked out there, but it’s a great idea.”

CB: “Tell me something about the surrounding area of the Ballpark?”

KS: “Well, I haven’t heard any horror stories, but some people say it’s not a great neighborhood. You’re not far from the downtown pier and its attractions, so that’s a possible post-game hangout area. I would say that you’re better off staying east of the ballpark towards the pier, and perhaps it’s not so nice west and south of the ballpark.

The popular pre-and post-game venue is Ferg’s, an indoor-outdoor tavern that is converted from a warehouse. They have game day specials on beer, and I haven’t tried the wings but I’m told they’re very good. If you’re the type that likes a drink or a snack before or after the game, Ferg’s is as good as anything here. They are walking distance from the ballpark and have cheaper parking, too.”

CB: “What advice would you give for somebody experiencing Tropicana Field for the very first time?”

KS: “Don’t pay more than you have to for a seat. If you can live with anything in the upper level you can get tickets there dirt cheap directly from the Rays, and it’s usually not a problem to improve your lie during the game. Wander around and see all of the party areas and make sure you check out that big ballplayer sticking out of the wall. Get yourself a cowbell so you can distract the opposing hitters when they get two strikes on them. If you’re a history buff you’ll want to see the Ted Williams Museum.

And don’t complain about seeing baseball indoors, because it’s a mighty good thing during July and August in St. Petersburg.”

CB: “How is the food at Tropicana Field?  What is your favorite ballpark food there?”

KS: “Tropicana Field has everything from soup to nuts in the food department, like most ballparks these days. The nice thing is that there’s a lot of brand names, for better or worse, at least with Papa John’s, Outback Steakhouse and Checkers you know what you’re getting. They have a deli with great Boar’s Head sandwiches, and they even have a gluten-free stand, great for celiacs like my wife. The hot dogs are from Kayem, the same purveyor of the Fenway Frank in Boston, although the dogs here are different.

When I’m in the Trop I go for a Cuban sandwich at the East-West Delicatessen near the main entrance; the Cuban is not something you find at a lot of ballparks. It’s a hot pressed sandwich of ham, pork, Genoa salami, Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard. I don’t know that it’s the go-to item at the Trop, but it would be my first choice. Gooey cheese is always a winner.”

CB:  “What is your favorite all time game that you have been in attendance for at Tropicana Field?”

KS: “Well unfortunately I wasn’t there for September 28, 2011, when the Rays came back from a 7-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees in 12 innings and take the wild card spot right out from under the Red Sox.

So I’ll just go with my first game there in 2002…the then-Devil Rays pulled off a 5-4 victory over the Orioles, and I was with a group of friends sitting down the right field line making jokes about seeing the relief pitchers from behind.

Despite being indoors on a gorgeous April day, a good time was had by all.”

CB: “Thank you very much Kurt.”

***Thank you to our Tropicana Field Expert- Kurt Smith for participating in today’s article.  to learn more about Kurt Smith and his website click here***

 ***Thank you to our Lead Baseball Writer- Chuck Booth for preparing today’s feature on MLB reports.  To learn more about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames” and Chuck Booth, you can follow Chuck on Twitter (@ChuckBooth3024) and you can also follow Chuck’s website for his Guinness Book of World Record Bid to see all 30 MLB Park in 23 days click here  or on the 30 MLB Parks in 23 days GWR tracker at the Reports click here. To Purchase or read about “The Fastest 30 Ballgames Book, ” please click here ***

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About chuckbooth3023

I played competitive baseball until 18 years old and had offers to play NCAA Division 1 University Baseball at Liberty University. Post-concussion symptoms from previous football and baseball head injuries forced me to retire by age 19. After two nearly made World Record Attempts in 2008, I set a New World Record by visiting all 30 MLB Parks (from 1st to last pitch) in only 24 Calendar Days in the summer 0f 2009. In April of 2012, I established yet another new GWR by visiting all 30 Parks in only 23 Calendar Days! You can see the full schedule at the page of the www.mlbreports.com/gwr-tracker

Posted on April 24, 2012, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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