Take a RAYcation

CL Summer Guide 2011: A baseball geek's weekend

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click to enlarge TROP ATTRACTIONS: Spend too long on the Midway and you might miss the game. - Chip Weiner Photographic Arts
Chip Weiner Photographic Arts
TROP ATTRACTIONS: Spend too long on the Midway and you might miss the game.

Perfect if:

• You love, love, love the Rays

• You live so far away from the Trop (say, Tampa) that a slog through traffic to St. Pete seems as inviting as a road trip to Tallahassee

• You've always wanted to play around with all the amusement-parkish stuff inside the stadium but a game kept getting in the way

Itinerary: Trop till you drop

Plan to attend games on a weekend when there's a Saturday or Sunday post-game concert. The concerts are free with your game tickets, and the crowds (and the artists) can be wildly eclectic (Adam Lambert's off-the-charts appearance last season drew people who'd never heard of an "inning" before, let alone gone to a baseball game; the concept of "extra innings" really threw them for a loop). This year's roster ranges from Darius Rucker (May 14) to Avril Lavigne (May 28) to the two Mirandas (Cosgrove and Lambert, Sept. 3 and 24), with some Wiggles (July 3) and Goo Goo Dolls (Aug. 6) thrown in, too. An added attraction on weekends, especially for kids: the Trop's Midway attractions are all up and running, from Raymond's Art Studio to the Swing Analyzer to a version of Whac-A-Mole in which the object is to bludgeon your favorite opposing teams. And if you're jonesing for a baseball fix when the Rays are out of town, you can still peek inside the Trop: Ninety-minute guided tours take place throughout the year when the team is playing away games. Highlights include the Rays dugout, the visitors' clubhouse, and the RaysVision Control Room.

For concert and game information, click on the Tickets tab at TampaBayRays.com. For a schedule of guided tours, click on the Tropicana Field tab. For tour reservations, which must be made at least 48 hours in advance, call 727-825-3162 or email [email protected]. Tour tickets are $7-$9.

Lodgings

You can't stay in the stadium, unless you hide in a locker during the guided tour. But you can stay very close at Urban Style Flats, a snazzy apartment complex literally at the Trop's front door. Decor ranges from "super-trippy," in the words of USF St. Pete sophomore David Curbelo, who was looking for an apartment there recently, to cool and subdued, with lots of quirky touches that make the building feel more like a boutique hotel than the senior citizens' facility it once was. Reasonably priced, too: $189 for a two-night stay.

A considerably more posh alternative: The Grand Slam Baseball Getaway at the Renaissance Vinoy ($159-$259 for one night's stay). Not only do you get transportation to the Trop, breakfast for two and a Spectator Survival Kit (including peanuts, Cracker Jacks and stadium seat cushions), the Vinoy is also a popular perch for visiting teams, so who knows? You and A-Rod could be sharing a spot of afternoon tea on the veranda.

Urban Style Flats, 327 Ninth St. S., St. Petersburg, 727-362-7300, urbanstyleflats.com.

Renaissance Vinoy, 501 Fifth Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, 1-727-894-1000, marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasr-vinoy-renaissance-st-petersburg-resort-and-golf-club

Eats

Inside the Trop, the options have expanded beyond $9 beers and foot-long hotdogs. The former Batter's Eye, which overlooks centerfield, has been redone into a kind of sleek barbecue shack called Everglades BBQ Smokehouse, and there's even a gluten-free stand called GF. And Urban Style Flats' new restaurant, the Urbane, is opening any minute now. For a useful list of other St. Pete restaurants, check out BAYcation on p. 18. And if you'd just like to watch the game on TV with a beer in hand, try the ever-popular Ferg's at 1320 Central Ave., 727-822-4562, fergsportsbar.com.

Fan facts

• The Trop's Ted Williams Museum (that darkish-looking space you pass on the way from the entrance rotunda to the escalators) has a second floor. It's called the Hitters' Hall of Fame — and it's vast. It's even got Mark McGwire and Darryl Strawberry in there, who you can probably count on never seeing in that other Hall of Fame.

• A ball that splashes into the rays tank is not only an automatic home run; it also wins $5,000, half for the Florida Aquarium and half for the charity of the hitter's choice. (This has only happened once.)

• The biggest crowd ever to attend an event at the Trop? 49,000 for (oh, the shame) New Kids on the Block.

• Don't get stuck exiting via the escalators. Leave from Gates 2, 3, 5 or 6 via the Guggenheim Museum-esque outdoor exit ramp, and enjoy the view as you spiral leisurely down to ground level.

OR....

If the Rays are losing and all you want to do is drink, take a... LIBATIONcation!

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