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Trop’s 2024 upgrades include new turf and tech

Mark Parker

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From left: Tampa Bay Rays co-president Matt Silvermanr; co-president Brian Auld; Sandy Sternberg, director of concessions and retail; and owner Stuart Sternberg. Photos by Mark Parker.

While a new ballpark is on the horizon, the Tampa Bay Rays continue investing in fan experiences at their current digs, St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field.

For the first time in the team’s 26-year history, fans will see a striped field that resembles freshly mowed grass when the 2024 season begins March 28. That is one of the more noteworthy – and noticeable – upgrades announced at Wednesday’s media event.

Bill Walsh, chief business officer, announced a slew of new food and beverage partners, promotional items, technological experiences and cultural identity games for the upcoming season. He noted it was the first pre-opening day media event since the Rays announced a tentative agreement with city and Pinellas County officials to transform the stadium and surrounding Historic Gas Plant District into a vibrant mixed-use community.

“And as we work towards final votes with the city and county, we’ve been very busy this offseason,” Walsh said. “We pride ourselves every year in improving the fan experience here at Tropicana Field, and this year is no exception.”

Tropicana Field’s new turf was designed to resemble freshly mowed grass.

The center of the Trop’s roof features a dome-like structure called a cupola. The stadium opened in 1990, and Walsh said the exterior edifice “had fallen into disrepair.”

Team officials had the cupola removed via helicopter. Walsh said the new structure could withstand “any storms that come our way.”

Far below the much-maligned dome lies a new field. The grounds crew pulled up the old turf and donated 75,000 square feet to local parks and recreation departments and nonprofits.

Walsh said using the repurposed turf for batting cages, soccer fields and training facilities would save organizations money. “And it allows these young athletes to have some bragging rights,” he added. “They’re able to say they played on the same turf that their favorite outfielder played on just a few months ago.”

Coconut husks will replace rubber pellets as the new, striped turf’s infill – products placed between the artificial fibers or blades. Walsh said it better simulates a natural grass surface.

Bill Walsh, chief business officer for the Rays.

In addition, the Rays are Major League Baseball’s first franchise to use a new Safeshell material in their warning track around the outfield. The product consists of crushed walnut shells.

“These create a different sound when you step on them,” Walsh explained. “So, when players are going back to catch a fly ball up against the wall, they can actually hear audibly the difference beneath their feet and know they’re approaching the wall.”

The most innovative new feature for the 2023 season was a checkout-free concessions area at the Budweiser Porch dubbed The Shortstop. Walsh said the Tropicana Field kiosk generated more revenue than any other sports and entertainment venue using Zippin’s technology.

The Rays are now expanding upon that success with the new “Bird and Batter Express.” The kiosk, utilizing similar technology from Mashkin, provides a fast and frictionless self-checkout experience for hot meals.

Rays president Brian Auld noted that the team was the first to implement cash-free payments several years ago. He told the Catalyst that while the switch was once controversial, “it’s made everything more efficient and seamless at Tropicana Field.”

“And one of the reasons we’re exploring all these new technologies is to incorporate it into our new ballpark,” Auld added. “We’re so fortunate to have Levy as our concessionaire, both in the quality of food and their willingness to innovate.”

An innovative new self-checkout system for hot meals.

The popular post-game Summer Concert Series returns July 26 with alternative rock band Jimmy Eat World. The Rays will also become the first team to showcase “Bat Around,” a mixed reality batting cage experience.

Walsh said the stadium’s vendors, which include several local businesses, are consistently ranked in MLB’s top five “across every category.” The Rays are working to accommodate dietary restrictions with a new “Gluten-Free Favorites” stand and updated menus.

Sarasota-based Daiquiri Deck, once a Madeira Beach mainstay, is returning to this side of the Skyway Bridge. The company is now the title sponsor of the former Centerfield Party Deck.

Matt Grover, president of the Daiquiri Deck, noted the uniqueness of serving frozen alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks at a professional stadium. The company has also created sealed specialty containers for the new beverages.

“We have a slogan, ‘Your vibe attracts your tribe,'” Grover said. “What we’re trying to do is come into this stadium and create a vibe. This is a huge swing for us. If you look around this market – it’s our customers, man.”

A short rib cheesesteak is one of myriad new food items coming to Tropicana Field.

New food partnerships include:

  • A new dessert partner arriving at Tropicana Field this season is Cookie Fueled Mama, which will now have a location in each food hall.
  • Twisted,” a new pretzel-themed concession booth, will now be on the Budweiser Porch due to the popularity of the housemade footlong pretzel dog from the 2023 season.
  • Chicken Salad Chick will now have a dedicated concession stand in the ballpark.
  • Pacific Counter is returning for its sixth season offering its signature poke bowls and the Rays Up Roll, only available at Tropicana Field.

New beverage partners include:

  • Viva Tequila Seltzer, the official hard seltzer of the team and the title partner of the new Viva Victory Ledge, formerly the Left Field Ledge.
  • Vino Ghivino 21, a new wine partner.
  • Superbird Tequila, a new tequila partner.
  • New Belgium, a new craft beer partner.
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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    John

    March 20, 2024at3:52 pm

    Great to see the Rays continue to bring in new food partners as well as TB favorites. The food quality has come a long way.

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