PART TWO: TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG
Friday, April 6th, 2012: A four hour drive through intermittent rain and gator-concealing wetlands ends in the “parking lot” of the New Covenant Holiness Church on 6th Avenue in St. Petersburg. Finally emerging from the infuriating bumper-to-bumper clusterf*** that is I-75 on the way to Tampa, we are informed by signs that the stadium lot is full. The game is about to begin as we park on an expanse of grass next to the church, and Tropicana Field rises from the valley a few hundred yards away. We cut across the ramshackle church’s lawn toward the Trop, and My Lovely Young Escort begs permission to visit the restroom from an enormous Christian sitting on the steps.
I wait outside and listen to the sounds of the game, arriving from a half dozen directions and radio feeds. The atmosphere brings to mind a small town fair; dust from the tight maneuvering of traffic, static-y music, local accents and a distant buzz of power. The slow snake of cars looking for cheap parking provides a seamless broadcast from the game, the game that is beginning without me. It is humid, hot, and painfully bright, and we are missing all the pageantry. The lineups are being announced, as locals with no tickets wander around and holler encouragements at their radios. A boy, no more than fourteen, swats mosquitoes from his arms and sells Budweiser cans from a cooler. For a buck apiece. I’ll take four hundred, I say to him.
Inside the park, (No “Enjoy the game!”s at the Trop) we hustle to our section. It is the bottom of the first as we stumble over fans to our seats on the second level, and a tremendous *pop* snaps our attention to the field. Tampa’s El Presidente Carlos Pena has just taken CC Sabathia deep, clearing the bases in what turns out to be the first grand salami Sabathia has ever served up to a lefty. Marvelous.
First we miss the Ceremonial Opening Day Hullaballoo, and now this? My beloved Yanks start the season like this? We’ve dug in at our seats now and begin assessing the fans around us, for conversational opportunities and valuable local insight. (Best insight offered, “As soon as the game is over, get out of St. Petersburg”) To my left sit two New Yorkers, whom we’ll call Ira…and Marty. Next to The Social Ramble Correspondent Dodger Blue-Eyes, on my right, is a generously proportioned mook in a Rays jersey known hereafter as “Asshole.” And directly in front of me sits….this guy:
Let it be known that TSR is unopposed to every baseball fan’s right to follow, root for, and care about as many teams and players as they may wish. Here at The Ramble, we are Phillies’ fans, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Twins and others, and this fellow certainly has every right to his opinions. That said, the fashion faux pas pictured above, the wearing of intrasport team colors, is unforgivable.
With our eyes rolling hard enough to give us headaches, Ira, Marty, myself, and My Lovely Young Escort indicated this unfortunate twat to one another, discreetly pointing and snickering. “Who DOES that?” is the consensus view. Feeling properly satisfied that we are fans with superior style and awareness, we forget about Confused Boy-Fan and watch the Yankees take the lead back from the Rays with Raul Ibanez’ three-run shot (First as a Yankee!) in the third.
Now, in the innings leading up to this home run, Asshole (remember Asshole? Sitting next to My Lovely Young Escort?) has been taunting the Yankee fans in attendance, of which there are many. His ridicule includes the kind of stuff that Assholes at every sporting event employ, almost always displaying a total lack of knowledge of the proceedings. It is never wise to take the bait of a Sports Asshole, you can’t win arguments with them.
Perhaps owing to the Yanks offensive onslaught, Asshole is grumpy and decides to take his frustrations out on someone, anyone. I actually see his gaze settle on the Confused Boy-Fan, and I wince while he taps the teenager’s shoulder to begin his verbal assault. After Asshole fires off a few obscenities, the terrified-looking kid turns around and explains in a quavering voice that the Yankees are his favorite team, but the Rays’ Evan Longoria is his favorite ballplayer. He is so apologetic that I am immediately shamed, and instantly change my position on Confused Boy-Fan, renaming him True Baseball Fan and Person of Substance. Asshole is unimpressed by T.B.F.a.P.o.S’ personal politics and begins a campaign of annoyance in which we are all casualties. “Hey, leave him alone” says the boy’s grandfather finally, and Asshole is temporarily quieted by embarrassment and the Yanks’ stellar defensive display.
An inning later, Evan Longoria strides to the plate and sends a Sabathia offering 415 feet to left.
I hate this kid in front of me.
True Baseball Fan and Person of Substance. Douche Bag.
Having arrived late to the game, we decide to take our tour of the park in the middle innings, and The Boys of Summer limit the action on the field in our absence, which was thoughtful. A cursory glance at the dining options in the Trop reveals nothing new, there is no great tradition of popular local foodstuffs in St. Petersburg. We fortify with roasted pecans and take a lap around the concourse.
Tropicana Field might not look impressive on TV, in fact it may look a precursor to the dystopian 1987 film The Running Man. TV can’t take you into the hallways however, and the Trop is a lively place, with brightly-coloured halls and emphasis on children’s activities. There is a “Trivia Game Show” with a live host, an interactive aquarium with live rays, batting cages and a “Make Your Own Baseball Card” booth. Historical displays and a new exhibit chronicling, minute-to-minute, the events of last September 28, when the Red Sox choked big time, are a treat for real fans. As I snapped some photos of an exhibit, a passing Rays fan sneered at my journalistic investigation, and I was visited by fantasies of punching a stranger, for the second time in as many Florida baseball games. It would not be my last.
A visit to the team store (Some baseball cards and another ball for the old man) brought this exchange with a young clerk:
TSR: How much are the game-used lineup cards?
Clerk: A hundred bucks. Um…you’re missing a really good game? Did you know that?
We appreciated the advice and made it back for the last of 6th. No change in the score, and we settled into conversation with the excellent Ira and Marty.
Marty lives a five minute walk from Madison Square Garden, and has a tight little ‘fro and devastatingly acute lisp. Ira, a New Yorker living in Tampa for the past eight years, has a ten-month-old daughter and perfect teeth. They are best friends, and Marty flies down to see Yankee games with Ira a few times a year. They talk about the Bombers with real knowledge, and Ira asks My Lovely Young Escort what he can do to ensure his new daughter becomes a baseball fan. We are enjoying a close game, (6-5 Yanks) and everything is just swell. Almost.
During our tour of the park, Asshole has imbibed somewhere in the neighborhood of 47 Miller Lites. His clamorous hokum has reached it’s nadir; he’s even made himself an enemy to other Rays fans. When David Robertson pulls his usual Houdini act for the Yanks, putting runners on the corners with no outs and escaping by striking out the next three batters, Asshole’s hoarse screaming becomes unbearable. Somewhat shamefully, I actually find myself wishing he would touch My Lovely Young Escort, or say something terrible to her, anything so that I’d have an excuse to rearrange his huge, fleshy nose. Never waste your time with body-shots when dealing with a huge customer like this, I’m thinking. Sock him straight in the face, receive applause, watch Mo shut down Rays in the ninth, go home.
It worked out differently. As Marty and Dodger Blue-Eyes debated the level of excitement that comes with a Lakers game at the Staples Center versus a Knicks home game, Mariano lost his nerve and the game. After giving up a run-scoring-triple to tie the game, Mo intentionally walked the next two batters to load the bases. 34,000+ were on their feet as skipper Joe Girardi called the infield in, protecting against the ground ball and hoping for the double play. With the bases loaded, five infielders, Mo, three umpires and two base coaches, 14 men stood on the infield. It looked like a football game as El Presidente smacked a fly to left center, ending the game and spelling disaster for Asshole, had he stayed for the end of the game.
I definitely would have killed him.
We shook hands with Ira and Marty, and shuffled out of the stadium, favourably impressed with it’s many charms, and happy to escape further association with the locals. Climbing back over the New Covenant Holiness Church yard to the rental Kia, we mapped our trip back to Miami, and made detailed plans to never return to Tampa Bay.
70 miles north of Miami, my Lovely Young
Escort Driver is doing a conservative 90 mph down I-75, and I am half-asleep in the passenger seat. Her tiny yelp stirs me just in time to see the unmistakable shape of a prehistoric dinosaur, observing motorists from his place on the road directly in front of us. Two miles and 3 minutes later, Dodger Blue-Eyes breaks the silence: “I just ran over a f***ing alligator.” I close my mouth and give her thigh a squeeze. “The important thing here is that we’re both okay” I console her. “You don’t understand,” she says, “This morning when I rented the car I waived the optional insurance.”
The Social Ramble, April 18, 2012
This was the second game attended by TSR this season.