Chronological Tour: Stop 136

A Dome with Three Names

Home plate entrance to the Florida Suncoast Dome, aka Tropicana Field, Sep-2009.

The view from the party deck beyond the left-field foul pole. One of the famous catwalks is in plain sight here.

The view from the upper deck behind the plate: artificial turf, real dirt in the infield.

Quick Facts: Rating: 1 baseball
When I first visited St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1993, a white elephant caught my attention and I had to pull off the freeway to take a look. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was the Florida Suncoast Dome, optimistically built so that the Tampa Bay area would be able to attract a baseball team. The Chicago White Sox were the initial target of speculation, as old Comiskey Park was on its last legs. Later rumors had the San Francisco Giants, and then the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, moving to St. Petersburg. These cities, however, retained their teams.

From 1993 to 1996, the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning utilized the facility, with a substantially smaller seating configuration. During those years, the building was known as the Thunderdome. The award of an American League expansion team to St. Petersburg eventually provided the impetus for a new arena across the bay in Tampa for the Lightning, known as the Ice Palace. Meanwhile, the dome was also used for NCAA tournament basketball games just prior to the Devil Rays’ opener, and it hosted the Division I Final Four in 1999.

Baseball made its formal debut at the Suncoast Dome in March 1998. A corporate sponsorship agreement changed the facility’s name once again. A citrus juice producer paid to have the building called “Tropicana Field”, with the “field” part of the name a futile attempt to distract game attendees from the inevitable realization that there is a roof over their heads. While the game is played on FieldTurf, one of the latest-generation sports carpets, the park features full infield dirt in a standard configuration rather than the sliding pads that were common in early stadiums with artificial turf.

The roof is translucent, making for a bright, almost tolerable experience during the day. When clouds come over, however, the place becomes noticeably darker, almost to the point of seeming dingy. The first time I attended, in August, the heat in the upper deck was unbearable as well, defeating the purpose of the domed stadium. On my return visit in 2009, the air conditioning seemed to be working better.

Among recent improvements to the ballpark, the collection of memorabilia once housed at the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame in Hernando has been relocated to Tropicana Field. Sadly, though, on my latest visit, even with certain cosmetic improvements, I still could not escape the fact that I was watching indoor baseball. It did not help that the catwalks ringing the dome blocked this upper-deck spectator’s view of parts of the scoreboards.

There was a proposal on the board to build a new major league facility on the site of Al Lang Field and move the Rays there. This move, which would only be several blocks, required numerous local approvals and was eventually tabled. In January 2016, the club and the St. Petersburg city council announced that the Rays have permission to seek relocation sites elsewhere in the region, perhaps across the bay in Hillsborough County. While a move is not imminent, the possibility arises that this park’s baseball days may be numbered.

Game # Date League Level Result
324 Sun 9-Aug-1998 American MLB TAMPA BAY 2, Cleveland 1
1032 Sun 6-Sep-2009 American MLB Detroit 5, TAMPA BAY 3
1497 Thu 25-Aug-2016 American MLB TAMPA BAY 2, Boston 1
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This page updated 25-Aug-2016