RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM (Tampa) TROPICANA FIELD (St. Petersburg)
BE A PLAYER
For all of the times you've been to a Tampa Bay Rays or a Buccaneers game, it's a safe bet you haven't been in the locker room or some of the areas normally off-limits to the fans. But when it's not game time, both Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium offer relatively cheap tours of their facilities that satisfy some of that curiosity about what goes on way below your seat. Here's what we found.
The setup: Both offer a walking tour of the sports complex, with stops on the actual playing surface, in locker rooms, in prime seats and in special places most fans would never get to go (a $250,000 luxury suite!).
The Ray Jay touchdown: The pirate ship in the end zone is definitely a highlight, with plenty of spots to pose for photos. You can't access it during a game because it's reserved for the stadium team that launches T-shirts and fires off cannons. And get this: The ship wasn't in the original design for the stadium.
The Trop highlight reel: Nothing beats stepping onto the field and looking back into the stands. Even if you've been on the field before, it's still exciting to know that many of the Rays' great young players and so many stars on other teams (Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer, David Ortiz and Ichiro Suzuki) have played here. And it was Ted Williams who threw out the first pitch at the very first Rays game on March 31, 1998. Goose bumps!
Inside the Red (Luxury) Zone: The Ray Jay tour included a visit to a luxury suite overlooking the 10-yard line. The windows facing the field can be taken off their tracks and stored, so that the fans inside feel closer to the game. The stadium has 195 of these suites that seat anywhere from eight to 46 people. These suites also have a window between them, so that you get a feeling of an infinite cocktail party going on high above the game when they're full of well-heeled fans.
Kind of a buzz kill: The locker room turned out to be a pretty low-key stop at Ray Jay. Since it's used just on game day, the Bucs players have better digs over at their practice facility, One Buc Place. This place is all business, with spare locker space, a communal shower (albeit with shower heads that are 9 feet off the floor) and low-key lighting.
Missed call: In a perfect world, you'd get to meet a player on the Trop tour. But since the tours are usually on off days and away games, that's probably not going to happen. And even though it's cool to see, the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame could be something that is pointed out and then tourists could just go back on their own time to see it.
Clipboard stats: The club seating area at Ray Jay is noteworthy because of its giant video board made up of 25 52-inch flatscreen TVs. On the day we took the tour, we got lucky that there was an event being held there. Otherwise, the air conditioner would have been shut off. It costs $8,000 just to turn the air on, and $150 an hour to run it.
That's a lot of candy: Inside the visitors clubhouse at the Trop, you can see the nice leather lounge chairs that players can relax in, flat-panel TVs, places to play cards and there's even some exercise equipment to stay loose. But when kids go through here, they probably have their eyes on one thing — the candy. In addition to the sunflower seeds and bubble gum that you expect, there is gummy everything. And there's also lots of chocolate.
Anne Glover and Sherry Robinson, Times staff writers