I am way behind on this as I mentioned, but whenever I go to a ballpark, Major League or Minor League, I have to review it and also find which ballpark to me is the best ballpark around. And sometimes it might not score HIGH in my book it doesn't mean I don't like it. Tropicana Field fits that bill.
I pretty much kickstarted my baseball stadium tour in Tropicana Field back in 2005. While I liked it, I didn't have a whole lot of desire to go back again. However, the Rays underwent a complete change from that point. They were no longer the Devil Rays, a team that wore green and stunk while at the same time had a semi-sterile feel to the place they were in. They took out Devil, changed their color to blue, put up a top tier baseball team, and Tropicana Field went through some changes, all for the better.
We went back to Tampa not because I wanted to see a "renovated" Tropicana Field, but to see if our 1-year old could handle a relatively long road trip (7 hour drive from Atlanta) as well as our 3 year old wanted to go to a beach. That and I wanted to see my Detroit Tigers play last year, with the new addition of Prince Fielder. So Tampa was really the closest place the Tigers were playing near us.
Anyway, I noticed that unlike 2005 when it was super easy to find a parking spot, it was a little bit of a challenge as more fans came out (a mixture of both Tigers fans and Rays fans) but still ended up a block away from the park at a local high school. Overall it was in an "ok" area.
I saw the park and I remembered originally how much I hated that slanted roof and I still did. BUT at least they put more of an effort along the walls and near the roof by painting the bottom portion of Rays colors and columns above had now baseball bats and at the top had baseballs on it. It could have been better if it didn't have to show the MLB logo, making it feel like Bud Selig put his fingerprints on those.
We got in and got to our seats along the left field wall, and really I cannot think if there is an actual bad seat at that park. You are close in to the action and you can see anywhere. We fed our kids and the food was excellent as they had tasty hot dogs while I ordered a Cuban sandwich, which was magnificent. Only problem was all the food prices were sky high, even for a Major League park, something I didn't remember them having back in 2005.
I looked around and saw more blue and less sterile concrete, which was also a positive and the Rays touch-tank, which I regret not getting to. I saw the pennant banners of the Rays division championships and the great Wild Card pennant they won which I thought was a nice touch. The scoreboard was vastly improved with the display being larger as well as having a lineup board out in CF, which I think was done right.
The fans who were there were split with Tigers and Rays fans (Lakeland is about an hour drive from Tampa and you also have Detroit transplants), but some Rays fans were pretty harsh to Tiger fans, but I didn't care.
Overall, I enjoyed my trip again to Tampa as there were vast improvements since I was there the last time. I gave Tropicana Field a 74.5% (I had it 73% in 2005) on my rating large in part because it is a Dome and while there were improvements as a whole, it wasn't like they were blowing anything out of the water.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT TROPICANA FIELD (THIS TIME)
1. Food was excellent. The Cuban sandwich and the hot dog were great. My wife ordered a ham sandwich, which she loved.
2. Seat comfort. While they might have been a little cramped, you saw the whole field and it is nice to have the air conditioning go on while you watch the game.
3. The ownership improving the ballpark. Yes, they need a new park and they tried to make with what they had.
4. Concourses. They really tried to neaten up the place having a "Yawkey Way-like" feel to it (well as best as they could and not have empty, barren walls. One thing I did like was they had a spot devoted to Game 162 of 2011 with the whole Wild Card Chase.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT TROPICANA FIELD (THIS TIME)
1. It is a dome and it didn't have that ballpark feel to it.
2. Prices. Both souvenirs and food prices were sky high for any MLB park. Strange given the Rays are low on payroll.
3. Restrooms. Fairly dirty.
4. Oustide view and the gates. The place seemed too "corporate" on the outside besides that slanted roof and despite the improvements to the walls. The gates, unless you are going in the rotunda in CF, were chain link fences. I hate chain link fences.