“It’s not cute,” is what Rays manager Joe Maddon said after a heartwrenching loss to the Twins on Thursday afternoon — a game when his Rays came back from trailing, 6-0, to tie it with a two-out, pinch-hit grand slam from Jason Bartlett in the eighth inning, then saw Jason Kubel give the Twins the lead for good on a two-out, ninth-inning popup-turned-single off the catwalk in an obsolete Tropicana Field.
After the 8-6 loss that put the Rays a half-game back of the Yankees in the American League East, Maddon wanted to make one point perfectly clear.
“To lose a game in a pennant situation like that because of your roof truly indicates why there’s a crying need for a new ballpark in this area, regardless of where they put it,” Maddon told reporters in his office. “It just needs to be a real baseball field where, if you were to lose the pennant by one game and look back at a game like that because the roof got in the way, you’d be very upset. So, again, there’s no better reason than that.”
Maddon is never shy to speak his mind, but this is not sour grapes. The Rays have been clamoring for a new ballpark for years now and really haven’t gotten anywhere. Truth is, they need one — and it’s not because Kubel’s popup cost them one game out of 162.
Gone are the Astrodome, the Kindgome and Olympic Stadium, meaning Tropicana Field is the only enclosed ballpark without a retractable roof remaining in baseball. And it’s the only one with artificial turf, too.
With the Marlins set to get their new retractable-roof ballpark for the start of the 2012 season, it’s time for Tampa Bay to have the same.
Recently, the Rays — contractually obligated to stay at Tropicana Field until 2027, though that’s negotiable — and St. Petersburg, Fla., officials decided to put off talks on a new stadium until the end of the World Series, and the perception is that the two sides don’t agree on much right now. Mayor Bill Foster said the Rays can leave “The Trop” and pursue another stadium in the city, but Rays President Matt Silverman believes the club needs to consider other sites, too.
Maddon figured he’d use Thursday’s incident to stress that this simply needs to get done, one way or another.
“If you want a really good reason why there’s a new ballpark necessary in this area,” he said, “there it is.”
According to The Associated Press, more than 100 flyballs have hit the four catwalks at Tropicana Field since the ballpark opened in 1998. Kubel’s traveled about 190 feet and hit the A-ring, which is the highest.
Under stadium rules, a ball that bounces off a catwalk is live and in play as long as it lands in fair territory. In fact, the same thing happened between these two teams on May 2, 2007 — though to the Rays’ benefit — when Carlos Pena hit a seemingly routine fly ball off the catwalk that landed for a single and led to the winning rally.
Perhaps the baseball gods were simply balancing the playing field on Thursday.
Regardless, though, the issue here is clear, and it doesn’t take yet another ball ricocheting off a catwalk to understand it: The Rays need a new home, and a solid plan in that direction needs to be put in the works soon.
“I know it works both ways, believe me,” Maddon prefaced. “We’ve benefited from this in the past. There was a time when it was kind of cute. In 2006 and [’07] it was kind of cute — when you might lose a game or win a game because a ball hit the roof or a raft or whatever. But it’s not cute today. It’s not cute. And that’s what sticks because you get a loss, [Joaquin Benoit] gets two earned runs during the loss, because a ball hit something in the roof. And that’s wrong.”
For reference, here’s a look at the height of the four catwalks at Tropicana Field, courtesy of BaseballPilgramages.com …
* D-ring: 59 feet above CF, 121 feet above home plate
* C-ring: 99 feet above CF, 146 feet above home plate
* B-ring: 142 feet above CF, 173 feet above home plate
* A-ring: 181 feet above CF, 194 feet above home plate
— Alden Gonzalez