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Back in the Saddle . . . With a Look at the Rays and the Jays

I may not be tanned, rested, and ready, but I’m sunburned, soggy, and home, which is close enough. Naturally, it would be remiss of me not to thank MaconDawg for his usual fine work in my absence, and I am especially grateful to regular readers and commenters AuditDawg, DavetheDawg, donkeydawg, NCT, RedCrake, vineyarddawg, and wwcmrd? for their creative and discussion-starting guest posting over the course of the last week. I hope you’ve enjoyed their work as much as I have. Much obliged, gentlemen.

If you’re wondering why my promotion of their fine work to the front page was as erratic as it was, that has quite a lot to do with the fact that my wireless internet access was not what I expected it to be. Add to that the fact that a virus caused links I did not post to appear on my profile page, causing my Facebook account to be disabled (I hope temporarily, although the jury remains out) for alleged violations of the terms of use, and you have a situation in which I have been left more than a little perturbed by my last eight or ten days’ worth of worldwide webbing.

Fortunately, the real has been more kind to me than the virtual, as my family and I spent a fun week in Sarasota which was highlighted by a trip to the ballpark on Thursday, when my son and I went to see the Toronto Blue Jays take on the Tampa Bay Rays. (I had intended to pen a postgame writeup for Bluebird Banter and DRaysBay, but, once again, my wonky internet access conspired against me. Mea culpa, guys.)

The Rays’ win over the Jays already has been covered adequately here at SB Nation, but, since we’ve veered off topic a time or two this offseason, anyway, I thought I’d take a moment to offer my thoughts on my first trip to a major league baseball stadium not located in the City Too Busy to Hate.

Thomas and I had the sort of day a father and son are supposed to have at the ballpark. It was a 12:00 game, so we got ourselves a couple of hot dogs when we walked through the gate. (Naturally, cotton candy and ice cream in a batting helmet followed, because this is still America, dang it.) Our trip to St. Petersburg went smoothly and Tropicana Field was an accommodating and kid-friendly venue. We parked in an outlying lot but I suspect our walk from the car to the stadium was shorter (and it certainly was less hilly) than our walk from the car to the stadium on a game day in Athens.

We had pretty good seats for the money, in Row CC of Section 117, along the third base line. The top of the dugout (which doubles as a stage for the dancing girls who kept the crowd entertained during breaks in the action) was a few rows in front of us and more than one foul ball landed well behind us. We were in Seats 7 and 8, which I mention only because "That Guy" was sitting directly behind us.

You know "That Guy." He’s at every sporting event. He talks incessantly throughout the game. Much of his conversation concerns sports other than the one he is watching, teams other than the ones he is watching, and events unrelated either to teams or to sports. When he comments on the sport and the teams before him, he invariably is wrong. "That’s a hit!" he cried as the ball left the bat, bound for the outfielder’s glove on a routine play. "Goodbye!" he yelled when a hitter drove one that ended at the forward edge of the warning track. Other than his one illuminating observation ("This is the only major league stadium with artificial turf that has real dirt in the infield," which I can neither confirm nor deny is the case), everything he said about baseball was misinformed, incomplete, or demonstrably false. Had I been keeping score, I’d have charged That Guy with at least a dozen errors.

Perhaps it’s just the oddity of seeing major league baseball played beneath a roof, but Tropicana Field was both cozier and more at ease with its status as a commercial venture and a communal exercise than either Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium or Turner Field. The Rays boast far fewer pennants than my hometown Atlanta Braves, but their division and league championship banners are unsullied indicia of proud achievement rather than testaments to meaningless regular-season championships which most often are mere precursors to postseason failure; if you support a Division I-A college football playoff and you hope to persuade me of the correctness of your position, you need to keep me from going to Braves games and make me go to more Rays games.

The company I was keeping admittedly added immeasurably to my enjoyment of the event, but, even aside from the father-son nature of the outing, the trip to the Trop was a lot of fun. The stadium was significantly more accessible than I expected an unfamiliar arena to be and we were greeted outside by the Diamond Katz, who sound like a downtown jewelry store but who were, in fact, a local girls’ softball team on hand for a fundraiser.

We went in the gift shop and bought a commemorative baseball. I inflated, and Thomas bashed together, a pair of "thunder sticks," which are much less annoying in a major league baseball park than they would be at a college football stadium. Thomas got a kick out of the Pepsi products racing across the field and children were given the opportunity to participate at every turn. The only part of the whole exercise I would consider unwelcome in Atlanta (aside from the domed stadium, obviously) was the Kane’s Furniture sign tracking the strikeouts recorded by Rays pitchers. I’m from Georgia; when I see a sign at a public event with three consecutive "K"s illuminated on it, I get nervous.

As for the game itself, we caught ourselves a quality contest. David Price got off to something of a slow start---his first 14 pitches were split evenly between balls and strikes---but he had a nice pitchers’ duel going with Roy Halladay through the fifth inning, when the outing briefly threatened to open up into an offensive display.

While I have a National League partisan’s ingrained disdain for American League pitching, Halladay had himself a heck of a game. 72 of his first 100 throws to home plate were strikes. Despite his fine performance, though, the brief attempt by the Rays’ bullpen to let the game get away was unsuccessful and Tampa Bay completed the sweep of Toronto with a solid 3-2 win.

The one critical observation I would make about the whole experience boils down to this: "Sunshine State," my butt; a baseball stadium located in Florida has a roof on it for one reason and one reason only . . . namely, the fact that it rains in that environs. St. Pete isn’t Seattle, but they’d have rain delays every other day if they played in an open-air arena.

I mention that because we left the game in a torrential downpour. It wasn’t the most soaked I’ve ever gotten, or even the most soaked I’ve ever gotten while leaving a sporting event, but, for a place that has so much regular rainfall, Florida seems to have done a notably poor job of landscaping to account for all that rain. Nothing in the peninsula to the south of us appears to have been designed by anyone who had an inkling that rain would fall and that it might just puddle if no one figured out a place to put it when it did. Had the Old Testament been set in Florida, Noah would have been out of luck. (The Holy Land, however, wouldn’t have had any less sand.)

That, though, is a minor matter, as my son and I had a lot of fun at the ballpark. I’m a Braves fan by birth, but, honestly, my emotional connection to the team that arrived in Atlanta a mere two years before I was born there isn’t what it was fifteen years ago. Thomas came away believing (correctly) that Tampa Bay is a fun team to watch, and, if his present inclination holds up (which is open to doubt, seeing as how he is six), I may be raising myself a Rays fan. At the moment, I don’t so much mind that idea. (For what it’s worth, the Georgia Bulldogs’ all-time record against the Florida Gators in the Tampa area is 1-0 . . . and, by the way, I saw at least as many fans wearing Clemson Tigers apparel at Tropicana Field as I saw folks in Gator gear, so it is not the enclave for the Florida faithful you might expect.)

Go Rays! . . . and, starting tomorrow, back to Go Dawgs!