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Can't chop the Trop

Jun 16, 2009, 10:00 AM EDT

A couple of weeks ago I mused
that rather than building a new ballpark, maybe the Rays would be
better off simply taking a can opener to Tropicana Field, refitting it
with grass and a retractable roof, and otherwise making the best of
things. I thought I was pretty clever too! Seems that the Rays were one step ahead of me, however. It also seems like the idea is not as good as I thought it was:

Even
with a $471 million overhaul, complete with a retractable roof,
supersized concourse and upgraded seating, Tropicana Field would remain
a subpar facility with substantial design flaws, according to a Tampa
Bay Rays’ consultant report released Monday.

“When we got
done this would be a B-, B+ type of baseball facility as opposed to,
obviously, if we do a brand new ballpark, it would be an A+,” said Joe
Spears, president of Populous, a design firm hired by the Rays . . .
Converting Tropicana Field into a first-class facility would require a
sweeping redesign, the report says, so much so that the project would
cost more than the Rays’ abandoned plan to build a $450 million
waterfront stadium.

At the heart of that conclusion is the fact
that, while you and I only notice the problems with the low roof and
gloomy lighting, Tropicana suffers from any number of other maladies.
According to the consultant’s report, the seats are too narrow and are
often facing the wrong direction, views of the field are obstructed
throughout the stadium, the concourse is too narrow and dead-ends,
which interrupts traffic flow and prevents fan socializing/drinking in
common areas, the press box sits where club seats should live, there
aren’t enough bathrooms, there isn’t enough storage, and the design of
the place makes life hard for the cleaning crews. All of that before
even mentioning the stupid catwalks.

What kills me in all of this
is that the Trop is not some artifact of the late industrial revolution
when people were small and discomfort was an accepted part of life. It
was designed and built in the mid-to-late 80s. I realize that was the
stone age as far as ballparks are concerned, but I’m pretty sure that
basic things like ergonomics and the benefit of good sight lines had
been discovered by then. What’s more, unlike the long gone but
not-lamented multiuse stadiums of the 60s and 70s, the Trop — while
capable of being used for other events — was built with baseball
specifically in mind and thus didn’t need to make nearly as many
compromises in quality and comfort that it did. Simply put, there’s
just no excuse for the disgrace to baseball that is that park.

But
that’s a battle that was lost long ago. The present battle — where the
Rays will play in the future — continues to rage with no apparent end
in sight.

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