Let's face it. We all want to feel good about the places we live or work.
Regardless of their age, location, condition or what outsiders might think, there are nuances about our own places that we come to appreciate the more time we spend in them.
We're used to hearing about all the things wrong with Tropicana Field. But the Rays stadium has come a long way in the 28 years since it opened in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome. (The Rays have been playing there since 1998.)
We spoke with Rays vice president of strategy and development Bill Walsh and vice president of marketing and creative services Eric Weisberg about some of the things to appreciate about the Trop.
Ted Williams Museum and Hitters' Hall of Fame
This is one of the coolest things you'll find in any baseball stadium. Located just past the rotunda in Center Field Street, the museum features displays recognizing some of the best hitters in baseball history, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Other exhibits highlight Ted Williams' time in the military and Major League Baseball; the Negro Leagues; the All-American Girls Baseball League; the Rays; and more. The museum is free and open through the sixth inning of every home game.
"As a baseball fan, when you can't go to Cooperstown," Weisberg said, "this is where you need to go."
This year, a special exhibit spotlighting 20 years of Rays baseball will be located at street level next to the Rays Republic Team Store. Among the attractions will be lockers made up of uniform pieces and memorabilia, special moments in team history, such as Game 162, all-time leaders and Rays minor-league affiliates. Former members of the team will be available for autograph signings throughout the season.
"Much has been said about we're such a young team, we don't have the storied history that Boston has or Chicago," Walsh said. "But as all of us here internally have been reflecting on this 20th anniversary season, there really are some really spectacular moments here."
One such moment was Evan Longoria's 12th-inning home run in the final game of the 2011 season that put the Rays into the playoffs. This group party area in left field includes a museum-style exhibit that pays homage to the game, considered by many to be the most exciting in team history.
A marker on the ground identifies the spot where Longoria's home run landed, and a nearby display tells the story of the game through words and pictures. A nearby chart shows the odds of the Rays making the playoffs at different points of that season.
"It's my favorite chart I've ever seen produced," Walsh said. "It's us and the Red Sox kind of seeing and sawing and the dates on the bottom, and basically we're out of contention and we're way at the bottom and the Red Sox are way at the top, and then in one day the lines invert and then all of a sudden we're off to the playoffs."
More Rays history is evident in right field, if you know where to look. Check out the seats before the crowd settles in, and you'll see that among the blue ones are two that are painted yellow and another white.
One yellow seat, in right-center field, commemorates the first home run in franchise history, hit by Wade Boggs in 1998 against the Detroit Tigers. Slightly to the right is another yellow seat where the ball landed when Boggs homered in 1999 for his 3,000th hit. Closer to the right field foul line is a white seat marking the spot where Dan Johnson's tying, pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning of Game 162 landed, setting the stage for Longoria's heroics.
Tickets are sold for all three seats, so if you want to watch the game from an historic spot, you can.
Opening day lineups
Playoffs aside, no home game is more popular than opening day, which is why the Rays have sold out the past 13. Want to know which players were in the starting lineup for any of the Rays' 20 home openers? Posters on a wall behind Gate 4 will tell you.
The Trop doesn't have the aesthetic appeal or the skyline or waterfront view of an outdoor park. But its Teflon-coated fiberglass roof, slanted at a 6-1/2 degree angle to help with climate control, creates the effect of a spaceship about to rocket into the sky. Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.
Walking on sunshine
A beach motif is established as soon as you leave your car. A 1,000-foot, palm-tree lined ceramic mosaic walkway with tiles featuring rays, sea turtles, sharks, and various tropical fish welcomes you in the parking lot and carries you to the main entrance, an eight-story rotunda modeled after the one that used to greet fans at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.
Rays touch tank
Meet the rays before you, well, meet the Rays. This 10-minute interactive experience with cownose and southern stingrays — the same species that live in the waters of Tampa Bay — is free to fans until two hours after the first pitch. The first of its kind at any sports venue, the exhibit, created in partnership with the Florida Aquarium, is located beyond the right-center field fence.
No rainouts, no lightning delays, no sweltering summer heat. No matter what is happening outside the stadium, the temperature inside stays a comfortable 72 degrees.
There will be more entry points, and only credit cards will be accepted at Trop parking lots this year to keep traffic moving and get people out of their cars and into the stadium more quickly. You also have the option of purchasing discounted parking passes in advance.
From the Zim Bear to the Joe Maddon gardon gnome, no team has had more creative giveaways than the Rays over the years. And this season will be no different, with a DJ Kitty mascot head, reversible Rays/Devil Rays jersey, 20th anniversary cowbell, 1998 replica seat cushion, wearable Rays Up flag and bobblehead of Akinori Iwamura recording the final out of the 2008 ALCS — including audio of Dave Wills' radio call of the play that sent the Rays to the World Series — among the items on the promotional schedule.
tbt* Party Deck
Walsh encourages fans to get up out of their seats and move around the stadium as much as possible to view the game from different perspectives. But if you want a unique vantage point, he suggests the tbt* Party Deck.
The seats high above left field are the farthest from the action and usually among the last to sell. But they have a couple of unusual perks. The catwalks — often the source of controversial plays — are right in front of you, and it is the one place in the stadium that has an open concourse, so you can stand behind your seat to eat a hot dog or drink a beer and still see the game. The area is open to all fans, whether they have tickets there or not.
"You're almost up in the tree house," Walsh said. "You'll never find another seat like that in another ballpark."
The Rays' partnership with Levy has completely changed the dining and retail experience at the Trop. Fans now have their choice of food from popular St. Petersburg restaurants such as The Avenue, King Street, RumFish, Parkshore Grill, 400 Beach, the Hangar, Urban Comfort and more; beer from 3 Daughters, Cycle Brewing, St. Pete Brewing Co. and others; and coffee and pastries from Kahwa. Not to mention meatball subs from cleverly named Rocco Ball Deli.
But if there’s one thing every fan should try, Walsh says, it’s the Reuben Cuban from Levy’s Pressed stands, which combines the two sandwiches and adds a hot dog in the middle.
"That's really our signature menu item here," Walsh said. "It's the flavor of Tampa Bay, and we've got a great local take on that."
Ballpark & Rec
Need some fresh air? Step onto the outdoor party deck behind The Porch to enjoy specialty drinks and play skee-ball, arcade games or giant beer pong at the indoor/outdoor Ballpark & Rec. Keep tabs on the game on TV, and if a Ray hits a home run, rush back inside to cheer with the crowd.
The Trop isn't the easiest place to get around, so if you want to take in the game from different vantage points or stop for a beer at the Porch in Centerfield, make the loop around the 360-degree walkway on the main concourse level.
Enhanced in-game experience
The Rays have added an organ and new in-game host, Angela Sharp, formerly with the St. Louis Blues, for this season. Instant replays on the giant video board will be enhanced with radio calls, and at some point early in the season, the Rays hope to add Statcast, which would show things such as the probability of Kevin Kiermaier making a particular catch in centerfield.
"There are so many elements the baseball fan can get access to at home that we need to be able to bring it here, so it's that type of thing of the excitement and energy," Weisberg said. "Yes, you can stay at home and watch on TV, but you can't capture the energy that happens here at the ballpark."
Right Field Street
Sundays continue to be filled with free activities for kids, including balloon artists, magicians, running the bases, DJ Kitty's postgame dance party, and giveaways and autographs for kids 14-and-under.
Right Field Street is the major hub of activity. Kids can get their face painted or picture on a baseball card, meet the Rays mascot in Raymond's Room, browse children's-themed merchandise and view colorful murals. They even have their own concession stand, called Little Sluggers, which offers a less expensive kids menu.
In past seasons, kids were able to hit balls into a screen or have their pitches timed. Now, they can put on a virtual reality head set and feel like they are hitting balls while standing at home plate at Tropicana field.
"Tropicana Field has elements that no other ballparks have across the country in terms of elements that really focus on kids and families and to baseball fans that others might not have," Weisberg said.
Banners celebrating the Rays' American League and AL East championships in 2008, division title in 2010 and wild-card berths in 2011 and '13 hang above the left field seats.
Light it up
Seeing the straw drawing juice from an orange on the wall behind the right field stands light up — giving the impression that it is spraying the juice into the air —when the Rays hit a home run is as welcome to Rays fans as the home run apple at New York's Citi Field.
It is a sight surpassed only by the translucent roof of the trop glowing orange after a Rays win. Which, come to think of it, might be the best feature of all.
“We’ve done a lot over the last 10 years,” Walsh said. “Even if we can’t replicate what a new facility would look like, we try to do things that would give people at least a taste.”