Ask Gary: Remembering the great stadiums

by Gary Shelton on July 8, 2017 · 2 comments

in general

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

How great was it watching the Rays play against the Cubs this week in iconic Wrigley field in front of large crowds of excited fans? I’ve been on a bucket list mission to visit all MLB stadiums and so far Wrigley is my favorite for the ambiance of the surrounding neighborhood, passion of the fans and history. What are your favorite baseball stadiums that you have been to in your travels and what is special about them?

Larry Beller

As many sporting events as I've covered in Chicago, I've never been to Wrigley. I am poorer for it.

I do love Fenway Park. I have a photo of me shot inside the scoreboard in left field. I can remember being there for a playoff game, and looking around, and thinking how cool it was no matter who won.I've walked through the crowd and listened to them signing "Sweet Caroline." It's a cool place to be.

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I love Yankee Stadium with all the monuments and its history. They used to serve boxed lunches that I swear had been there since Babe Ruth was a little boy. But George Steinbrenner made sure that baseball mattered there. I will say that I liked the old Yankee Stadium more than the new one. I remember tweeting one night that 40,000 fans who all sounded like Joe Pesci were disappointed the team had lost to the Rays; Pesci retweeted it. Hah.

Third? I remember going to the original Tiger Stadium a few years ago. Frank Howard, the gentle giant, called me out to the plate and pointed to where a ball he hit went out of the stadium. I couldn't even mail a letter that far. For that reason alone, I loved Tiger Stadium.

I liked Coors Field. I liked the Rangers' stadium. I liked Anaheim. I like the Jake in Cleveland.

I still have a soft spot for the old  Atlanta Stadium; it was the first place I ever saw a game. It was one of the old cookie-cutter stadiums, and it was ugly as sin. But for a kid going to his first game, it was a palace. I remember sitting in the back of my brother-in-law's Ford riding to the game I sat in right field behind Hank Aaron,and the Braves turned a triple play in the first inning. Nice way to start.

Toronto was nice. Camden Yards is great. Philly would be awesome if the fans would stay home.

I hated when the Marlins played in Joe Robbie Stadium (among its many names), but I haven't been to the new one.  Comiskey is a dump. St. Louis is nice. The old Cincinnati stadium was ordinary.

I haven't been to Dodger Stadium, nor to Wrigley. I've not been to San Diego or Seattle or Pittsburgh. The Rays never mattered enough, until late, for a columnist to make the trip. But I had a good sampling.

I eat up the stories were a fan, or a few, go to all the stadiums and rank them on a personal level -- sightless and memories and food and experiences.

Wimbledon is on my mind--do you ever see American men's tennis regaining some semblance of its back-in-the-day status as a powerhouse? I don't see our local tennis courts filled with young people any more so I'm skeptical as to this happening. Care to remind us of some of your favorite Wimbledon tales?

 Barry McDowell​
Barry, I think you know that my daughter played fairly competitive tennis, and I was always amazed and how packed the tournaments she entered was with both men and women. I mean, there are so many promising young players, and they never quite seem to get over the hump.
I can't believe a country of this size,with this population, with this many courts, won't eventually find a special player -- a LeBron James or Tom Brady of their sport. But we've been waiting a long time since Sampras and Agassi, haven't we?
I first started go to Wimbledon as a fan. You could buy standing-room only places for about five pounds in those days. It was a  lot of waiting in line, but I got to see Jimmy Connors play Roscoe Tanner that way. I got to see Ilie Nastase play against John McEnroe.
Years later, I got to cover the event. It's a long day, filled with rain interruptions, but the seats are the best in sports. You're just over the shoulder of one of the competitors. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were there one year, and they had worse seats than I had. There was the royal family, the press and everyone else.
I remember watching Sampras and Agassi in their great July 4 match. It was spectacular, one of those events that convinces you that was why the sport was invented.
I covered a doubles match in which Martina Navratilova was teammates with Anna Kournikova. It appalled me that the fans cheered for Kournikova, who had won nothing, over Navratilova, who had won everything. Navratilova understood, but if you don't cheer achievement in the face of beauty, what's the point?
After the Willliams' sisters would play, Filip Bodni -- my buddy from the New York Daily News - would father at the South End of Centre Court. And Richard Williams would come out and spout whatever was on his mind -- and that was a long list. I disagreed with Williams most days, but he was a fascinating man. He referred to Filip and I as "his guys."
One year, Filip and I  -- and Harvey Araton of the New York Times -- rented a flat right outside the gates. It was the best tournament ever, because you didn't have to go in case of rain. I brought a few DVDs of "Scrubs," and we would watch them every night.
You really didn't get into London that much while the play was going on. The middle Sunday was off, and you might go to a play. One night, Tom O'Toole (USA Today) and I were looking for a place to eat,and we ran into a couple of other writers. We sat with them, and they proceeded to argue about the best Merlot in a certain village in France. After a while, Tom turned to me and said "What's your favorite barbecue in Opelika, Alabama?" I thought it was the funniest line I'd ever heard.
It was always a cool event. Bud Collins would bring candy bars for the media, and we would all make fun of Boris Becker's English, or we would go out to the hill,a grass knoll where fans watched the play on big-screen TVs.
Graf. Federer. Lindsay Davenport. Pat Cash. It was all great.
Rank the 10 most influential figures on the Tampa Bay pro sports scene over the years.
Jim Willson
Influential? That can mean a lot of things, Jim. Hugh Culverhouse was an influence, but a bad one. His widow once said she'd like to dig him up and shoot him.
Vince Naimoli. Art Wlliams. Oren Koules. We've had so many goobers over the years, haven't we? All of our busts haven't been players.
I'm going to translate your question as far a positive influences. Deal?
I'd start the list this way:
1. Jeff Vinik, Lightning owner: Vinik still hasn't won the big prize, but he's been the perfect owner. He's invested in his team and kept his distance, which is always a hard thing for an owner to do. And his "community heroes" program is a great thing.
2. Tony Dungy, Bucs coach: A lot of fans don't think Dungy deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.But as a person, he does. He was stability. He never panicked, and he turned the Bucs' franchise around. He still does good work.
3. Lee Roy Selmon,ex-Bucs' player and USF athletic director: Few people have Selmon's degree of integrity. He was a fierce, but undersized, defensive end,and after that, he was the soul of the Bulls.
4. Stu Sternberg, Rays' owner: Several of you will disagree. An owner is never popular when he's trying to get a new stadium. But if you remember the mess that this franchise was before he took control, the difference is stark.
5. The Glazer family, Bucs' owners: The Glazers have made missteps over the years, but don't forget that they won the area's most covered title. They've invested heavily into their team; perhaps it will start to pay dividends again this year.
6. Phil Esposito, Lightning founder: Espo is a walking history book. No one tells better stories, and no one loves the Bolts more than he does. Esposito is the one who believed through a series of bad owners.
7. Jon Gruden, Bucs coach: Gruden will always be thought of as the finisher. You can be loyal to Dungy and still acknowledge his leadership during the Super Bowl season. A ball of energy who got the Bucs over the hump.
8. John Tortorella, Lightning coach: Tortorella was the coach who made the Lightning realize who they were not yet. He drove his team hard, but he achieved results.
9. Derrick Brooks, Bucs' linebacker: Brooks is among the most admired athletes to play in Tampa Bay. His quiet fire led Tampa Bay's turnaround. A lot of people would still love Brooks to be in uniform.
10. Rich McKay, Bucs' general manager: Without McKay, the Bucs' draft of Warren Sapp and Brooks never happens. Without McKay, Raymond James Stadium doesn't built. No, he couldn't co-exist with Jon Gruden, but he made his mark.

Who is the better value:

 Matt Cain (6 year/ $127.5 million contract) 

2017 season to date: w-l of 3-8 and ERA of 5.58

or

Chris Davis (7 years/ $161 million contract)

2017 season to date:  43 games (currently on DL) .232 BA, .327 OBP, 468 SLG, .796 OPS?

Let's see. One of them is worth a cracked fungo bat. The other is worth an empty resin bag.Take your pick.

You are an encyclopedia of bad deals that owners have made. There should be a profit to be made in such knowledge.

Cain hasn't been any good since 2012. He's failed to win 10 games in any year or to have an ERA under 4.00.

Davis, on the other hand, had four seasons in five where he had more than 30 home runs. He's hurt now, but there was at least a reason to invest in him. It's kind of like trying to figure out a winner on the Gong Show. But I hereby say that if I had one or the two of them, healthy for the stretch run, I'd take Davis.

Still, it's like asking him who's  the funniest: Gallagher or Carrot Top. There is no correct answer.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller July 8, 2017 at 6:47 am

I’ve been to 18 MLB stadiums and there are several that stand out in my memory. Old Tiger stadium of course because I’m from that area and it was my first. I saw Norm Cash hit a ball out of the stadium once in right field but that was the easier side to clear the stadium. Both St Louis stadiums because of the great fans. I’ve always sat in the cheap seats there and they aren’t bad. KC because of the fountains. Also they have acres of parking. I liked Anaheim too. I sat next to a couple from Australia who were on a month long honeymoon. The new bride sat next to me and knew nothing about baseball but she was funny, friendly and hot. Loved the design and feel of the Rangers stadium in Arlington. It felt like home. The new White Sox stadium in pretty cool. Easy to get to on the “L” and has great food choices. I think the lay out and design of the Phoenix stadium may be my favorite. Very cool place. I also liked Toronto. Very comfortable seats. S. D. was great mostly because it was in San Diego and also within walking distance of tons of restaurants and bars. Dodger stadium was special but the police presence although necessary, was a bit unnerving. I went to the Milwaukee stadium on a rainy night but the retractable roof kept us dry and cozy. Very comfortable seats and food could be ordered remotely with waitress service even in the second deck. The new Miami stadium is fun. Good food choices, the ladies dress to impress, and the fans are into baseball although there aren’t a lot of them. Ticket prices are half of what the Trop charges. I haven’t been to Yankee stadium or Fenway. They are both on my list. Wrigley is my all time favorite for the total experience of the surrounding area and the place is just so cool. The only good thing I can say about the Trop is they used to have a great food choice from Outback which was steak and mushrooms with fries. But alas it’s gone now.

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Gary Shelton July 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm

KC is great. I forgot to mention that one.

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