07 April 2012

Tampa Bay Rays Opening Day - 6 April 2012

It's that time of year again! Spring training is all over, and baseball season is underway starting with the Rays' home opener against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. I think this is the year the Rays go all the way to the playoffs in October including the World Series and that cherished pennant - something St. Petersburg would be proud of.

Let me share with you a few pointers if you decide on attending any of the more than 100 home games this season at Tropicana Field. Believe me, some of my pointers can help you save money while you are at the ballpark!

1. Get there early to avoid the game time crowd. That way, you can stop and pick up your concessions before you head to your assigned seat.

Did I say get to the ballpark early? This is true if you got a favorite singer singing the national anthem at a game you want to attend. More on national anthem singers later.

2. Parking can get quite expensive, especially on Tropicana Field property. You are better off using an off-property lot or one of the parking garages in downtown St. Petersburg and use the convenient shuttle service to Tropicana Field. Better yet, if you live in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County and you live next to a PSTA line with regular bus service, why not take PSTA to the game? You may want to check PSTA's website for route schedules.

By the way, if you carpool (4 or more passengers in the same vehicle) to the game then your parking on Tropicana Field property is free. It is limited to the first 100 vehicles on Monday through Saturday games; on Sunday games there is no limit. Things can change from time to time; you may want to check the Rays website for details.

3. To save money on high concession prices, especially if you got a family of four or more, you can bring a limited amount of food and drink into Tropicana Field. At least the Rays - under the ownership helm of Stuart Sternberg - allow this; just make sure you are not bringing any prohibited items with you. Again, check the Rays website for details on their policies on what you can and can't bring.

4. The best place to sit for your money: The 300 level, also called the Upper Deck. Besides, you get a great view of the field for your money. Why waste money on these expensive lower level seats (unless, of course, it's a special occasion or someone sold you tickets to a seat in the Hancock Bank Club at a reasonable discount)?

5. If things go wrong while you are at Tropicana Field, the Rays want to know about it. Either when you enter the ballpark or before you leave, stop by Guest Services located at Gate 1 in Tropicana Field. Helpful staff at Guest Services will give you a form to complete and return. Although it isn’t required, having the names of Rays staff responsible will help. Depending on your complaint, the Rays will do everything and anything to make your ballpark experience a great one, even if they give you a voucher to exchange for a future Rays game at Tropicana Field.

Why do I say this? Let me share with you an experience.

Most of the Rays staff are very helpful, and I can’t complain about that. However, a part of the Rays staff that can use better customer service training is their parking staff, the people you see in yellow shirts telling you where to park if you decide to park on property.

I went to a Rays game on Friday, 19 August 2011 against the Seattle Mariners. Normally I leave my small car in the parking garage at where I work as it’s a short distance to Tropicana Field. However, severe weather was in the forecast and the clouds were darkening up as the end of the work day - 5:30 PM - approached, and I made the decision to park at Tropicana Field rather than get caught in heavy rain trying to get back to my car at the office when the game ended.

So, I decided to pay the $20 to park in Lot 6. (Sometimes, you got to splurge a little bit, within reason). I followed the instructions of the parking staff as to where to park. As I settled into my space, the parking staff – knowing that I have a small subcompact car – was directing large SUV’s to park alongside my vehicle, creating a sight distance hazard especially when it comes time to leave. I decided to park a few spaces up so that these SUV’s would not be blocking my view.

After all, I see plenty of people park where they want in Lot 6, as tailgating is allowed in all Tropicana Field parking lots. I have seen people park in the lot and set up their tailgating gear.

Suddenly – without any warning – a man in a yellow shirt comes up to my car with a radio in his hand. It was apparently one of the parking supervisors, not a security officer. The next minute this man screams at me for no reason and at one point almost threatened physical violence at me because of his words and actions of which I will not describe here.

I was so fearful of that man that I ended up exiting Lot 6. I ended up parking in a lot which was not a Tropicana Field lot but the staff was way more helpful and courteous. I contemplated not attending the game against the Seattle Mariners but I already had tickets for which I paid good money for and I was not ready to let that money go to waste. As I entered Tropicana Field on the walkway on 3 Av S that leads up to Gate 1 the same parking attendant that threatened me harassed me as I walked by.

I stopped by Guest Services and filled out the paperwork describing what happened with the parking attendant during the game. I turned it in just before I left Tropicana Field for home. The helpful Rays staff at Guest Services was so good enough to give me a voucher to exchange for a future home game.

Labor Day weekend 2011 came and went. One morning at work the phone rang and it was the manager that oversees the parking attendants at Tropicana Field. I had an interesting, yet lively conversation for almost 20 minutes explaining what happened. The reason I did not get the name of the parking attendant that was belligerent at me was for fear of escalating the situation, as well as the fact that I was fearful for my own personal safety.

As a result, I was given free parking in the VIP lot just across 16 St S from Tropicana Field, which I very much appreciated for what I went through that Friday afternoon in August 2011 when I went to see the Rays take on the Seattle Mariners. I got to use it - at a Rays game on Sunday, 11 September 2011 against the Boston Red Sox, on the somber 10th anniversary of the attacks that changed America forever, 11 September 2001. That game had great pre-game ceremonies that marked the occasion.

This goes on just to show you how the Rays as an organization will go out of their way to make things right for fans just like me. At least Stuart Sternberg is trying to make the ballpark experience better for fans, but I think more work is needed if the Rays want to be successful both as a team that can make it to the playoffs as well as its relations with the fans, but I’ll save that for another topic as the 2012 Rays season progresses.

Earlier in this post I mentioned about national anthem singers, and that you want to get there early if there is a singer that you like that’s going to be in town and you find out that he or she is going to sing the national anthem at a Rays game. When I was at the Rays’ opening day game against the New York Yankees, BK Jackson played the national anthem on his saxophone with his signature tune yet respectful. After all, BK Jackson performed the national anthem at Rays home openers in 2009 and 2011 as well as Game 1 of the 2008 American League Divisional Series, all four games of the 2008 American League Championship Series and Game 3 of the 2011 American League Divisional Series, according to a press release by the Tampa Bay Rays on the game notes for opening day against the New York Yankees.

My take on BK Jackson and his performance of the national anthem at the Rays’ home opener against the New York Yankees on Friday, 6 April 2012 at Tropicana Field: His signature saxophone version of The Star-Spangled Banner was great. Now if only BK Jackson could perform two other national anthems: Slovenia’s Zdravljica and Croatia’s Lijepa naša domovino – they are two beautiful national anthems in Europe that would sound great on any musical instrument, even on a saxophone.

As the 2012 baseball season progresses, LET’S GO RAYS! This is the year we go all the way to October and the World Series and the day the Rays get their hands on Major League Baseball’s most coveted trophy: The baseball pennant.


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