For the first time, Ballpark Digest will preview what every MLB team is doing to begin the season, both on and off the field, as the 2017 campaign launches tomorrow. We’ll begin with the Tampa Bay Rays, and the series will end with a hands-on report from Yankee Stadium later this week.
Plenty of changes this season at Tropicana Field. On the field, the Tampa Bay Rays have installed a new synthetic turf that should play better, according to team officials. Off the field, the Rays and concessionaire Centerplate are unveiling new stands, a new executive chef as well as a new custom-produced microbrew and an awesome Bloody Mary at Tropicana Field.
On the field, the Rays teamed with Shaw Sports Turf on a new TruHop Triple Crown synthetic turf system. Shaw Sports Turf developed a surface that combines monofilament fibers, slit film fibers and a thatch layer. Shaw’s HP+ monofilament fiber is made with a thick, diamond cross-section (no spines) resin to prevent premature wear, such as fraying and splitting. In tests, it rates highly in performance characteristics (ball roll and ball rebound) and is known for mirroring the aesthetics of natural grass to create a visually stunning field. The cost of the new turf: $1 million.
“We are excited about our partnership with Shaw Sports Turf,” said Rays Team President Brian Auld in a press statement. “After much due diligence, we found that this system was the most innovative and advanced in the industry. The replacement of the turf this offseason is just one of the many ways in which we continue to invest in Tropicana Field.”
Off the field, the Rays have announced several upgrades to dining at the ballpark. Overseeing all food operations, including suites, is Executive Chef Marcelo Miranda, formerly the executive chef for Turner Field and executive chef at the Kansas City Speedway.
New this season: the Urban Dugout, a food stand operated by Urban Restaurant Group. Their St. Petersburg restaurants—Urban Brew and BBQ, Urban Comfort, Urban Deli and Drafts and Urban Creamery—serve up fresh goodies prepared from scratch. The stand will feature a selection of favorites, including a crispy fried chicken sandwich, chicken and waffles, homemade mac and cheese and BBQ plates. Crowd favorites Taco Bus, Pipo’s and Evan Longoria’s Ducky’s restaurant all return this season, as well. Also new this year: The Fish Shack in the First Base Food Court offers Florida seafood favorites like crispy fried fish sandwiches, fried seafood baskets and garlic crab fries. Finally, one last new food item worth noting: the Grilled Cheese Burger, featuring a locally sourced ground beef patty between two buttery grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s at the Burger Up! stand in the First Base Food Court.
For the second straight year, the Rays and Green Bench Brewing—St. Petersburg’s first craft microbrewery—have partnered to create a beer exclusively for sale at Tropicana Field: 4-Seam American Lager (4.8% ABV), a light and refreshing lager. Fans can purchase it at various stands throughout the ballpark. 4-Seam American Lager will join an extensive draft beer lineup in the Everglades Brewhouse in Center Field Street, revamped this offseason to feature mostly local craft beers. With 38 taps, the Brewhouse offers a variety of craft beers, ranging from wheat beers and blonde ales to IPAs and a sour grapefruit Gose. Also new in Center Field Street: The Wine Cellar, serving premium wines by the glass or a full bottle carafe for fans to share in their seats.
Also worth noting: the Brunch Bloody Mary, featuring a skewer of sausage, egg, chicken and waffles, bacon and donuts served in a keepsake mason jar. It will be offered during all day games in the First and Third Base Food Courts. (It’s shown at the beginning of this article.)
The game experience should also be enhanced by upgraded videoboards, with full video possible now in the center-field display.
Image courtesy Centerplate and the Tampa Bay Rays.