After nine years of living in Florida, longtime sports fans Frank Farino, 59, and his wife, Dianna, 60, decided it was time to pick a local team to root for. Last week, they chose the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
A country club they recently joined offered a trip to Friday night's Devil Rays game against the Baltimore Orioles. But when Dianna, who is a type one diabetic, brought a cooler with insulin, needles and a handful of cashews to help regulate her blood sugar, they only made it as far as the entrance gate.
The Sarasota couple spent their first Rays game sitting in Tropicana Field's parking lot after a dispute that began with enforcement of a stadium prohibition on outside food and drink. The Farinos think the policy is a little, well, nuts.
"It was totally uncalled for," Frank Farino said. The stadium was "more concerned about selling Pepsi . . . than about my wife's health."
For their part, Devil Rays officials say Farino lost his cool in a tirade that resulted in his ejection from the stadium.
The Farinos were used to being prepared for potential emergencies. For Friday's game, they had packed a small cooler with Dianna's insulin and an ice pack to keep it cold. Then they added a bottle of Diet Coke and a handful of cashews, in case Dianna's blood sugar dropped too low after taking insulin.
When the Farinos reached the gate, they were asked to open their bags for inspection, a stadium security policy.
The Coke and the nuts had to go, the security guards told them. Park rules prohibit spectators from bringing in food or drinks.
When spectators ask for a medical exemption, as the Farinos did, security staffers are trained to call for a medical technician to determine whether an exemption is necessary, said Jose Tavarez, Devil Rays vice president of employee and guest relations.
Medical staffers told the Farinos that comparable food was available inside the park and that they did not need to bring their own in, Tavarez said.
Farino said he agreed to give up the Diet Coke, but he refused to part with the cashews.
"I don't have the time to stand in line, if, God forbid, something happened to my wife, and then discover that there's nothing for sale that she can eat," Farino said. "I have a handful of cashews here. I'm not going to put you out of business."
Dianna's doctors recommend nuts because they are low in carbohydrates and provide an easy way to finely calibrate blood sugar, Farino said. Eighteen cashews will raise his wife's blood sugar about 25 to 30 points.
The Farinos were willing to compromise. They would surrender the cashews if Farino could go inside and make sure the concession stand sold something Dianna could eat if her blood sugar dropped. Farino said this request was denied.
Tavarez, who tried to explain the ballpark's policies to the Farinos on Friday, said he was not aware of Farino's request, but that it probably could have been accommodated.
"Our policy is that we will work with people with special needs, but they also need to work with us," he said. "Our policy is in line with a lot of other venues. They're not the first ones with a special need that we've taken care of."
Tavarez said that medical technicians explained that the Farinos could have the ban on food waived if they could produce a doctor's note. Dianna, whose doctor is in Port Charlotte, didn't have one.
Farino became verbally abusive, Tavarez said, and tried to bribe the staff at the entrance.
Farino said he was trying to demonstrate that the issue was about his wife's health, not money. He agreed to give up the cashews, but told officials that if anything happened to his wife, he would hold them responsible.
But as soon as Farino entered the stadium gates, he burst into a "barrage of profanity," Tavarez said. For the police and security staff, that was enough.
"The cop had decided that he wasn't going to take any more verbal abuse," Tavarez said.
Police ejected Farino from the stadium. Tavarez, who refunded the Farinos' ticket money, said it is policy to eject anyone using profanity. Farino said he raised his voice but didn't curse.
The Farinos left the building, but they couldn't leave the parking lot. Their bus had left and wouldn't return until the game ended. The Farinos spent three hours sitting in the parking lot, where Dianna Farino had to give herself an insulin shot when her blood sugar spiked at 340, nearly three times the recommended level.
Tavarez said he did not realize the Farinos had no way to get home. "At no time did they indicate to me that they were on a bus, that they had no other transportation," he said.
The Farinos have never had a problem like this before, they said.
"Nobody else ever stopped us," he said. "As soon as they see it's for a diabetic, that we don't have a hero sandwich or 5 pounds of bologna, they're fine with it. She has a disability."