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For some Rays fans, wine is better than beer

Debra Hodgdon clasped her fingers around the stem of her plastic wine glass as she sprung out of her seat to cheer during a recent Tampa Bay Rays game.

The 57-year-old medical assistant from St. Petersburg managed not spill any of her Fetzer and Zipz Quartz white-wine blend as she settled back in to take a sip and watch the game.

"It's fine for a ballgame," Hodgdon said. "They offer red or white, and they even bring it to your seat."

Since their introduction at the start of the season, single-serving wine cups have become a relief to the wine connoisseurs who want to have the drink of their choice at Tropicana Field.

Vendors carry the plastic-wrapped, foil-lidded, faux wine glasses stuffed in the ice of their coolers along with beer and sodas.

Mark Estes, who has been a vendor at the Trop since it opened, has embraced the idea.

"I sell about 10 to 12 of them at a night," he said. "I usually only carry four at a time."

Other vendors said the Trop asked them to carry at least two at all times when the product launched in April, but by June carrying wine was optional. Only Estes, one out of five vendors tbt* approached, had wine in his cooler.

He needed it for his six regulars, like Joan Jarrett, 76, a 10-year season ticket holder.

"I like to drink wine out of a glass and watch baseball," Jarrett laughed. "It makes it not so bad when the (Boston Red) Sox get a hit."

Estes said Jarrett buys one to two cups of wine from him every game he works. She usually leans toward the Crimson red-wine blend, preferring the taste over the white.

"Red wine is good for your heart. Put it that way," she said.

Jarrett's daughter, Barbara, 50 a bail bond employee from Brandon, thinks the cups are a novel idea.

"They're great," she said. "You can take them to the beach later."

Fetzer and Zipz went the extra mile to ensure that their wine ended up in customers' stomachs and not on their jerseys. Along with wrapping them in plastic, the company gave the cups a replaceable lid and sealed the drink with aluminum foil. The lid was designed to be attached to the bottom of the cup to make it fit comfortably in the stadium cup-holders. But in practice, wine drinkers either discarded it or put it back on the top of their plastic wine cups to prevent a spill. Even when jostled, the cup had to be turned upside down before it began to leak. A nifty perk, but the packaging did have its obstacles.

Concession employees removed outer plastic wrapping for customers, but those who bought from vendors walking through the aisles of seats were on their own.

Hodgdon struggled.

"It was so hard to peel up the plastic," she said. "Once you start ripping from the bottom, it gets caught on the stem." A woman in a neighboring seat helped her free her drink.

Mary Anne Reilly, 58, a tax accountant from St. Pete, used to bring in her own cups to transfer her wine to because the stemmed plastic cups don't stay upright in the low stadium cup-holders.

"They didn't used let us change cups, so I would bring my own," she said. "I'm so glad they changed the policy." Before the policy change, Reilly would only go to male bag checkers outside the stadium and conceal her cups with feminine hygiene products.

"They would close the bag up so fast, you wouldn't believe," she laughed. "The men they just don't want anything to do with that sort of stuff."

At a game this week, tbt* found only women drinking the single-serve wine, and all sang the praises of not having to go to stand in the middle of the game and get it themselves. The presentation, delivery and taste added to the satisfying experience for the fans who dared to shun American tradition and choose vino over beer.

Joan Jarrett said she doesn't get the criticism — in her mind wine and baseball are natural.

"It just makes it a more relaxing, homey experience, you know?" she said.

For some Rays fans, wine is better than beer 06/13/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 13, 2013 3:28pm]
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