Catwalks are the Rays “Home Field Advantage”
Every Major League Baseball team has their own unique home stadium idiosyncrasy or irregular dimensions or “quirks” that are particular to their own home stadium and creates an air of advantage that their player can play towards or focus their attentions on during their home games. It could be something as simple as a short Rightfield in Yankee Stadium, or the imposing “Green Monster”, or odd field placing of the “Pesky Pole” in Boston’s Fenway Park.
Or it could be something as simple as a huge foul ball area on both sides of the playing surface like in Toronto’s Rogers Centre to help induce a few extra outs or some additional exciting fielding moments during a typical baseball game in that retractable domed stadium.
So why is it that one of the “essentially needed” construction devices of having an enclosed tilted-roof domed stadium has so many uninformed people around the country ranting and raving like it is the only place on the face of the earth to have its own brand of “home field advantage”. Would these same National baseball commenters be rambling about the possible 32 rain outs or Rays rain delays just during 2009 that would have easily occurred if Tropicana Field was an outdoor stadium without those same troublesome roof wires, lights and catwalks?
Would this same community of crybabies be at home watching these Rays games on television or anywhere near this stadium if it faced the true elements in the late Summer when sideways rainstorms plague this region, bugs like human blood and temperatures rise faster and hotter than their own foreheads during Sunday’s game.
Before Rays Third Baseball Evan Longoria put a batted ball into the pinball maze above Tropicana Field known as the catwalks, only 102 other white MLB spheres had ventured into that science fiction realm of bouncing to and fro high above the fans and players within the Trop. And some people have mentioned to me how the out-of-town TBS Broadcasting crew did not know what to make of the whole adventure, but then again….if they had prepared themselves, they would understand this intrusion into their intellectual subconscious as a necessary evil to having all 81 games played in the splendor of 72 degree weather and completely dry seats.
And even after the previously 12 concluded Major League Baseball seasons under this same Teflon-coated roof you would think the media members outside of this region would have seen the ball hit up into those rafters before and possibly prepared themselves to know the stadiums “Ground Rules” for answers instead of throwing out generalizations and miscommunications like they were empty Kasem hot dog wrappers.
So let me give you a bit of a rundown on these infamous catwalks that have doomed the Rays from ever being able to host an All-Star Game because of the circus atmosphere it would surely create during the State Farm Home Run Derby, which would make MLB Commissioner Bud Selig blush with embarrassment even more than his 2008 World Series Game 5 postponement. I actually think it would be impressive and a truly exciting moment to see a ball bouncing off a catwalk…but then again, I am used to it.
So when originally Tropicana Field, which was then known as the Florida Suncoast Dome was constructed almost 20 years ago, this “state-of-the-art” cable-supported design produced a stadium with 1.1 million square feet of internal space and subdued cost of $ 135 million to complete initial construction. The reason the Trop’s roof is tilted 6.5 degrees towards the Centerfield back end of the playing surface is to reduce almost 16.8 cubic feet of air volume. Combined with its 180 miles of support cables combined with the struts surrounding the internal skeleton of the catwalks, it produces a unique situation regarding the actual playing of a baseball game.
With the four prominent circular catwalks known as A-D, located above sections of the playing surface of Tropicana field, they meander from a overhead distance of the A-ring from 184 feet in Centerfield to 194 feet above Home Plate, to the D-ring which rises from 59 feet above the Centerfield playing surface to over 121 feet behind Home Plate. What is extremely confusing at times is that the D-ring, which hangs lower among the four rings has not been hit the most during the previous 12+ years of Rays baseball. The C-ring has actually been hit a record 60 times in the past, and the D-ring is actually third on the total list with only 18 balls striking that portion of the roof system.
But before I get into the balls that have hit our visual attraction or distraction depending on your team, let me provide you with the “official” Ground Rules of these special pieces of the Rays stadium:
* Batted ball striking either of the lower two catwalks (C & D), lights or guide wires over fair territory is a Home Run.
* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and remains on the catwalks, light or other structure above the stadium floor within fair territory is a Ground Rule Double.
* Batted ball that is not judged a Home Run and strikes a catwalks, lights or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged either fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground, or is touched by a fielder. If caught by a fielder, the batter is out and runners can advance at their own risk.
* Batted ball strikes the catwalks,light or objects above the playing surface in foul territory is a dead ball (Ball to be judged foul, regardless of where it strikes or falls).
With that said and done, there have been balls caught off the catwalks for outs. I still remember years ago when Cleveland Shortstop Omar Vasquel sat under the C-ring waiting for a batted ball to come back down to earth, and his presistance paid off when a minute later the ball fell right down into his glove for an out. But there have also been times when the ball did not come back down within a certain frame of time.
Only four times in Tropicana Field has a batted ball gone up into the catwalk cosmos and not re-entered the playing field. Three of these events happened in 2008 when Boston slugger David Ortiz hit a ball up there on September 17th two days after Red Sox Leftfielder Jason Bay duplicated the same feat on September 15,2008. The Ray
s own Carlos Pena was the first to push a ball into the unknown in 2008 when on May 26 against the Texas Rangers he hide a batted ball into the B-ring. What is amazing before these three astronomical adventures into the catwalk cosmos, only former Rays slugger Jose Canseco had put a ball into the catwalk (B-ring) back on May 2,199 against the Detroit tigers.
But even with this Rays home field advantage, some of the most memorable moments of “catwalk-inspired” hitting actually came during the Rays “magical” 2008 season when two balls made it up into the catwalks for dramatic moments during the 2008 Postseason. Rays All Star Third Baseman Evan Longoria was the first to hit a C-ring shot off of Chicago White Sox starter Javier Vasquez in Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series. Then a few weeks later Rays Centerfielder B J Upton put a ball off the C-ring against Boston starter Josh Beckett during Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
So few moments have been decided by those overhanging obstructions within the white dome of Tropicana Field. Currently Pena leads the Rays in catwalk hits with six, but New York Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez leads all Rays opponents in catwalks strikes with 5 lifetime. Some might consider it a extreme Rays advantage, but the reality is that anyone with a powerful upswing in their bat stroke could also add to the legacy of the catwalks within the Trop. This will not be the last time we speak about this infamous portion of playing at Tropicana Field against the Rays.
But to throw the entire stadium under the bus for a design that was considered “revolutionary” 20 years ago and state-of-the-art is insane. And it is also fair game among the players visiting Tropicana Field to sometimes make wagers and small meal bets with teammates as they try and hit balls off the famous catwalks during Batting Practice, or simply gaze upon the sight when teammates hit one of the white-painted rings before the ball either keeps going towards the outfield seats or tumbled towards the Field Turf.
Every stadium has their “quirks”. It is the one thing that makes those stadium memorable or remarkable. For us here in Tampa Bay no one remembers the Ted Williams Museum which is house in Centerfield Street of the Trop. Or maybe they remember the cow-nosed Ray exhibit above Right-Centerfield. But few people either Rays or visiting fans can look away when they hear the clang off the metal surface of the catwalks. Why is it Right Said Fred’s song “I’m So Sexy” is stuck in my brain right now….Oh Yeah!………” On the catwalk…”