ST. PETERSBURG — Among the issues for players at Tropicana Field is losing sight of fly balls, at least, veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said, once a game.
The Rays are working on a colorful solution.
Taking advantage of the features of a new overall LED illumination system, the Rays are planning to light the inside of the Trop roof blue during games this season.
The team feels the change would improve playability, with fewer balls getting lost in and above the new brighter lights, and provide a more natural look, similar to a blue sky, somewhere between royal and navy.
The change is subject to approval by Major League Baseball, which will have officials at the Trop on Monday to make an assessment. Rays players and coaches got a first look during a workout early Sunday, though the difference was slight as sunlight filters through the white translucent roof, but seemed to like what they saw.
The coaching staff was headed back to the Trop Sunday night for a more relevant look at how blue, and thus how dark, it will look then.
“I thought it was awesome. Really cool to see it,’’ manager Kevin Cash said before Sunday afternoon’s game in North Port. “The feedback was good, fly balls, pop-ups to the infielders. It will be interesting to see it (Sunday night).
“From what I’ve been told and seen on pictures, it’s like a darker blue that gives more contrast to the ball. It’s for playing benefits. The roof has always been somewhat challenging, and (this will) help the players track balls.’’
The Rays have done extensive experimenting with different shades of blue before deciding on what they think will work, and be approved. (A photo of the Trop at night posted on the Reddit web site and circulating on the Internet is darker than the Rays plan.)
MLB rules will require one consistent color for all games, day or night. Other domed stadiums have had roofs painted with color, such as dark green in Seattle’s Safeco Field.
"There’s still people looking at it, as far as what players are going to think, what the team thinks, what MLB thinks. It’s such a new thing,'' said Michael Weinman, the Rays director of game presentation and production who has been working, literally, day and night on the project. "It’s pretty cool looking at night.’’
Two outfielders with limited experience at the Trop, Austin Meadows and Guillermo Heredia, who played there with Seattle, both felt the blue look helped.
“It’s a lot better,’’ said Heredia, with coach Rodney Linares translating. “It will take some of that glare from the roof.’’
Plus, Meadows said, there is an aesthetic benefit, which is also intended. “It looks cool,’’ he said.
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Kiermaier said he didn’t notice much change during the daylight workout, that “it just looks like a shade of blue right now,’’ but any improvement will be welcomed.
“I’m all for anything that would make that dirty white ball not blend into that dirty white roof as much,’’ said Kiermaier, a two-time Gold Glove winner, and the 2018 Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in centerfield. “For my sake, when I take my eye off the ball, especially balls hit over my head, those are the one I get really frustrated on. I don’t care how many years you play here, you never get used to catching a dirty white ball on a dirty white roof. …
“There’s balls every year that give me trouble. It’s not fun being out there. At the same time, I’d like to think that the opposition, over the five years I’ve been here, have more problems than us.
“But there’s always a play that’s affected, whether it’s us or the other team. It seems like every night there’s always a play that can affect the game one way or another.’’
Cash said the new blue look would help alleviate, but not necessarily eliminate the problem. Nor that it was much of a story.
“For two decades balls have been lost in there and they’re going to get lost in there again,’’ he said. “So I don’t think it’s that big a deal.’’
The new GigaTera LED lights make for a brighter look overall at the Trop, which also has a new Shaw Sports turf for the third straight year, one that with use of a different fiber is supposed to be more durable. The blue accent comes from up-lights, which are posted on the catwalk rings and illuminate the area above the white lights.The Rays are planning to make use of the lights for a number of multi-colored entertainment features, including home run and victory celebrations (with flashes and twinkles), as well as anthem performances and player introductions.
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays