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Park and walk: A baseball experiment

ST. PETERSBURG — To deal with the lack of parking at Progress Energy Field, Tampa Bay Rays management has suggested that people going to baseball games could conveniently park all over the city. The St. Petersburg Times had a few reporters walk some of the proposed routes to the proposed stadium. This is what they found along the way.

Route 1, Dagny's walk

6 p.m., Dolphin Lot at the Pier, Second Avenue NE.

The parking lot was emptier than I expected as I pulled into the Dolphin Lot on Second Ave NE. I paid $3 to get in and received an events listing for the Pier. Flipping through, I saw I could be distracted by the opportunity to ride a "unique 2-4-6 seater bike" around town. That would just look weird with one person.

Before I started my walk, I sat in my rapidly heating car trying to shake my pedometer into working. Somehow it had acquired some bogus numbers and it was reluctant to go back to zero.

Stepping into the strong, salty smell of the bay and the rolling waves of humidity, the beach looked like a good bet. I did see a sign for a free trolley to the Pier. I was hungry, but did I really want to get lost in one of those tourist shops where everything has a shell on it? No, thanks. More lot details: no alcohol, overnight parking, loitering or boat trailers permitted inside. Looks like tailgating won't be allowed in this lot.

I set off west on Second Avenue NE. There was almost no one out as I passed by the Museum of History. It closes daily at 5 p.m. and is closed on Monday. So nix ditching a game for high culture. Oh, well.

Crouching on the sidewalk near the museum were two middle-aged men. I had seen one of them before; he sells colorful painted prints for $3, but I had never stopped to buy any. Would sports fans? After explaining what I was doing, one of the men, Charlie Riley, a cruising yachter, started ranting about how nobody wants the ballpark except for the bars that will profit from it. The white-haired man peering from behind the prints stand was Dino Taos. He had been selling prints for about four months and didn't think that more baseball fans walking by would help his business. "I doubt it," he said. "Sports fans aren't interested. Half the people around here are homeless anyway. They ain't got nothing."

I spotted a public restroom at Bayshore Drive and Second Avenue NE. Made of bricks, it bears a carved label: "comfort station."

I crossed Second Avenue NE and entered Fresco's, which bills itself as a waterfront bistro. Music drifting out its doors, Fresco's has an outdoor tropical decor looking out onto the marina. The manager, Marcus Frazier, said the restrooms are for customers only, but points to the public one across the street. Fresco's offers a happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. and a "to go" menu that Frazier says takes 10 to 15 minutes. Drinks and appetizers would take around 30 minutes. Before I left, Frazier pointed out the restaurant's pro-ballpark sign.

I continued southwest, crossing Beach Drive SE at Central Avenue. I backtracked a bit on the other side of the road where the shops are and entered Mickey's Kork and Kleaver, a nice deli/convenience store. I was told there's no restroom on site but was directed to the Hampton Inn at First Avenue NE and Beach Drive.

At the hotel, I was quickly told where the restroom is. Great. Plus, there's air-conditioning.

I walked south on Beach Drive and entered Ceviche, at the corner of Central Avenue. Ceviche will soon feature a happy hour, manager Steven Vassallo told me. Restroom use is limited to customers, but one can easily enjoy drinks and appetizers in 15 to 20 minutes. Down Central Avenue sits Pincho y Pincho, the smaller venue owned by the same company.

I passed Bayfront Towers and noted an anti-ballpark sign.

I reached Pioneer Park and then crossed Bayshore. It's a scenic walk along the waterfront, but the humidity is unbearable.

I arrived in front of Progress Energy Park. Made it. The sun was still out and I felt gross after having wandered around the area for more than an hour in my work clothes. Bad idea. Time to walk back to the car. I returned north on Bayshore.

This time I didn't stop anywhere, making it back to my lonely car in about 12 minutes.

Route 2, Kyle's walk

1:12 p.m., AAA South building, Eighth Street and Second Avenue S

My task was simple.

Walk.

Sure, it was 90 degrees. But it was only seven blocks.

As I arrived at my starting point, Eighth Street and Second Avenue S, just blocks from Tropicana Field, I took advantage of a shaded area to assess the situation.

Lots of sun.

No breeze.

I opted not to bring water or sunscreen, so I decided shade would be key. The sidewalk on the south side of Second Avenue seemed the best option.

I set out toward the bay at 1:12 p.m., walking at a comfortable pace.

As I passed attorneys' offices, graphics companies and the YWCA, I realized quickly that there wasn't much shade on either side of the street, just a small tree here or there. As I stood at Sixth Street waiting for the first stoplight I encountered, I realized that my 6-4, 250-pound frame was getting a little moist.

As I reached the stoplight at Fifth Street, drops of sweat were running down my face. It was hot. Luckily, just across the intersection I spied the first real shade, a stretch at the Times that covered most of a block. Crossing Fifth Street, my pace slowed.

Waiting to cross Fourth Street, the landscape was dotted with banks. If you need to grab some cash for the game, there are five ATMs within half a block of this route.

Upon reaching Third Street, I turned right into an oasis — the Publix shopping center. The grocery offers the chance to grab something to quench your thirst, a snack and air conditioning. Outside the store there is another bit of shade if you hug the Publix building.

The shopping center offers a bevy of pregame possibilities.

In need of a pregame meal? A Chinese restaurant and Subway stand ready. A liquor store provides tailgating options. There is a CVS drugstore just across the street.

Back pain? Try the chiropractor. Get a haircut. If the wife or girlfriend isn't a Rays fan there is a Curves health club for women and a place to get a manicure. You can even drop off your dry cleaning and get some vitamins.

Signs in the UPS store window tout its passport photo and notary services.

Returning to Second Avenue, the final block of the trek again was tree-lined, allowing a last bit of shade before arriving at the stadium site at 1:31 p.m.

At the end, it wasn't a bad walk. There was no sunburn, but I suspect my co-workers wished I'd brought some extra deodorant.

Time: 19 minutes.

Route 3, Eddie's walk

10:25 p.m., the Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N

It was just after 9 p.m. as lightning made the night sky flicker. Thunder followed seconds later in the distance. Typical late spring weather.

I could imagine it was almost the seventh inning of a big-league baseball game somewhere. Maybe even a Tampa Bay Rays game? With the iffy weather, my first thought was to call my own rain delay.

But the rain did not arrive, and this simulated walk from the site of the Rays' proposed new stadium to the Coliseum, where I had parked my car, was nonnegotiable.

Rays officials estimate that it will take fans 25 minutes to make it from the stadium to the Coliseum parking lot.

I milled around downtown for a while until I started my walk at 10:25 p.m., a realistic ending time for a baseball game.

The stroll started pleasantly. Walking north on First Street SE, the lights of Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant at the Ponce De Leon Hotel are a fan's first sign after leaving the stadium, though at this hour customers were few and waiters were busing the outdoor tables of the restaurant at First Street SE and Central Avenue.

No worries, however, as I had one eye on the sky and the other on the lookout for an open shop or restaurant.

I noticed the first ATM at First Avenue N and First Street N, about four blocks from the stadium. This would be a chance for a fan to grab some cash for a drink or snack cheaper than stadium food.

I turned due west on First Avenue N and passed a Starbucks a block from the ATM. Thank goodness for America's coffee craving. I stopped for two or three minutes to buy a bottle of water and use the restroom.

By now it was 10:42 p.m. I decided to travel north on Second Street instead of farther on First Avenue N. The lighting parallel with BayWalk along Second Street is more comforting. A few people were on the street, and I easily spotted two more ATMs. The music from a BayWalk bar drew me near until I noticed no roar of bargoers chatting. It was definitely a slow night downtown.

I proceeded past BayWalk and turned left to head west on Third Avenue N. My concern shifted from socializing spots to sketchiness for the remainder of my walk.

The sidewalks began to give way to the grim shadows of the night, and the slightest sounds became amplified. My walk west on Third Avenue N brought me back to the reality. My thoughts of where to buy food or disappointment that no one was at a BayWalk bar became minute.

As I crossed Third Street N, a homeless man's cough alerted me of his presence. He and two others were nestled under a building's ledge away from the threat of rain and away from mainstream life in general. Three more homeless people were behind the same building. There were no words or attempts of panhandling, just eye contact that seemed to wish things were different.

Walking from a baseball game, this was the last interaction I anticipated, which made me wonder if a new stadium would provide a few more jobs to boost the city's economy or if the gentrification of downtown would simply sweep the homeless further out of sight.

Now almost back to the Coliseum, I turned north on Fourth Street N past the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. I knew that my walk was nearing its end. I turned west on Fourth Avenue N, walking against one-way traffic and arrived at the poorly lit Coliseum parking lot.

Time: 29 minutes.

Park and walk: A baseball experiment 06/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 20, 2008 12:23pm]

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