Baseball enthusiasts enjoy discussing the venues of their pastime far more than the fans of other sports. That's why Sports Weekly is launching a new series "In the Ballpark" that will run throughout the season and feature a different major league stadium every week, as we count down from the worst of the 30 parks to the best. Joe Mock from BaseballParks.com will be the official tour guide, following the format he uses for the in-depth reviews that appear on his website, which is affiliated with USA TODAY Sports Digital Properties. Over the last 15 years, Mock has been reviewing and photographing ballparks. He has visited 200 of the current 203 ballparks in use for the major leagues, spring training and the affiliated minors. He is the author of "Joe Mock's Ballpark Guide" and numerous articles. Each review will detail: The stadium's location. Overview of its exterior features. Breakdown of the architectural elements inside the park. Key amenities for the fans. Future outlook for the park. We start the series with No. 30 – yes, that's the last place park, Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Highly respected sports economist Andrew Zimbalist doesn't think much of Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays — and he is far from alone. "The Trop is a bad facility in a bad location," he recently told the Tampa Bay Times. "The team performed over the last five years as well as any team, (yet) it still has the lowest attendance in baseball." Despite severe payroll constraints, the Rays have remained in contention in the highly competitive American League East. Where, then, are the fans? Blame the stadium. To put it mildly, the aesthetics of Tropicana Field leave much to be desired, landing the domed facility in last place in our countdown of the 30 major league parks. How did it come to be this way? In the 1980s, Florida had no major league team to call its own, though numerous teams held spring training there. St. Petersburg wanted to land a franchise and decided to build a stadium to attract one. The plan almost worked, as the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants all considered moving. But all three ended up in new stadiums in their current markets. St. Pete's Suncoast Dome (as it was known at the time) sat as a "$200 million warning against counting one's chickens before they hatch," Gary Gillette and Eric Enders noted in Big League Ballparks, The Complete Illustrated History. Finally, the expansion Devil Rays arrived in 1998, and along with the team the stadium received its new name and $70 million in renovations. The outlook for baseball on the Gulf Coast looked rosy and stable, especially since the franchise agreed to a 30-year lease. The team's futility on the field matched the gloomy stadium interior. Attendance figures were so poor that the team eventually covered most of the uppermost seats to reduce the seating capacity. Even when the team became competitive starting in 2008, crowds were small. The Rays' desire for a new ballpark grew stronger and stronger and continues.
Tropicana Field: All dome and gloom
USA Today | Apr 6