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Rays to close upper deck, reduce capacity to 26,000

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Tropicana Field already had the lowest seating capacity in all of baseball, with room for 31,042 souls. It also had the second-lowest average attendance in 2018, with only 14,258 folks showing up per game. While not a cavernous stadium to begin with, its particular aesthetics and those empty seats make the joint seem even more empty than it is, so the Rays are doing something about it: getting rid of seats.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

Seating capacity at Tropicana Field will be reduced to about 25,000 to 26,000 under a renovation plan aimed at improving fans’ experience.

The team on Friday announced plans to create a more “intimate” atmosphere, including the creation of the Left Field Ledge in the lower level featuring premium seating for small groups, and the elimination of the upper-deck 300 level.

The Rays are not the first team to go this route. The Indians dramatically cut their seating capacity in a recent renovation to Progressive Field. The Diamondbacks desperately want fewer seats in Chase Field and/or a new stadium with a lower seating capacity. The Braves just moved into a stadium with a much smaller capacity than their old one. The A’s, of course, have kept the upper deck of the Oakland Coliseum closed for years, with only a few exceptions for promotional nights.

While some may laugh at this and view this only through the lens of the Rays’ poor attendance, there’s more going on with these sorts of moves than simply closing seats that do no sell. Indeed, the common thread here, and with the construction of newer stadiums, is to go with fewer seats while placing a greater emphasis on more expensive seats, club sections and common gathering areas with bars and other amenities. The Rays may have multiple aims with this move, but one of them certainly involves eliminating its lowest-priced tickets which likely represent fans who spend less money at any given ballgame. It’s a move animated by economic opportunity every bit as much as it is motivated by the aesthetics of the ballpark, as suggested in the article and the team’s statements about the change.

Maybe that will not transform Tropicana Field into some sort of premium, upscale destination, and maybe it will not transform the less-than-fabulous aesthetics of games in that park, but it’s certainly in keeping with baseball’s move toward making attending baseball games a more premium, upscale product. Which is fine I suppose unless you want to snag some cheap upper deck seats to, you know, simply go to a baseball game.

Baseball returns: Mariners beat the Athletics in the first official game of the season

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I wake up super early almost every morning. Today was no exception. Unlike most days, however, I had more to look at than my cats and more to do than wait for the sunrise: there was baseball — baseball that counted — on my TV. The Mariners took on the A’s in the Tokyo Dome at 5:30AM — which was 6:30PM, Japan time — in the first official regular season game of the year.

As far as games go it was light on the pitching and, a few dingers aside, was light on excitement, with the Mariners beating the A’s 9-7. But hey, less-than-exciting baseball is better than most things, right?

Oakland jumped out to an early lead thanks to a two-out first inning homer by Stephen Piscotty off of M’s starter Marco Gonzalez. The A’s added a second run in the second thanks to a Chad Pinder single, a throwing error which advanced him to third and a Marcus Semien RBI single.

The top of the third provided some chills: Ichiro, batting ninth for Seattle, came to bat with no one out and a runner on first, facing A’s starter Mike Fiers. Flashbulbs popped and the Tokyo Dome crowd chanted his name. He popped out to the second baseman who caught it in shallow right, sadly, but still got an ovation as he walked to the dugout. One of the more exciting and emotional F4s you’ll see.

At that point the pitching took a powder. Dee Gordon would single in Tim Beckham later that inning to make the game 2-1, the M’s would load the bases and Domingo Santana would hit one out to the opposite field for a grand slam to make it 5-2. In the bottom of the third Khris Davis came up and hit a two-run blast to make it 5-4. They say the pitchers are ahead of the hitters early in the year but, uh, nah. By the way, it was the third straight Opening Day on which Davis has homered. The record is four. Mark your calendars for next year.

Ichiro came up again in the top of the fourth, again with a runner on first, this time facing Liam Hendriks instead of Fiers. He worked a 3-1 count, fouled one off to bring the count full, fouled one off his ankle, which looked like it hurt, fouled one that bounced off his back or arm or something which also looked like it hurt, and then took one in the dirt to draw the walk. Again, a bigger cheer than you get for most walks. Later in the inning Mitch Haniger hit a sac fly to make it 6-4.

The Mariners took the field for the bottom of the fourth. Before the inning began, M’s manager Scott Servais signaled to Ichiro in right, who came running back to the dugout. He was being taken out of the game, replaced by Jay Bruce, who moved out from first base, in such a way as to allow his teammates to give him hugs and to allow the Tokyo crowd to give Ichiro a standing ovation. A nice move from Servais. An 0-for-1, 1BB night on what may very well be the future Hall of Famer’s penultimate game.

Things sort of got out of hand after that. The M’s added three runs in the fifth, two of which came on a Beckham homer. It gave us our first bat flip of the season:

At that point my kids left for school and my wife left for work and the game sort of blended into the background of the morning. Matt Chapman hit a three-run bomb for the A’s in the 7th to make it 9-7, which is a score more appropriate for the glorified spring training game this truly was than a regular season tilt, but such is life. And that, after a couple of scoreless innings, was the ballgame.

It was a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing beyond the stats it created and the smallest of small impacts it will have on season standings that will almost certainly not turn on this game. Which is to say it didn’t matter all that much. It was not a big event. It did not change our day nor impact it beyond the moments of enjoyment and amusement it gave us as it unfolded. It did not insist upon itself like so many games in other sports, TV shows and news events which unfold seem so hellbent on doing.

It just happened. As baseball, when it’s at its best, simply does. Welcome back.