Tropicana Field gets a bad rap for its roof these days. But with the home team racking up wins, the Rays' home dome could soon be THE place to hang out at in Tampa Bay. Here are nine Trop stops worth exploring.
To some baseball purists, the Trop is as close to the sport as the German pavilion at Epcot Center is to Bavaria. (One consolation: Both serve sausages and beer.)
The Centerfield Brew House, for example, may seem like the usual beer-and-burger joint. But it's also where WHNZ 1250-AM's Rich Herrera hosts his pre- and post-game radio shows. That makes this spot on Centerfield Street a good place to grab a $9 beer (hope you brought wads of cash), shake Rich's hand and start your crawl through the Trop.
CHILL OUT WITH TED WILLIAMS
With all due respect to everyone's favorite frozen Hall of Famer, the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame -- in Centerfield Street -- offers a quiet spot to drool over a nice spread of artifacts from the playing days of the game's greatest hitters. (It also has the cleanest bathrooms in the Trop.)
HARD CORE, HIGH ALTITUDE
The seats here might be cheap, but the comradeship is priceless. Fans in the 300 section -- on the Trop's third level behind home plate -- take their baseball and noise-makers seriously. So bring your own cow bell, and don't try quoting Bull Durham to them unless you know the lines properly. "The rose goes in the front, big guy."
STRAIGHT OUTTA LEFT FIELD
So this is what it's like to be a Yankees fan. If heckling the opposing team's players and trying to start "The Wave" every 30 seconds is your idea of the perfect day at the ballpark, then welcome to heaven. If you buy a ticket in the left-field outfield seats, bring a warped sense of humor, an endless supply of patience and a few extra bills to tip the beer vendors, who help lubricate the madness.
THE IN CROWD
Looking for a spot to hang with a group of your 50 or 60 best friends? There are several private party areas inside the Trop. Of them, the Captain Morgan Deck -- tucked away next to the Batter's Eye Restaurant above left centerfield -- has the best view in our humble opinion. But there's also the Corona Beach Bar (near the visitors' bullpen), Checkers Bullpen Cafe (near the Rays bullpen), Hot Corner Lounge (along the third-base line) and Whitney Bank Club (along the first-base line). Each spot has different food and drink offerings that would have the fans in the regular seats drooling. Most of these spots require reservations and deposits in advance (and some are sold out far in advance). If someone offers you a freebie ticket to any of these exclusive digs, say YES!
EMBRACE YOUR GEEKNESS
Deep in the bowels below the third-base stands, right next to the escalator, sits the House of Dew, a cozy little videogame parlor where you can play video baseball ... for free. If you're too seasoned of a pro to handle the modern Xbox 360 games, then dust off your mitt and try playing old school style -- on Nintendo and Atari 2600 systems. When you're done, exercise some real muscles right outside at the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone Batting Cages, where for $3 you can swing away at 16 tennis balls. In the very cozy confines of the batting cage, hitting a line drive is the equivalent of shooting a BB gun off in a tin shed.
THE FLAVOR OF YBOR
It takes a pair of young legs to venture all the way up to the tbt* Party Deck, which sits on the 300 level high above left field. Maybe that's why it's the de facto hangout for the college crowd. Decorated in Ybor City chic -- right down to the replica Seventh Avenue streetlights -- the Party Deck offers import drafts, Cuban sandwiches and plenty of room to see and be seen. Fridays are College Night at the Deck -- with ticket specials (with a valid college ID) and live music from a DJ.
EAT LIKE A MILLIONAIRE
When you consider ballpark fare is pricey already, a buffet restaurant like the Batter's Eye seems like a bargain. There are two seatings: one before the game and one during the game ($29.95 for adults and $24.95 for children.) If it's not too crowded, ask for a table by the window. Suddenly you find yourself yards away from the players in the outfield. But please don't taunt them by holding up your plates of carved roast beef and seafood while they're shagging fly balls.
SMOKE 'EM IF YOU GOT 'EM
Warning: Facial hair required for admittance to the Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar. Not really, but it can seem that way. Only cigars can be enjoyed in this spacious temple to tobacco. To that end, plenty of tasty Arturo Fuentes and other high-end stogies are available for purchase at reasonable prices. Want some liquid enhancements? The bar here features top-shelf scotch and bourbon. Now sit down in an over-stuffed leather chair and enjoy the atmosphere. (Think bachelor party -- without the cheap hooch and the strippers.)
You say nine cool places aren't enough for you? Then perhaps it's time to grab a Smithwick's draft at The Irish Pub kiosks (on the first and third base sides at the top of the escalators) or a frozen Margarita at either Oasis spot (one in both the first base and third base food pavilions). Then take your drink, find your seat and just enjoy the game!