Other than their exquisite execution on the field of play, every thing about the aesthetics of the Tampa Bay Rays is an abomination.
I'm sitting in the auxiliary press box in upper left field, in an area formerly known as the "Tampa Bay Times Party Zone" — and what a party it must have been for the majority of the regular season, as fans eschewed the plentiful lower-level seats in order to drink a beer 450 feet from home plate. Party on, indeed.
Life Gets Sweeter At Tropicana
Before the month of September, the Rays had been drawing an average of 21,000 fans a game to Tropicana Field, one of the worst figures in the majors for a first-place team.
While the team's good record was unprecedented in the Rays' history, bad attendance was a way of life.
For a decade, the Devil Rays, as they were called before this year, played in a bad stadium, before sparse crowds wearing these weird purply neon uniforms splayed with colors that in the 1970s would prompt one to futz with the UHF antenna and slap the side of the Zenith with a loafer.
The stadium is still ugly on the outside, and poorly laid out on the inside. But the Rays have embraced a new color scheme, including a light blue shirt that seems to be a favorite among female fans who were perhaps scared of the old logo that featured an aggressive sea animal, Mobula hypostoma, which Wikipedia tells us has been known to swim at very high speeds and leap out of the water.
So the shirts are nicer, the seats are full and the party zone has been replaced by auxiliary journalists — who, if for any reason the real journalists cannot fill their duties, are ready to step in and inform the public of the bullpen's ERA against left-handed batters.
So the place is a little ugly, but not quite ugly enough to be a lovable wreck.
A Stadium Turned Up To 11
I've focused on the unsightly sights of Tropicana Field. But the sounds are something to behold.
The Backstreet Boys sang the national anthem. So that happened. And the fans cheered — loudly. Then a video played on a huge monitor hung in the outfield; it began with Bill Murray exhorting the campers in Meatballs. The fans went wild.
Next up were highlights of the current season. The fans went bananas. The words came on the screen: "The Next Chapter Begins Tonight."
The fans bellowed forth in waves, each more shocking than the last, like Allied troops at Normandy. Because this is an indoor facility, the noise bounces around — it sounds like strong hail on a tin roof. To compensate, the public address system is cranked to 11 and only plays K-Tel's rousing hits of the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s. I'm talking decibels.
Cheering Like Christopher Walken
The Rays have another tradition that surely earns the opprobrium of the American Academy of Audiology. Based on a Saturday Night Live skit from 2000, Rays fans have embraced the "more cowbell" credo.
Tropicana Field is positively lousy with cowbells.
I imagine a foreman at the cowbell factory bringing his order sheets into his boss: "I can't explain it; there's a huge spike in demand on Florida's Gulf coast," he says. "The cowbell-to-cow ratio has crossed over to 2:1. Either dairy farming is on the upswing, or everyone's starting their own Grand Funk Railroad cover band."
To picture in your mind's ear what this sounds like, remember the hailstorm-on-the-tin-roof analogy? Well, imagine the hailstones being the size — and containing the clangers — of cowbells.
The Game, Under Way
The first pitch was a strike to the Phillies leadoff man, Jimmy Rollins. You'd have thought that Oprah had just given everyone in St. Petersburg a new car.
But, when Rays ace Scott Kazmir did serve Chase Utley a gift over the fat part of the plate, a funny thing happened. It turned out that there were quite a few Phillies fans in attendance, who were really loud too — and all had the good sense not to bring their own cowbells.
Which makes you wonder, were it not for this dilution of Rays fans, would the overall volume be enough to give the players an ailment worse than "turf toe" —"Trop ear"?