Game 22: Tampa Bay Rays
There is a really efficient tram service (the PSTA) that leads right down Central Avenue and takes you to the doorstep of Fergie’s Sports Bar right outside Tropicana Field (or “The Trop” as us locals like to call it). It seems that we cannot get away from that doyen of Canterbury rugby so with plenty of time in hand we indulged in the “bucket of beer” special – five Buds for $20.
The first thing that I must mention about Tropicana Field is its aesthetic appeal – or lack of it. While in recent years, under new ownership, the Tampa Bay Rays have attempted to re-invent themselves, the artificial turf looks plain tacky and the basic structure of the dome, low catwalks and amount of bare concrete take away from the visual experience. “The Trop” is the only park in MLB which features a permanent roof and is only one of two (the other being the Rogers Centre in Toronto) that still use artificial turf. The domed roof though does have a couple of interesting features. One is that it apparently lights up following a Rays victory – still to be confirmed. The other is that the dome sits at a weird, 6.5 degree angle. The tilt was designed to cut the air conditioning bill by reducing the volume of air that needed to be conditioned.
Unfortunately this tilt, along with the low cat walks means that batted balls often hit the ceiling which has necessitated the addition of some local ground rule laws, which read: “A batted ball that hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects and remains there in fair territory is a fair ball and should be called a double”.
Both the Rays and the Orioles are within striking range of the wild card positions so this should be an interesting spectacle.
Baltimore Orioles……..000 000 000 1 – 1
Tampa Bay Rays………..000 000 000 0 – 0
This was a disappointing game. For a couple of teams that were supposedly desperate for wins, the offence was almost non- existent. While the Rays have had some injury problems (probably inevitable in a 162 game season) their parade of silence at the plate has been on going. This was the second game in a row that they were shut out by the Orioles and have now dropped to 56-52 and to fifth place in the AL wild card chase. The scoreless ten innings also extends to 21 their streak for innings without a run. Too be honest, they never looked likely and only got one runner on third base all afternoon.
To be fair, Baltimore was not much better. They tied with Tampa Bay on a miserable three hits. They did finally break the deadlock in the tenth innings when catcher, Taylor Teagarden, doubled to centre field to score Mark Reynolds who had been walked earlier in the innings. The Orioles are fourth in the AL wild card race.
Based on the offensive output of today, my sympathies are now with the batters – they did not seem to have much of a chance. The odds are stacked way too heavily against them.
Although they lost today, generally speaking the Rays have a very high winning percentage at Tropicana Field. By playing 81 of their 162 games in a dome they must give themselves something of an advantage. In fact in 2008 and 2009 the first two seasons in which the franchise had ever contended the Rays were 109 – 53 at home and just 72 – 90 on the road.
Surely they are going to be more acclimatised to their surroundings than their opponents. Of course when I looked at home field advantage by perusing the statistics and taking a logical approach when discussing the New York Yankees game last month,there are other, more obvious cases of ensuring such an advantage. In 1900 for instance a shortstop on the visiting Cincinnati Reds noticed that the Phillies third base coach stood in a puddle each innings. When the shortstop actually took a look at it, it transpired that the coach was actually standing on a wooden box. It turned out that a non-playing member of the Phillies roster sat in the outfield bleachers with high powered binoculars and stole the signs from the visiting catcher. He then relayed these by using a buzzer that was connected to the wooden box with wires that ran under the field and he used signals to send the message to the third base coach. The Phillies that year won two thirds of their games at home and less than half on the road.
Similarly a groundsman can tailor the field to suit the home team. A dedicated groundsman for a strong bunting team can build up an inward slope on the foul lines to keep the balls fair. Back in the day at Memorial Stadium, before the Orioles became a base stealing team, the grounds man would water down the baselines from first to second to make it too muddy to steal on. He can also allow the grass to grow long or roll it hard depending on the abilities of the home team.
I am not sure if anyone in baseball has pulled the covers trick which Ray Jones and I once pulled when playing a game of cricket in Christchurch. It was mandatory that all pitches were covered on Friday night so that it increased the chance of play on Saturday, even if there were inclement weather. At East Christchurch – Shirley we had a roster system and on this fateful weekend it was the turn of Jonesy and I to carefully place and peg the covers down at six o’clock Friday night, as per the Canterbury Cricket Associations’ stipulations. We were playing the competition leaders Lancaster Park and it was the second day of the game. As usual, we were in a perilous situation and steering down the barrel of an inevitable large defeat. We finished work at about five o’clock and discussed going down to Burwood Park to put on the covers. However we were both thirsty and we both considered ourselves expert meteorologists and concluded it probably would not rain. So we had a few beers instead.
At this stage Jonesy and I were flatting together, so after our refreshments we went home. At about seven o’clock in the morning we awoke and to our dismay discovered that it had been pelting down persistently since about midnight. We raced to Burwood Park to find the pitch underwater. Always thinking, we dragged the covers out and put them in a shambles beside the pitch, and then went home. On returning to the scene of our crime at the prescribed time for the game everybody was frustrated that the wind had obviously blown the covers off during the night. No play was possible and the fixture was deemed to be a draw. Surely an example of home ground advantage at its finest.
With Tampa Bay’s record this year, maybe they should consider moving to an outdoor venue and hiring Jonesy and I as groundsmen.