Jim Caple has a piece up on ESPN.com counting down the worst ballparks of all time. The Trop predictably finishes in the top 3.
I gotta be honest here, it would be disingenuous for me to argue against Caple. Most of the positive things I have to say about the Trop aren’t actually positive. They are the qualification of a negative. Each is basically a re-cast of “it’s not THAT bad.”
There is no reason for me to regurgitate all the salient points made about the fan experience at the Trop. But more than just fans go to a ballpark everyday. And it IS time we consider the player experience.
Player experience?! PLAYER EXPERIENCE?! Those guys are getting paid a million dollars to play a game we’d all play for free. They should play anywhere people will allow it. Who cares about their experience. (Don’t act like 70% didn’t think that when I broached the subject).
Here’s the thing. The Trop is really hard on players. Especially on their legs.
- The “grass” is unnaturally soft; and
- The “clay” is unnaturally hard.
The new turf at the Trop plays decidedly more like grass when a ball bounces on it. But not when a man runs on it. The sand substrate is loose and spongy. It’s not firm enough when you run on it. In fact, when asked about his early season leg pain once Carl Crawford explained “it’ll be alright, we just need to get a boat show or home show in there and pack it down.” The clay on the other hand, is just a few inches of dirt on top of cement. It feels like an outdoor basketball court when you run on it.
Why do we, as fans, care? Because at some point, the playing surface at the Trop is going to keep players away.
There is a legend about a big free agent that was offered significant money by the Red Sox and was set to sign until he saw the home clubhouse at Fenway Park. That was it. He didn’t want to work there 81 nights a year. He signed somewhere else for less money to avoid that clubhouse.
The field at the Trop is going to have the same effect. If you don’t believe that, look at the predicament of our All Star third-baseman.
I think, at this point, it’s fair to say that Longo has bad hamstrings. It is also fair to say that a hard infield and soft turf combine as the perfect storm to hurt good hamstrings. So, even if it were financially possible for the Rays to afford to pay Evan Longoria for the rest of his career, why would he stay? In fact, you could argue that his agent has a duty to point out the Trop’s career-shortening impact on a player with Longo’s hammys. And, if Longo goes because of the Trop, what are the odds anyone is going to come to replace him?