(also known as Florida Suncoast Dome, Thunderdome)
CONSTRUCTION BEGAN: 1986
FIRST TENANT: Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), from 1993-1995
FIRST MLB GAME: March 31, 1998 vs. Detroit Tigers (Tigers 11, Devil Rays 6)
- First Hit: Tony Clark
- First Double: Joe Randa
- First Triple: Kevin Stocker (April 1st, 1998)
- First HR: Gonzalez
- First Run: Clark
- First RBI: Randa
GOOGLE EARTH: View Tropicana Field in Google Earth
Tropicana Field, located in St. Petersburg, FL, is the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. It was actually built over a decade before the Tampa Bay area was granted a major league team, and for years, the city of St. Petersburg, FL, courted various teams with ballpark issues, urging them to move into the brand new but largely underused grounds, then known as the "Florida Suncoast Dome". The Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants both were reported to be close to moving to Florida at some point, but both teams only used the threat of relocation to secure the construction of a new park in their current home in the early 1990s.
Major League Baseball finally moved into Tropicana Field with the creation of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as part of the expansion of 1998. Ironically, by that time, Tropicana Field was already a relic of a bygone era. A fully enclosed domed stadium with artificial turf, it was a throwback to the 1970s and some of the least-beloved ballparks in recent major league history, such as the Kingdome, the Metrodome and Stade Olympique. Perpetually gloomy and cavernous, it was not a fun place to watch a ball game, and the fact that the Devil Rays were an awful ball team in their first ten seasons did not help. When the team was renamed the "Rays" and suddenly became good in 2008, attendance picked up a little, but never as much as it should have with an exciting young team putting together a string of winning seasons and postseason appearances. It did host games in the 2008 World Series, however, and for once, the climate-controlled environment was a nice contrast to some of the terrible conditions under which that series was played over at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA.
Tropicana Field is one of only two major league ballparks to still use artificial turf, the other being Toronto, ON's Rogers Centre. It is also the last fully enclosed ballpark in the major leagues. It is infamous for its steel concourses that hang above the field, below the roof, and regularly interfere with balls hit high in the air. Special ground rules have been designed to cover this situation, but their presence is still resented by most fans. The ballpark's geographic location is also a source of dissatisfaction, as it sits in a cluster of highways far from where most fans live or work. Another sign of how little love there is for the park is that the Rays are the only team never to have hosted the All-Star Game, as Major League Baseball does not wish to see one of its showcase events played in such a dreadful setting.
In addition to the park's unfriendly nature, the Rays are also saddled with a punishing long-term lease, that was designed to prevent others from doing exactly what the city of St. Petersburg had done in the 1980s and early 1990s, i.e. court the team by promising a move into a better ballpark. The Rays have repeatedly looked for a solution to move out of Tropicana Field, but have been thwarted by the inability of the various cities in the Tampa Bay area to work together. The city of St. Petersburg does not want the team to move to a downtown Tampa, FL location, while other cities do not want to finance construction of a new ballpark in St. Pete, fearing that this would repeat the bad experience of Tropicana Field. As of 2015, the situation was still at a stalemate, while a number of powerful figures around baseball were beginning to hint that Montreal, QC would be a fine location for a major league team again, if that city put together a solid plan to build a new ballpark.
To add further to the embarrassment related to Tropicana Field, a report by Sports Illustrated in August of 2017 ranked the facility last in the major leagues in terms of food safety. The catering company at the ballpark had been cited for 241 violations in 2017, including 105 that ranked as critical.
- Bob Andelman: Stadium for Rent: Tampa Bay's Quest for Major League Baseball, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 1993.