The rings above the dome's field will be altered to help avoid interference with live balls.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 1, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- What goes up at Tropicana Field now will have a better chance at coming down.
The Rays are planning to reduce the size of the catwalks that ring above the playing field, a change they say should "significantly" decrease the number of fair balls interrupted in flight.
"We can't get rid of them entirely because the roof would collapse," Rays senior vice president/general counsel John Higgins said. "But we started looking at them to see if we could reduce the profile so there is less stuff up there. A lot of the profile can be minimized."
The actual ring beams, which are essential to the stadium structure, won't be altered, but the team plans to remove some of the accompanying fencing and wiring and to relocate several speakers and lights.
The catwalks have proved over the first three seasons to be the stadium's most embarrassing feature. There have been 27 fair balls that have struck the rings, with fielders often throwing up their hands in confusion and hitters and coaches occasionally charging the field in protest. There also have been a few balls stuck in the catwalks, much to the delight of the local and national sports highlight shows.
The primary change will be a reduction in the facing and profile of the C-ring catwalk, which is the second lowest ring and the most common target. "This should significantly decrease the exposure," Higgins said.
Under the ground rules, which were amended in 1998 due to initial catwalk controversy, balls that strike the C-ring in fair territory are home runs. There were 10 such balls -- seven by the Rays -- last season.
There will be fewer alterations to the B-ring, which is the next ring up, but because the trajectory is different, the changes should be equally significant, Higgins said. Balls that strike the B-ring in fair territory are in play, while balls that stay in the catwalk are doubles.
Higgins said the Rays have consulted with one of the original stadium engineers and are absolutely confident the changes will be safe and significant. Work is expected to start in the next two weeks and will be completed in time for the April 3 opener.
"It's something we're about ready to get going on," Higgins said.