Friday, September 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Peeking inside the Rays stadium plans

TAMPA — After seeing all the pretty pictures and hearing all the gushing words Tuesday, there is still so much we don't know about the Rays proposed new Ybor City stadium.

That starts, obviously and appropriately, with whether it really will get built and if so how will it be paid for, all $892 million of it.

But if you can indulge for a moment — over the roar of the naysayers — and look and listen and wonder what it would be like to see a game played there, here is one answer for you:

Wow.

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The design elements of the stadium unveiled Tuesday were dramatic and eye-catching, following the basic coda to "bring the outside in.''

They aren't going to do everything the way you may have hoped, or, to be honest, the way they hoped. The roof won't be retractable and the playing surface will be synthetic turf not natural grass.

But what they showed off Tuesday sure looked promising, aiming to be ready for opening say 2023, which isn't as far away as it sounds.

Mostly because of how much you can see.

Glass exterior walls, with sections that will slide open, like giant French doors, behind home plate and centerfield, offering views of Ybor City to one side and the downtown skyline to the other (oriented so pitchers aren't looking into the setting sun, and so the lower side melds into the Ybor neighborhood), plus fresh air on cool-enough days.

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A translucent — though not retractable — roof, higher, less opaque and without the underpinnings and dreaded catwalks of the Trop. Concepts for multi-tiered seating and gathering spots that include fountain, picnic, sandbox areas, 17 total. Intimate views throughout as it will be the smallest park in the majors, with 28,216 seats and a total capacity of 30,842 (just less than the current Trop configuration).

Watching a game there should be a good time.

What about playing a game?

It's going to be a big yard, around 5-10 percent bigger than the Trop outfield (370 in the alleys, 404 to center) so don't come for the home runs.

Here's a photo gallery of the stadium renderings released today by the Rays.

Posted by Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"It's going to be a pitcher's park,'' team president Matt Silverman said. "It will have generous outfield dimensions, and help us stick to our knitting of pitching and defense.''

Beyond that, such as specific dimensions, details such as the height of the outfield walls or whether there will be dirt basepaths (like at the Trop) or just sliding cutouts around the bases, are still in the To Be Determined pile, kind of like their starting pitcher a couple days a week.

"That's the fun part,'' principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "Every time we start talking about the design I start to head in that direction and they have to rein me back in say, "No, no, no, we need focus on what's important now.''

Between the lines, Sternberg said the field will be "more traditional.''

Outside? "Anything but.''

The Tampa Bay Rays unveil their design for a new ballpark at the Italian Club in Ybor City.

Posted by Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Such as? "Build in technology to the field that will enable us from 2023 on, when we'd like to see this thing get done, do things for our TV viewers, or however people are viewing things, how we measure things that go on on the field that probably can't or haven't been done before.''

Also? The clubhouse, athletic training, practice and nutritional facilities will be whatever is better than state of the art.

There also should also be fewer awkward moments.

When Tropicana Field opened well before the Devil Rays 1998 inaugural season, architects assured the team the catwalks wouldn't come in to play. With that having been proven wrong 166 times in 20½ seasons, plus one fair ball actually hitting the roof, the Rays are more sure this time.

A modeling of 7,000 balls in play over the last five seasons through the majors showed that this roof, with an orthogonal formation of 40-by-40 square piece of membrane secured by cables to a steel compression ring, would have been hit zero times.

"The No. 1 rule,'' chief development office Melanie Lenz said, "was that a ball can't hit the roof.''

Giving up the retractable roof to keep the cost from climbing even higher was tough. And while there is technology for a transparent roof, practicality ruled in tropical climate: With the greenhouse effect, it would be too hot.

And as a result, they had to settle for sticking with a turf field, which sounded like the even bigger disappointment to the brass. It will be to the outfielders as well, though centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who will be in his option year if the stadium opens on time, said they can deal with it.

"I don't think too many guys are going to complain about it,''  he said. "If and when that stadium gets built and that season is played there, there's going to be so much buzz and excitement around that place. Guys are just going to be pumped to put on this jersey and play in the new stadium.''

Sure, there will be complaints. Getting there and parking will be a hassle. Concessions will cost too much. The people sitting in the fountains — yes, that's among the cool concepts, may get splashed.

But on this day, say "if."

And then say "wow."

"It's exciting to dream about our players and coaches having a facility that can be the envy of other teams,'' Silverman said. "We walk into a nunber of stadiums across the league and have that ballpark envy feel. We've been waiting, craving the chance to turn the table on the rest of the league.''

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays

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