Tropicana Field Catwalk Caterwauling

Players, fans, scribes - even a manager are crying about Tropicana Field 'costing' an important game in a pennant race. Nearly lost in all the chatter is the fact that the Rays put themselves in a position to lose the game long before a ball hit the catwalk.

When the Twins beat the Rays the other day, you might remember that a ball batted by the Twins' Kubel hit a catwalk:

With runners on first and third, Jason Kubel hit a towering pop up toward second base, but the ball hit the Tropicana Field catwalk and landed near the pitchers mound for a base hit, allowing Jason Repko to score the go-ahead run.

Since then, there has been lots of chatter about the catwalk 'costing' the Rays a game in a pennant race. But can we really blame the catwalk?

First, let's take a look at the official ground rules of Tropicana Field's catwalks

Tropicana Field's catwalks, a series of rings that help "lift" the stadium's translucent, teflon-coated fiberglass domed roof, provide the field's unique source of ground rules

  • A batted ball that hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in foul territory will automatically be ruled a dead ball and it shall be called a strike.
  • A batted ball that hits a catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory shall be judged fair of foul in relation to the striking point on the ground or where it is touched by the fielder. If the ball hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory and lands in the field in fair territory or is touched by a fielder in fair territory, it shall be judged a fair ball. If the ball strikes the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory and is caught by a fielder in fair or foul territory, then the batter is out and the base runners run at their own risk.
  • A batted ball that hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects and remains on or in the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in foul territory is a foul ball and it shall be called a strike.
  • A batted ball that hits the catwalk, lights or suspended objects and remains on or in the catwalk, lights or suspended objects in fair territory is a fair ball and it shall be called a double.
  • A batted ball that hits either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory is a home run.
  • Any pitched ball that lodges in the padding behind home plate - one base.
  • Any thrown ball that lodges in the padding behind home plate - two bases.

It's that second bullet point that has been causing most consternation this time.  Take a look at some of the comments immediately following the game:

  • "We have long defended The Trop, but now we’re done. Just blow it up and let’s move on." Rays Index
  • "Blow this place up and get it right next time." - Joe Henderson
  • "to lose a game... because of the roof totally indicates... a crying need for a new ballpark... a real baseball field." - Joe Maddon
  • "If that ends up costing them the pennant, they should close this place down. It's ridiculous. It's horrible." - Former Twins pitcher Frank Viola

It's not the first time a batted ball hit there caused confusion.  Take a look at video of Evan Longoria's popup in an April game against the Yankees that hit a speaker, landed in the infield, and was called a single (we like the song choice of the Trop's DJ while umps discuss the play).

That one did not cost the Yankees the game, but they were crying about it anyway.

"Nice stadium," Jorge Posada said. "There's not much we can say. Whatever they're going to call, whatever they saw - it's not a baseball stadium. You can't have balls going all over the place. That's sad."

Said Mark Teixeira: "It's a baseball game and we have balls hitting off catwalks. Come on. It's laughable."

So much for 'There's no crying in baseball.'

Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed, and no one has - at least not yet - set off explosives around Tropicana Field.  After a day's rest, thoughts turned to somewhat more productive discussion, such as asking if the ground rules should be changed.  Joe Maddon says rules might be changed this year "might see...  more thought given to changing something" before the playoffs.  Cork Gaines even offered suggestions.

But that's just details.  No matter the ground rules, they affect both teams the same way.

We agree with John Romano, who was on the right side of this right away: "Do the job on the field and they won't have to worry about what happened on the roof."  And St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, irritated at blame being put on the stadium, was quoted reading my thoughts:

"You don't blame a game on a catwalk. Blame it on not scoring a run for eight innings."

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