It's no secret that the entire MLB world is constantly in awe at the caliber of team the Tampa Bay Rays put together each season on a shoe string budget. Stuart Sternberg, Andrew Friedman and other magicians in the front office wave their wands year round and put together a team who opponents fear for six months on a fraction of the payroll their large market competitors can indulge. Perhaps this extraordinary ability stems from having lived in notoriously expensive New York City, perhaps it's years of studying finance, maybe it's a gift from the baseball Gods. We are fortunate in that the Rays offer their fans the same opportunity for "Thrifty Baseball" as we make our way to The Trop to behold domed, dry, 72°F glorious Rays baseball. Today's focus is on those evil necessities, parking and satisfying your appetite!!
The Trop's dome — Courtesy: Flickr
The Trop's dome — Courtesy: Flickr
It falls on you to find the cheapest gas to get to downtown St Petersburg but once in the area you can park conveniently in the Rays official lots for $15~$25 (depending on the the game's rating). In fact you can get a pre-paid parking pass and not even lose a/c by cracking your vehicle window. Lot 7 is easiest for highway access, Lot 6 is closest to Fergs Sports Bar & Grill, great for pre and post game food, drinks, music & general merriment with like minded Rays fans and the occasional enemy fan sent on an espionage mission.
Also note, Ferg's has a limited amount of adjacent parking at the same or under the "official" lot rate. When parking you receive a coupon for $5 off your tab ($25 min I think) should you do the right thing and visit to say hello to owner Mark Ferguson. Try the boneless wings (my fav is a mix of garlic & medium hot sauce, tweet me a thank you later).
If you are healthy enough to walk an extra 300 or so yards and know which gate is closest to your seats there are other less expensive options. If you simply must get your fix of entering via the Rotunda or if you are sitting on the right side of the field (even numbered sections) you can go to the tiny lot between Central Ave and 1st Ave S on the west side of 11th St S where the parking is as low as $5 but never higher than $10. If they are full go around the rotary to the lot at the north west corner of 11st St N and Central Ave for $10.
If you have to pick up tickets at will call, are a season ticket holder wanting to use your "exclusive entry" or if you are sitting on the left side (odd numbered sections) gates 4~6 on the west side of the Trop make sense. The parking lot on the northeast corner of 17th St N & Central Ave charges $10 and you can redeem 5 of the stubs they give you for free parking at your 6th game! The lot at 17th St S & Central Ave charges $10 generally and $15 for premium games UNLESS you say "you told me to tell you I'm a regular". Those magic words assure $10 parking even if the Red Sox and the Yankees decide to simultaneously descend on us to scale the catwalks then tear down the soon to be hung 2012 World Series Championship banner. Last parking tip... only in the 17th St S & Central Ave lot, if you forget to bring or accidentally open your bottle of water, he keeps a cooler full & won't take a buck for them if you are in his lot. Oh and about that bottle of water.....
Don't open it because fans are permitted only unopened bottles no larger than 1 liter. Single serving Kool-Aid or Crystal Light packets stash easily for added flavor once opened. Additionally juice boxes (think small children) are allowed. For the designated driver of your group, stop by Guest Services at gate 3, complete a short pledge form and you will receive a coupon for a free soda (don't remember size but 8~10oz or so), request very little ice & revel in your kind deed as you change camera batteries to assure plenty of future bribery photos of your friends who are drinking.
You can even bring in food! Yes, you can bring a sandwich from home, a spicy tuna roll from your favorite sushi bar or even a free Papa John’s 10" pizza courtesy of Rays pitching and Kane's Furniture to enjoy while watching the game (note, the free pizza coupons are NOT redeemable at the Papa John's located inside the Trop). Peanuts, check, Cracker Jack, check, trail mix, celery sticks, ick, cupcakes, yes please!!, whatever your culinary whim, you can bring it. Unlike chewing gum, you do not need to (and will not be permitted to) bring enough for everyone. It is against the rules to feed everyone or attempt to sell your food but you are encouraged to share as the season ticket holders in the lower 307 section do. They don't have lollipops but instead "rally pops" if necessary late in the game. If the rally doesn't happen the pop in mouth keeps the whining to a minimum.
If your schedule doesn't permit, or if you have a burning pocket and must have that ballpark food, various Rays concession stands are able to sate your hunger and most items are under $10. Notable to me, at many stands is the 1/2 Cuban sandwich for $5 which leaves room for other sampling. The Everglades BBQ Smokehouse at Right Field Street and the 1st Base Food Court offers pulled pork nachos that are outstanding, (yes, THAT good) and great for sharing at only $9. On the 2nd level, in far left field is a deli featuring Boar's Head meats/cheese and a very nice lounge area (w/ the cleanest restrooms in the stadium by the way). I also LOVE the garlic fries from the place I can't remember the name of on Right Field Street, you won't need the name, just follow your nose! Yum!
In the way of adult beverages, beers from vendors afoot are a buck less than drafts in the mezzanine. On Friday nights the Rays signature drink Blue Hurricane is only $9 and of course, you should request VERY little ice. Lets face it, when it comes to alcohol, there is always a price to pay and it is rarely a bargain. And that my fellow Rays fan, is the final piece of wisdom I'll share today! See you at the Trop!!