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Foul traffic and loss don't deter fans
By MIKE BRASSFIELD
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ten minutes to game time, Devil Rays fans were speed-walking toward Tropicana Field, nervously checking their watches as they held their children's hands.
They were the lucky ones.
Traffic for the Rays' 2000 home opener Friday night bore a striking resemblance to opening days 1999 and 1998: It went well until the unreserved parking immediately around the stadium filled up about a half-hour before the game started.
"Go to the Bayfront Center and take a trolley back," police officers repeated again and again to frustrated drivers on Eighth and M.L. King (Ninth) streets. "Go to the Bayfront Center and take a trolley back."
Judging from their reactions, that's not what the fans wanted to hear.
City officials have tried to get the word out that:
"Once the Trop's lot fills up, it generally means everything else near it is full. They need to go much farther away.
This home opener resembled the previous two in another way: The home team lost.
Once they got inside, many of the 40,329 fans watched the Devil Rays get shelled immediately, losing 14-5 to the Cleveland Indians.
So they made the game a social event, wandering around the concourses to check out the dome's new attractions.
David Quint, 29, passed the third and fourth innings in the stadium's new cigar bar.
"Look at it this way," he said, puffing on a stogie. "They'll only be one game below .500."
Two levels below him, people checked their e-mail and played video games at a new cybercafe. Later this season, the cafe will bring live video feeds of the game to its computer screens.
Of course, one could simply sit in the stands like Henry Plummer, 54.
He was taking in the Trop after catching nearly every preseason game at Florida Power Park.
"God, I love baseball season," Plummer said. "Sure, parking can be a pain. People need to plan ahead and get over it."
Electronic signs on Interstate 275 directed latecomers to the big downtown parking lots.
There, they competed for parking with people headed to Shakespeare in the Park or the monthly "Get Downtown" concert on Central Avenue.
City traffic director Angelo Rao said traffic would improve if more fans came earlier.
"When so many people choose to arrive just in time for the first pitch," he said, "it becomes quite chaotic."
Police arrested a few scalpers but made no drunk-and-disorderly arrests and hadn't ejected any unruly fans as of 9:30 p.m., said police Lt. Tom Edwards.
Pregame ceremonies honored Wade Boggs and the late John B. "Jack" Lake, the retired publisher of the St. Petersburg Times.
Lake was one of the fathers of St. Petersburg's long fight to win a Major League Baseball team.
The tribute to him was titled "Every Journey Has a First Step."
Several of Lake's colleagues were on hand, including former Times editor Eugene Patterson and Robert Pittman, the retired editor of editorials.
Lake's wife, daughters and grandchildren stood on the first-base line for the ceremony.
Behind them, a crew put the finishing touches on the basepaths.
It was time to play ball.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.