Tropicana Field is a domed stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida, which has been the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays since the team’s inaugural season in 1998, when they were the Devil Rays. It has also served as the host stadium for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, an NCAA-sanctioned college football bowl game since December 2008. It is the only stadium in history to host full seasons of professional baseball, football, hockey and arena football, as well as college basketball and college football contests. It is currently the only domed stadium in Major League Baseball, which is not retractable.
After Tampa was awarded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Rowdies in the 1970s, St. Petersburg decided it wanted a share of the professional sports scene in Tampa Bay. It was decided early on that the city would attempt to attract Major League Baseball. Possible designs for a baseball park or multi-purpose stadium were proposed as early as 1983. One such design, in the same location where Tropicana Field would ultimately be built, called for an open-air stadium with a circus tent-like covering. It took several design cues from Kauffman Stadium, including fountains beyond the outfield wall.
Ultimately, it was decided that a stadium with a fixed permanent dome was necessary for a prospective major league team to be viable in the area, due to its hot, humid summers and frequent thunderstorms. The ballpark began construction in 1986 in the hope that it would lure a Major League Baseball team to the facility.
The stadium, built originally as the Florida Suncoast Dome, was first used in an attempt to entice the Chicago White Sox to relocate if a new ballpark were not built to replace the aging Comiskey Park. The governments of Chicago and Illinois eventually agreed to build a New Comiskey Park (now known as U.S. Cellular Field) in 1989.
The stadium was finished in 1990, but still had no tenants. The venue made St. Petersburg a finalist in the MLB expansion for 1993, but they lost out to Miami and Denver. There were rumors of the Seattle Mariners moving in the early part of the 1990s, and the San Francisco Giants came close to moving to the area, with Tampa Bay investors even announcing they were in a press conference in 1992. However, the sale was blocked by National League owners who voted against the sale and move in November 1992 under pressure from San Francisco officials and the then-owner of the Florida Marlins, Blockbuster Video Chairman H. Wayne Huizenga. A local boycott of Blockbuster Video stores occurred for several years thereafter. From 1990 to 1993, several Grapefruit League spring training games were held in the stadium, generally involving teams that had their spring training facilities in the area.
The Suncoast Dome finally got a regular tenant in 1991, when the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm made their debut. Two years later, the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning made the stadium its home for three seasons. In the process, the Suncoast Dome was renamed the Thunderdome. Because of the large capacity of what was basically a park built for baseball, several NHL and AFL attendance records were set during their times there.
Finally, in 1995, the dome received a baseball team when MLB expanded to the Tampa Bay area. Changes were made to the stadium and the name, which was changed due to the sale of naming rights to Tropicana Products, thus renaming it Tropicana Field in 1996. The completion of the Ice Palace in downtown Tampa permitted “The Trop” to be vacated for preparation for its intended purpose, as the Lightning and Storm moved into the facility that was built for them. A US$70 million renovation then took place—to upgrade a stadium that had cost $130 million to complete only 8 years earlier. Ebbets Field was the model for the renovations, which included a replica of the famous rotunda that greeted Dodger fans for many years. The first regular season baseball game took place at the park on March 31, 1998, when the Devil Rays faced the Detroit Tigers, losing 11–6.
The park was initially built with an AstroTurf surface, but it was replaced in 2000 by softer FieldTurf, becoming the first major professional facility to use it. A new version of FieldTurf, FieldTurf Duo, was installed prior to the 2007 season. Unlike other artificial turf fields used in baseball, the field at Tropicana has full dirt basepaths and pitching mound as opposed to having only dirt “sliding pits” around the bases. Since Tropicana Field does not need to convert between baseball and football, sliding pits, designed to save re-configuration time, were unnecessary. On August 6, 2007, the astro turf warning track was replaced by brown-colored stone filled FieldTurf Duo.
Tropicana Field underwent a further $25-million facelift prior to the 2006 season. Another $10 million in improvements was added during the season. In 2006, the Devil Rays added a live Cownose Ray tank to Tropicana Field. The tank is located just behind the center field wall, in clear view of the play on the field. People can go up to the tank to touch the creatures. Further improvements prior to the 2007 offseason, in addition to the new FieldTurf, include additional family features in the right field area, the creation of a new premium club, and several new video boards including a new 35 ft (11 m) x 64 ft (20 m) Daktronics LED main video board that is four times larger than the original video board. The 2007 renovation also added built-in high-definition television capabilities to the ballpark, with Fox Sports Florida and WXPX airing at least a quarter of the schedule in HD in 2007 and accommodating the new video board’s 16×9 aspect ratio.
On September 3, 2008, in a game between the Rays and the New York Yankees, Tropicana Field saw the first official use of instant replay in the history of Major League Baseball. The disputed play involved a home run hit above the left field foul pole by Yankee Alex Rodriguez. The ball was called a home run on the field, but was close enough that the umpires opted to view the replay to verify the call. Later, the Trop saw the first case of a call being overturned by instant replay, when a fly ball by Carlos Peña originally ruled a ground-rule double due to fan interference, was overturned and made a home run on September 19. The umpires determined that the fan in question, originally believed to have reached over the right field wall, did not reach over the wall.
In October 2008, Tropicana Field hosted its first ever baseball postseason games as the Rays met the Chicago White Sox in the American League Division Series, the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. It hosted the on-field trophy presentations for the Rays when they became the American League Champions on October 19, following Game 7 of the ALCS. Chase Utley hit the first ever World Series home run at Tropicana Field during the first inning of Game 1 of the 2008 World Series. The Rays ended up losing the game 3–2 and eventually the World Series to the Phillies 4 games to 1.
On December 20, 2008, Tropicana Field was converted into a football stadium for the day to host the St. Petersburg Bowl (now known as the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl), a college football bowl game sanctioned by the NCAA. This makes Tropicana Field one of the few venues to host the “big four” major North American sports: baseball, basketball, football and hockey (and arena football, as well). The Trop returned to a football configuration on October 30, 2009, to host one of the three home games of the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League, which the Rays had invested in.
Tropicana Field became the only fixed dome structure in use in Major League Baseball when in 2010, the Minnesota Twins moved out of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome into open-air Target Field.
The first no-hitter pitched at Tropicana Field took place on June 25, 2010, thrown by Edwin Jackson of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jackson was a member of the Rays from 2006–2008. The first no-hitter at the Trop tossed by a Rays pitcher came just one month later on July 26, 2010, by Matt Garza in front of an announced crowd of 17,009. This was also the first no-hitter in Rays history. Garza faced the minimum 27 batters as the only batter to reach base was erased by a double play hit by the next batter.
The most recognizable exterior feature of Tropicana Field is the slanted roof. It was designed at an angle to reduce the interior volume in order to reduce cooling costs, and to better protect the stadium from hurricanes. The dome is supported by a tensegrity structure and is lit up with orange lights after the Rays win a home game. With the Minnesota Twins vacating the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome following the 2009 season and moving into Target Field in 2010, Tropicana Field is the only active Major League Baseball stadium with a fixed (i.e., not retractable) roof.
The main rotunda, on the east end of the stadium, resembles the Ebbets Field rotunda on the interior. The walkway to the main entrance of the park features a 900 ft (270 m) long ceramic tile mosaic, made of 1,849,091 one-inch-square tiles. It is the largest outdoor tile mosaic in Florida, and the fifth largest in the United States. It was sponsored by Florida Power Corporation, which is now a part of Progress Energy.
The primary 100-level concourse is at street level, with elevators, escalators and stairs separating the outfield and infield sections, since the ground is at different grades on either side. The 200-level loge box concourse is further separated, and is carpeted, as it includes the entrances to most of the luxury suites. The 300-level concourse is the highest of the concourses.
The seating is arranged with odd sections on the left field side, and even sections on the right field side. 100-level seating wraps around the entire field, broken at center field by the Batter’s Eye Restaurant, with loge boxes along the infield from foul pole to foul pole. 200-level seating is the luxury boxes along the foul lines, broken by the press box behind home plate, with the luxury boxes directly behind and above them. 300-level seating wraps around the infield along the lines, and also features the “tbt* Party Deck,” a small-capacity seating area above the left field outfield seats with separate concessions inside. Rows are lettered starting closest to home plate and rise further away.
There are a total of 70 luxury suites. 48 are accessible from the 200-level, while the other 15 are located on the 100-level.
There are a total of 2,776 club seats at Tropicana Field. The Home Plate Club, sponsored by Kane’s Furniture until 2007, features its own entrance, recliner seats and a premium buffet with in-seat service. The second club section, the Whitney Bank Club, is along the first-base side in the 100 section, at the Loge Box level. It features its own premium buffet and premium seating.
Field-level party sections were installed in the corners in 2006. The left field party section is named “162 Landing”, in reference to Evan Longoria’s walk-off home run in the 162nd and final regular season game of the 2012 season that landed in that section, which clinched the American League wild card for the Rays. The right field party section is the “Papa John’s Bullpen Box.” When the right field corner was sponsored by the fast food chain Checkers, tickets to the “Checkers Bullpen Cafe” included a free meal at the Checkers kiosk immediately adjacent to the section. As of 2008, both party sections feature all-you-can-eat buffets.
In 2008, the Rays also set aside a section of the Press Boxes on the right field side as an all-you-can-eat buffet section with typical ballpark fare. It is usually available for group parties, but it is available for individual ticketing on select dates.
Currently, the top 1/3 of the upper deck seating is tarped over, artificially reducing the stadium’s capacity to 36,048 for the 2008 regular season. It was further reduced to 35,041 for the 2008 postseason since the tbt* Party Deck has been reserved by Major League Baseball as an auxiliary press area. On October 14, 2008, the Rays announced that the upper deck tarps would be removed for the remainder of the postseason, starting with a Game 6 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. This increased the capacity of the stadium to nearly 41,000, depending on standing-room-only tickets sold.