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For Tampa Bay Rays fans, the ghosts of glory live at the Trop

As local sports commentators said we should, I felt more grateful than sad at the end of the Tampa Bay Rays' World Series run.

The Rays got me to watch baseball again. I liked their teamwork and guts. I liked their manager. I even like their stadium.

That's right. This is the year I started to appreciate Tropicana Field, the ugliness of which impressed out-of-town writers almost as much as the Rays' miraculous play.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell called it "a dungeon, a domed park that looks like a garbage can with its lid on crooked.''

"That is too kind,'' countered Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin, "A garbage can has better proportions than this squat hulk.''

Probably so. But now that there's been some good baseball played there, who cares?

Because baseball didn't just lose me with the strike-canceled World Series in 1994 or the phony race for the home run record in 1998. The opening of Baltimore's Camden Yards, in 1992, helped, too.

Yes, I was as impressed as anyone else at first. I was just as seduced by the wrought iron-and-brick architectural touches, just as convinced it was a big improvement over the dump it replaced.

But that was before I realized this kind of re-created history would set off the mass destruction of the real thing — fields where great players had played great games.

Riverfront Stadium, in my hometown of Cincinnati, was also considered a dump, one of the infamous 1970s-era "concrete doughnuts.''

But I saw Tony Perez's deciding home run sail over the leftfield wall in the fifth game of the epic 1975 World Series — saw it with my now-departed Pop.

So, I never cared whether or not that wall was a drab sheet of plywood that would be rolled away for the next football game. To me, it was a civic monument. The outfield of the city's new stadium, decorated with replicas of steamship smokestacks, is cheesy nostalgia by comparison.

Yankee Stadium is not just a local landmark, but a national one.

In most other countries, such a treasure would be spruced up, shored up, modernized. Or, at least, any new stadium would rise from the grounds of the old, which is what happened with Wembley in London.

It would not just be abandoned, as the Yankees did this year.

In 85 years, the stadium hosted 21 percent of all World Series games, Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote last month. But "it's not only the Babe and the Mick and Derek Jeter who played inside my walls. It's Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, John Philip Sousa and Pink Floyd, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, Billy Graham and Nelson Mandela."

The $1.3-billion new Yankee Stadium, where none of these legends played, will nevertheless charge $2,500 for a front-row seat in the "Legends Suite.'' (What, you thought ticket prices would go down?)

It will be a good-looking place, judging from Internet images. In the past decade, stadium architecture has become more subtle than just ripping off the past. And, though no one asked us in Hernando to pay for it, nor offered us a vote, I also liked the looks of the plans for the new stadium in downtown St. Petersburg.

I liked the waterfront location and the sail-like roof.

It's just that we never beat the Red Sox there.

For Tampa Bay Rays fans, the ghosts of glory live at the Trop 10/30/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 8:55pm]
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