Baseball and Rays return to Tropicana Field four weeks early
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Baseball came early to Tropicana Field this year and the Tampa Bay Rays will look to use it as an advantage.
Four weeks before the regular season opener against Detroit, Tampa Bay and Minnesota took batting practice as rock music played in preparation for a spring training game Thursday inside the Rays' home ballpark.
The Rays are spliting their spring training between the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee and Tropicana Field because their own facility on Florida’s Gulf Coast was damaged by Hurricane Ian in September. After workouts and one game at Disney against the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay shifted its operations to St. Petersburg, with the rest of the home spring training games scheduled at the domed stadium.
"It feels good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Thursday. “I’m excited to be here. Thrilled with how Disney turned out. Hopefully everybody has taken that mindset that it’s nice to get to spend an extra month in your ballpark, and in your own bed.”
Rays infielder David Robertson noted playing at Tropicana Field provides a “cool” opportunity for players that haven’t been in the stadium. It also gives them a chance to live a major league life at spring training when you normally don’t get that chance.
“The guy kind of knocking on the door of the big leagues getting a feel for it,” Robertson said. “The settings, the roof, the turf. Hey, my goal is to play here at some point."
There were a series of adjustments to get Tropicana Field ready.
The Rays are using two clubhouses for the nearly 80 players in camp. Team meals are being served in the media dining room, which is an elevator ride from the clubhouse level.
Workouts are also planned at the nearby Huggins-Stengel Field complex, where Babe Ruth of the New York Yankees, and the New York Mets Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden, took part in spring training.
“We will make it work,” Cash said. “A lot of moving parts but confident we’ll settle in here pretty quickly.”
The stay at home allows players to get comfortable with the regular season housing instead of making the transition at spring training's end.
There will be chances to play in the sunshine as the the palm trees sway in the breeze when the team plays on the road.
“I like Port Charlotte and being outside. Certainly like Boc Grande, there’s nice boating there afterwards,” Cash said with a smile. "But no, we’re going to play enough at visiting ballparks to get all that in.”
There was a moment of silence before the game to remember those killed by Hurricane Ian.
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Mark Didtler, The Associated Press