What’s a sports fan to do while vacationing in Florida during a tropical storm?
Take in the air-conditioned comfort of Major League Baseball, of course.
That’s what I did two weeks ago when Tropical Storm Debby stalled in the Gulf of Mexico, sending torrents of rain to Fort Myers Beach.
There was no beach time, and after a couple of days of shopping and going to movies it was time for something else.
So my sister, brother-in-law and I headed east to Miami, to see the Marlins.
No longer the Florida Marlins, the Miami Marlins are playing in a new ballpark this season. To my surprise the facility doesn’t have a corporate sponsorship name – it’s called Marlins Park.
And it has plenty of bright colors – blues and yellows, pinks and greens – all of which come together in a centerfield “structure? sculpture?” that I once heard described on ESPN as looking like something out of a pinball machine.
That’s a pretty good description. When a Marlin hits a home run – like Giancarlo Stanton did that night – parts of the “structure? sculpture?” move, kind of like a cuckoo clock.
On this night the retractable roof was closed, which was good since it rained during the game.
Stanton’s home run proved to be the highlight of the game for the Marlins, who lost to the St. Louis Cardinals 5-2, much to the delight of the surprising number of Cardinal fans in attendance.
The highlight for me might have been dinner. There’s a stretch of concession stands at an area called “Taste of Miami” where I got a tamale and plantain chips. I heartily recommend both.
Or it might have been my two appearances on the Jumbotron.
ON TO ST. PETERSBURG
Two days later we went to St. Petersburg to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the Detroit Tigers.
Tropicana Field is generally considered the worst park in Major League Baseball, but I grew up attending Cincinnati Reds games at Riverfront Stadium. The only real difference I saw in the two parks is Tropicana Field has a dome.
Tampa Bay does have a tank of stingrays in its stadium, but only about 50 people at a time are allowed into the area that surrounds the tank.
Larry and Laura walked halfway around the stadium, only to find it would be a 40-minute wait to see the stingrays up close. They passed up the opportunity, but we could see the stingray tank from our seats.
Every time a Rays player hits a home run into to the tank during a game the Rays will donate $5,000 with $2,500 going to the Florida Aquarium and $2,500 going to the player’s charity of choice.
I don’t know how often that happens but it didn’t when we were there. The Tigers won 4-2.
STILL HAVE SCORECARDS
I know the scores of both ballgames because I still have my scorecards, and that may be the biggest difference I saw in the Florida games and ones I’ve attended the past three years in Milwaukee and St. Louis.
Vendors are hawking scorecards as soon as you walk into Miller Park and Busch Stadium, along with team pencils for an additional cost.
At Marlins Park I had to ask about a scorecard at a T-shirt stand. The sales clerk opened a drawer and handed me a card that cost $1 and a short pencil with no team logo and no eraser.
That’s not good for scoring a game. What if the official scorer changes his mind?
At Tropicana Field the scorecard was in the middle of a small magazine that was given out for free when you walked in. But you had to have your own pencil, and the magazine didn’t include the opponent’s roster.
Miami’s scorecard didn’t have the Cardinals’ roster either, but the St. Louis roster was listed in the small magazine we got for free there, too.
I’m not sure if it was a difference in regions or just my age, but I didn’t see any other fans in Florida scoring the games.
But I did like how the scoreboard at both parks would tell you what each batter had done in his previous at-bats, just in case you had to make a concession run or take a bathroom break.
And I was pleased to see how the outs were described at Tropicana Field.
Baseball has a language all its own. Years ago we had an intern here at The State Journal who spent the summer arguing it was wrong to say a baseball player “doubled down the right-field line.”
His contention was the player didn’t suddenly increase in size two-fold.
He may have been grammatically correct, but he was baseball wrong.
That’s why I was so happy to see at Tropicana Field that players had “flied out” to the outfield.
I know the past tense of fly is flew, but that’s not right in baseball. A player flew out to centerfield? Yeah, right, only if he flapped his arms and landed there.