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What's new -- and not so new -- at and around the ballpark

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 31, 2002

Q: What will security at Tropicana Field be like?

A: It will be tighter than in past seasons. All purses and bags will be searched. Bags larger than 12 by 6 by 14 inches will not be allowed in the stadium. Boxes similar to the kind used at airports will be at all gates. The bag must fit into it to be allowed in -- and, no, you can't remove items to make it smaller. You will have to return any oversized bag and other prohibited items to your car or dispose of them in another way; the stadium will not hold them until you're ready to leave. Obviously, weapons and contraband are not allowed, but baseball bats, balls and similar items will be permitted because many are brought in to be signed by players. Coolers and glass containers are prohibited. Drinks (water included) may not be brought into the stadium, but no one is going to confiscate a bag of peanuts or the like.

Q: How do I drive to Tropicana Field?

A: It sits on 16th Street S between First Avenue S and Fourth Avenue S. From Interstate 275, take I-375 (exit 10) and go south on Ninth Street toward the stadium, or take I-175 (exit 9) to Eighth Street and follow signs to stadium parking. Southbound traffic also can exit at either Fifth Avenue N or 22nd Avenue N (see map). If you're on city streets, from east or west take Central Avenue to 16th Street S and go south one block. From north or south take 16th Street. And here's something that will help you avoid problems: Three continually updated message signs are on southbound I-275 near 62nd Avenue N, southbound I-175 for eastbound traffic immediately opposite Tropicana Field, and northbound I-275 near 30th Avenue S. They will alert motorists to traffic congestion and also direct them to parking lots that are not full.

Q: What about other parking lots?

A: There are about 25,000 parking spaces throughout downtown St. Petersburg, including on-street parking. The main overflow parking areas are at The Pier and the BayWalk parking garage.

Q: Any other way to get to the ballpark?

A: The Pier and BayWalk parking garage also are the two pickup areas for the Looper Trolley. I-375 (exit 10) leads to both locations. The trolley will operate only on opening day and when the Rays are hosting Yankees games. Trolley operation begins one hour before game time and continues through one hour after the game ends. Four opening day trolleys and three for Yankees-Rays games follow the same route, stopping at The Pier, at the BayWalk garage at First Avenue N between First and Second streets N, and Tropicana Field. It's $1 round trip, exact change requested, payable when boarding at The Pier or BayWalk garage. Additional trolleys may be added if projected heavy attendance warrants. The wait for a trolley should be 10-15 minutes. Information about Looper trolley services is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling (727) 892-5700.

Q: How far from Tropicana Field is downtown St. Petersburg, and how can I get there?

A: Technically, the Trop is on the western edge of downtown. One block north on 16th Street S is Central Avenue, and it's a 25-minute walk eastbound along Central Avenue to Bayshore Drive and the shops, restaurants and movie theaters at BayWalk, and a few minutes more to The Pier. Along the way, sometimes a few blocks north or south, are dozens of other restaurants, shops, museums and galleries.

Q: Anything new on the ring beams and catwalks?

A: No. The ring beams holding up the roof haven't been changed, nor have the catwalks, accompanying fencing and wiring, speakers and lights. Since Tropicana Field opened in 1998, 40 fair balls have struck the rings and catwalks, creating confusion on the field and amusement for local and national sports shows. If a ball hits either of the two lower catwalks in fair territory, it's a home run. Beyond that, it depends on where it hits and where (or if) it comes down. The spot where every Rays home run hits one of the two upper catwalks will be marked with a rendering of an enlarged baseball with the batter's number on it.

Q: What's new at the Trop?

A: Behind home plate, the new Catcher's Club, $8,019 per season ticket, includes VIP parking, VIP seating, and a buffet (unlimited food and drink). There is a new entrance to the Tropicana Room upscale restaurant on the mezzanine level behind home plate. That entrance also leads to the Hall of Fame Lounge. Returning this season to the first base food court: Hooters, Pete and Shorty's, Outback, Columbia, Blimpie's, Fortunato's, Atwater's and the Tropicana smoothie stand. Also back, the Jack Daniel's Billiard Hall and Cuesta Ray cigar bar on Centerfield Street.

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