I am going to try and do my darnedest to be nice and positive here. To do that I have to get the negative stuff out of the way first.
Ever since the Tampa Bay Rays first came into existence, they’ve played their home games at Tropicana Field. It remains the only permanent domed stadium in MLB now and it’s the arguably the worst stadium in baseball. However, I think it is best explaining why the Rays got stuck playing in a dome when they came into existence right in the middle of the retro ballpark boom.
You see, in the late 1980s the Tampa Bay area was trying to draw MLB to the area. Either by expansion or another franchise relocating to the area. So construction began on a stadium in St. Petersburg. One team Tampa Bay had their eyes on was the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the White Sox got their stadium issues resolved and stayed in the Windy City. The Florida Suncoast Dome has it was called opened in 1990 with no primary tenant.
After nearly getting the San Francisco Giants to move after the 1992 season and not being rewarded with an expansion team in 1993 when MLB went that route, the Tampa Bay folks got their team in 1998. Hindsight is 20/20, but I feel if they knew they were getting an expansion team roughly a decade later, Tampa Bay would’ve held off on building a stadium and built something a little more of the retro style.
When you look up the address for Tropicana Field, you will realize it’s not located in Tampa. Rather, The Trop is in St. Petersburg. 30 minutes outside of Tampa. It’s not in a bad area, but being outside of Tampa when that’s your market doesn’t help your cause. You can find plenty of parking and a few restaurants nearby, but it’s hard to convince Tampans to come out in mass droves unless it’s a big game.
Currently Tropicana Field has a seating capacity of 25,000 for Rays games. It can be expanded to 42,735 seats if needed, but again that’s a rarity. The Trop has by far the lowest capacity in MLB, but the Rays still can’t even come close to selling out games. It’s not like the Rays are bad either. They have been one of the best teams in baseball the last few years and even made a World Series appearance in 2020.
You would think winning a pennant would bring out fans. In most cities, you would see attendance spike. Not in Tampa Bay. That’s honestly how outdated The Trop is compared to most other MLB stadiums. I say most because there’s still Oakland. But I haven’t been there at the time of writing this. It’s not horrible and it’s kept pretty clean. However, being grouped in the same sentence as places like the Metrodome, the Kingdome, and Olympic Stadium is never a compliment.
Baseball is a game that is meant to be played outdoors. It’s completely fair to assume that Tampans don’t want to be stuck indoors watching baseball when they have the warm Florida weather to enjoy. As a kid I always wished I could’ve gone to one of the old domed stadiums to see a baseball game indoors. But when all see you is a wall beyond the outfield seats, it doesn’t take long for that view to become ancient.
There’s still some features worth checking out at The Trop. There’s the touch tank just beyond the right center field wall. Fans and come here before the game and two hours after first pitch to touch three different species of rays in a 35 foot, 10,000 gallon tank. Some of the rays are even taken from Tampa Bay waters.
If you have ever dreamed of being on a baseball card, check out the Topps interactive experience while you’re at The Trop. Fans can get their picture taken and have it placed on a Rays baseball card. The Topps interactive experience is free on Sundays.
The field level party sections provides a good time for large groups and all you can eat buffets. There are plenty of good concessions stands. Whether you want a taste of Florida cuisine or traditional ballpark food, you will find it. It’s one thing The Trop does right.
Normally with ballparks, I have more to write about it. Not with The Trop though. When I visited, it was what I expected. I wasn’t blown away, but I was also not underwhelmed. I knew it would be at the bottom of my list. I’m glad I got to see before it’s gone. When that is, I don’t know.
The Rays have been trying for years to get a new stadium built with no success. I hope they get their new stadium at some point. I don’t care if it’s in Tampa or another city (hello Nashville and Montreal). The team is too successful to be playing in an outdated facility like Tropicana Field.