Manic joyous crowd screaming and leaping and jabbing fists in the air. The cheers echoing off the Dome. I’m yelling “That’s just not possible.”
Metrodome ’87 or ’91? No, Tropicana Field on Tampa Bay last night. Lisa and I saw a baseball game any fan would go coronary over (and anyone who despises the Yankees, as I do, felt an extra moral pitterpat).
As the Rays ($41-million payroll) came back from 7-0 against the CorporateYankees ($161-million payroll) I hit the decibel meter on my iPhone (yes of course there’s an app) and the cheers rolled between 90 and 100 dB. My memory of the 1987 World Series in the Metrodome is that the sound meter we borrowed (I was a reporter and my then-wife Sharon and friend John took turns reading the meter in the left field stands at peak moments) from the MPCA neared 130 dB on Kent Hrbek’s home run — that’s about the sound of a 737 landing on a speeding freight train in your back yard. The Trop rocked last night, but my eardrums didn’t vibrate out of phase as if they’d shred like torn sails in a hurricane as they did in the Dome in ’87. Remember how that felt? Literally your eardrums were thrumming like the blade of grass some kids can put between their thumbs and whistle through.
Tropicana Field is smaller than the Metrodome — ranges from 38,000 to 45,000 capacity, depending on what seats are covered with tarps — to begin with and the crowd was only 30,000 last night at high tide. By the time there was something to cheer about the stands were thin as a Pawlenty rally. Too bad. What a game.
Indoor baseball. Gotta have it down here — it was 91 yesterday (sorry, Minneapolis friends) and a bit steamy. July outdoor games here would need coroners more than umpires. Tropicana field is dissed by fans and sportscasters around the country. But those folks forget what baseball was like in the Metrodome. Except for the thunderclap cheering, the Dome (the Hump, the Dump) was an awful baseball stadium. The Trop is not awful. It’s small. Intimate. Good sight lines. Built for baseball. In a weird way, it’s cozier than Target Field. Really. It’s a decent place to see baseball.
The team, of course, wants a new stadium. This one is stuck down on the St. Petersburg peninsula, a bit hard to get to. Fan support here has been lousy — is it the stadium? The Rays have been a wonderful baseball team for several years, but the ballpark is seldom even half full. Almost half the fans last night were (shudder) Yankee fans. The Yankees’ spring training home is here, and George Steinbrenner was revered here (he bought favor, as any felon would, by funding hospitals and kids’ causes here — this hustler whose philosophy “winning is everything, win at any cost, buy what you don’t have the character to grow” should be shunned not celebrated), so it makes sense the place would be infested with pin-stripe fans. Even, under Christians’ pressure, taking the word “Devil” out of the team’s original name “Devil Rays” (for the huge majestic Manta Rays that sail in the Gulf of Mexico) didn’t improve attendance.
It’s a nice little ballpark and a fine team. Home-town Tampa product Matt Joyce stuck a three-run homer in the Yankees’ eye Tuesday night, and Evan Longoria, the Ray’s marquee player, homered twice last night to dispatch the forces of evil, the game-winner barely clearing the lowest part of the fence in the left-field corner, 315 feet down the line. Dan Johnson, two outs, two strikes, bottom of the ninth, down one run, homered to the right-field corner (322 feet, the ball barely out, barely fair) to tie the game. As hundreds of us stood near the field after the game, Johnson being interviewed was told people in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, were dancing in the street — Minnesota boy.
Watch these Rays. September Rays baseball was heavenly. Last night was ridiculously fun. There could be more. Twins fans — these Rays play the way Minnesota has until this year. Adopt a Ray.
— Bruce Benidt