[Jordi Scubbings is back with his latest take on all things Rays]
… Drinking a beer, watching the Rays.
Before the Rays finish their first lengthy road trip of the season, I want to talk about what’s new at the home of the Rays. There is no doubt most Rays fans know the Rays powers-that-be did a little tinkering with Tropicana Field.
Although they didn’t change where the park is laid out – leaving that to the politicians, ownership, and other associated parties, the Rays folks did modify the inner layout of the Trop. Gone is the Everglades BBQ Restaurant that used to overlook centerfield. Gone as well are a few thousand seats along right and left field, creating a 360 degree walkway around the stadium. While some of these seats have been plucked out and discarded, others have been covered with a tarp, not unlike the desolate seats of the highest upper deck.
During the Rays second home series of the season, on Friday the 4th versus the Rangers, I had a chance to check out the new additions to the home of the Rays.
My first thought was that the new area in centerfield reflects a cultural change in how many fans watch baseball. The introduction of tiki bars and other open concourses reflect the desire for fans to stand while watching baseball. Perhaps because fans sit all day at work, stuffed in little cubicles, they want to spend their leisure time letting the blood flow. In the ancient days of yore, when a majority of Americans worked on assembly lines and other methods of manufacturing, our fan forefathers wanted to spend their ballpark time off their feet, sitting down with a cold beer and footlong.
The Rays new Porch reminded me of popular bars in the area. Bars such as MacDintons – both in Tampa and St. Pete – have extensive areas to stand around and socialize. Even Ferg’s has numerous hightop tables and chest-high ledges for upright consumption of refreshments. Some think better on their feet, others drink better on their feet. Until they drink too much, then they lean. But I digress.
The Porch is great place to watch the game. It provides the common centerfield angle fans are used to when they watch games on TV, albeit lower and not as zoomed in. Best of all, fans can come to the Porch from anywhere in the ballpark and hangout. Buy a cheap nose-bleed seat in the highest reaches of the upper deck? No problem, get a better view at The Porch. Tired of sitting right behind home plate with the rest of the rich and famous? No problem, join the proletariat at the bar.
While I like The Porch and it’s a fun new place to hangout, I do have my concerns.
First, open areas can be a blessing and a curse. Tensions in the stands can be high when the Rays play the Yankees or the Red Sox. Open areas and easy access to alcohol mean security better be on its toes. No one wants to see an unfortunate soul get pushed off the porch and tossed towards the Rays tank. A fight in centerfield also has higher visibility than a conflict along the sidelines. The last thing the Rays would want is for The Porch to turn into a place where gangs get their groove on, like the alley in Anchorman, the parking garage in Beat It, or the streets of West Side Story. Whatever your generational reference.
On the subject of fans, the creation of the porch did mean the removal of the Cowbell Kid’s once famous seat. While he hasn’t been seen around the Trop in recent years, he was a staple at the park when the Rays rose to respectability. I wonder if the team offered him his seat as a memento. Maybe that famed seat is now in the living room of the Cowbell Kid.
My second thought with The Porch is the TBT Party Deck is now passé. Fans won’t be hanging out in the left field upper deck when they can get the same amenities with a better view at The Porch. I think the Rays will see lower concessions sells in the Party Deck than last year. It might be time to appropriate the well-known area.
If I was in charge, I would turn the Party Deck into a kids’ fun area. I would take all the games scattered throughout the lower concourse and bring them to the Party Deck. The Rays could have clowns and magicians and host kids’ parties there. They could even call the Party Deck “Raymond’s Liar” or some other creative name. Since there is only one way in or out of the Party Deck, keeping an eye on kids would be easier. This also keeps the young fans separate from the adult fans. Or vice versa.
Overall, The Porch is a welcome addition to Tropicana Field. It makes the park more of a hangout and a place to socialize, which is the way to be these days. Casual fans don’t keep score and they don’t watch every pitch. They come to hang out with their friends, drink a beer or two, and enjoy the experience. The Porch gives them a place to do that. A place to leave their homes, see the Rays, and waste some time.