A vacation trip to Florida led me to a trip to the Trop. It had just worked out that the Astros were in Tampa so I HAD to go. I picked the Friday night game as I was leaving Florida the next day, so to me this was a perfect way to close out the trip. I went with the whole family and we left around 11 that morning as the Trop was about 2 hours away from where we were staying, but I wanted to look around to the city too. Finally, around 3 o’clock we arrived and decided to keep driving around as the gates weren’t going to open for another two hours. We parked at 4:10 (for free!), and honestly, the Trop at first sight looked ugly. But I was really happy to be there. (:
Thanks to my mom for taking that pic but oh yeah, baby. Astros fans in the house. I had picked this jersey to take with me because I knew that I was going to stand out, and hopefully it would help me snag many baseballs. We tried to walk around the stadium but there were many barriers, so we couldn’t. I had a good aisle seat ticket for the game out in left field which cost me $12, and I had visions of catching a game home run here, how cool would have that been?
Meanwhile, I kept seeing lots of Astros fans, and mostly all of them were Puerto Ricans in Carlos Correa shirts. It then occurred to me that Puerto Rico wasn’t very far from Tampa, and I guess he has a good fanbase here. It actually scared me a bit because I thought I would be one of the ONLY Astros fans here, and that tossups would easily come my way. Now, maybe it would be a challenge, but I didn’t think about it much.
But I gotta admit, I love the kid, and I’m excited for him to lead us to the World Series soon. Meanwhile, I waited for the gates to open at 5. Back at Minute Maid, they open two hours early and they let us in at 5, but here in Tampa when 5 o’clock rolled around I was anxious to get inside. Slowly minutes passed, and I was thinking, “What the hell are they waiting for? What’s happening? Well, they do open two hours early, game time was at 7:10 and they opened at 5:10. Wow, imagine what I could have done in those 10 minutes. Anyways, I had just shook it off, scanned my ticket, and ran to left field. The seats are configured weird as hell, as the concourse is “underground the seats”, you have to walk up a lot of stairs in order to get to see the ballpark. I walked up and saw my first glimpse of the field.
This was my 3rd MLB park visited, and this one was just a big “eh.” After seeing the stadium on TV many times, to see it in person, makes it look uglier. Don’t even get me started on the turf, oh god. The whole thing reminded me of a bad replica of the Astrodome. Anyways, Rays BP had already ended (ugh), and the Astros were barely stretching. It gave my dad some time to catch up and I managed to take a (blurry) pic of when he first entered the seats.
I noticed immediately the ushers scolding people who were going into the front row if they didn’t have a ticket and I thought to myself, “damn.” They would let you into any other row, just not the first. Fellow ballhawk, Erik Jabs, had tweeted me a week before the game and warned me about the front row policy, and to buy a front row ticket. I decided not to, I would just play home runs. That’s when I stumbled onto another problem. The Astros started hitting around 5:20 and I couldn’t see the ball when they were hit in the air. Why? White ball, and white roof don’t work together.
The roof though actually fascinated me, and it was tilted sideways. That was odd, the whole building looks out of level, but yet it was in a way. Huh, but since I couldn’t see the baseballs, I thought I was screwed for BP. Regulars would see the ball, and I would have a major disadvantage. Another reason why this stadium sucks for ballhawking. Now, back to the ushers, they had whistles on them too and whenever a ball was hit to the outfield seats around me, they would blow them non-stop and this would happen FOR EVERY SINGLE BALL that landed in the seats. That annoyed the crap out of me.
Now, I thought I was going to get shutout, but I think I had a good advantage. Attending many Astros games, and being a diehard fan, helped because I recognized EVERYBODY on the Astros. Toss-up’s were going to be possible now. Soon, a ball rolled up to the track and I saw that it was newly called up pitcher, Dan Straily. I called to him (from the 2nd row) and saying “Any chance a ball for an Astros fan?”. He looked up, and tossed it up saying, “here ya go, bud.” My first ball of the day, and ever at Tropicana Field. Thanks, Dan!”
I positioned myself for every batter, and it payed off when my second ball of the day was a scramble that I won when Evan Gattis hit one about a row in front of me which was bobbled and I swooped down and snagged it. Thanks, Evan! Correa stepped into the cage, and even though I positioned myself deep, I didn’t snag anything of his bat, but I saw the most impressive thing of all of BP. He hit one into the second deck in left. To reach it up there, and for it not to strike a catwalk. Wow. After Correa, Jake Marisnick stepped into the cage (I also knew every batter in the cage, even 370 feet away from home plate because of their batting stances.). He likes hitting to left-center, and I moved into an empty row in which I think he could reach me. The first ball pitched to him, he hits it high and right in my direction. It starts slicing to the left, and even though I can barely see it, I reached out and caught it on the fly. That felt great. Take that, ugly roof. Thanks, Jake! That was my 3rd ball of the day. After that, some weak lefties stepped into the cage and I decided to play the dugout when the Astros walked off, and maybe I could get something. This was my view.
Now do you see the second deck where it is? Just wow to see that power out of Correa. Astros BP ended around 6:20 and even though I didn’t get anything out of the players, the Bullpen Coach (who tosses BP also), Javier Bracamonte actually recognized me as he was loading all the balls into the bag! I always tell him hi at Minute Maid when he walks into the bullpen and here in the Trop when he pointed me out, that felt good. He gave me a signal as he was going to hook me up, and a few seconds later, he tossed me a really dirty ball in the third row over everyone else. Javi’s the absolute best bullpen catcher in MLB, he tossed me many balls over the years and major thank you to Javier! That was my 4th of the day. Unfortunately, my dad didn’t catch anything out in Left, so we were stuck at 4 at the end of BP. (FYI, we’re a team and all the balls we catch count in our collection.) I hung out by 3rd base in hopes of a pregame tossup, which wasn’t meant to be. I just watched the starting pitcher, Collin McHugh warm up.
I then went back to my seat out in left field. I thought about playing the Astros dugout when I was planning my day out in my head, but I decided not to because a) ushers were everywhere, and b) I had a ticket in the outfield! I rarely sit out in home run territory, and if there was ever a time to snag my first game home run, I was ready to pounce TODAY. I liked my chances, thanks to my seat view.
The game went by pretty quick, as it was a pitcher’s duel. (It took 2 hours, and 19 minutes to finish. Quickest. Game. Ever.) The Astros took the lead in the 2nd, 1-0 on a Colby Rasmus home run to right. Each team kept making 3 outs quick and there was little action so I decided to look around and mess around with my camera by taking a panoramic of the Trop.
The atmosphere in the ballpark was dead, the speakers (which hanged of the catwalk sucked), and it didn’t feel like I was at a baseball game. No wonder everyone calls this the worst park in the Majors. The Rays need a new ballpark BADLY. The Rays came back in the 6th with 2 runs, and tacked on another run in the 7th on a Brandon Guyer solo home run to left. The ball landed a section to my left, and I looked at the video of it after the game, and I barely saw myself, at the far left, above where it says “McHugh: 90 Pitches” in the rainbow jersey.
I headed to the Astros dugout in the 8th in hopes of a gamer, but to no avail. In the 9th, I went (or at least tried) to get down to the umpire exit with my dad before I was stopped by an usher around 3rd base who asked if I had a ticket, and I confessed I didn’t. Ugh, why would an usher ask for tickets in the 9th inning??? I went back into the concourse and found the section right behind home plate (which is where the umpire exit is, and where I wanted to be) and it wasn’t being guarded. Hah. The Astros went down on strikeouts and lost 3-1 (sad face) and I quickly got to a great spot. Nobody was really asking, and before I could finish my request to Home Plate Umpire, Sam Holbrook, he tossed me one, and tossed the last ball he had to my dad. Double thanks, Sam! & Good Job, Dad! We had now ended the day with 6 baseballs, and maintained our average of 6 balls per game. We were very happy with our umpire balls.
We met back with our family back in left field, and it was time to leave. Overall, it was a great day, even though the Astros lost and my assessment of Tropicana Field is that it sucks, it’s ugly, the outfield seats are little and people fill in quick so it can get tough quickly. It’s just a bad ballpark, and I feel bad if anyone had to be a regular here. It’s tough. Before leaving though, I took my favorite picture of the day of the roof from the concourse.
STATS (after the July 10th Game)
- 6 balls at this game
- 90 balls this season in 15 games (6.00 average.)
- 36 consecutive games with at least one ball
- 6 consecutive games outside of Houston with at least one ball
- 28 lifetime balls outside of Houston
- 364 lifetime balls in total
- Attendance: 17,129