"Champa" Bay: A Roller Coaster from Monotony

Published: July 13th 2021
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Despite the purpose of this trip being sports related, I think the highlight was the Dalí Museum. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until I was looking for things to do before the trip, and it was the top-rated experience in St. Petersburg. It did not disappoint. I knew we wouldn’t really have time to do much aside from baseball, but it didn’t really make sense to drive over 4 hours just for a couple of baseball games, especially when you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t have any stake in the outcome of those games.

Perhaps you’ve heard of sports tourism? For me, it’s the idea of using sporting events and locations as an impetus to travel. It’s worked well for the past few years when I’ve had an itch to go somewhere. And I’m using the Toronto Blue Jays as my motivating factor for deciding where I go this summer, now that I can actually go somewhere this summer. The trip to Miami in June was fine, but very short. So was this trip to Tampa Bay. My next few trips will be longer, I promise.

Part 1: The Art Life

The first stop was the Dalí Museum, devoted to a permanent exhibition of the works of world-renowned Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. Surrealism intends to make you think about your own existence (among other things) and usually invites multiple interpretations. In other words, it’s interesting. And most people have heard of Dalí, so it’s an easy entry into the world of modern and postmodern art.

The outside of the Dalí Museum is quite evocative, and some might consider the architecture to be artistic, as well. Inside, it’s a standard museum, with a permanent exhibit on the top floor devoted to the art of Dalí, and a space on the other side of the top floor for temporary exhibits. The bottom floor comprises a gift shop (with a cool Rolls Royce display that’s a quirky homage to Dalí) and a café once you get past the ticket windows.

In the time of Covid, the museum has implemented a timed-entry system to space out the number of visitors. For all its good intentions, I can’t see how it succeeded. At no point during our time there did I feel like I could effectively socially distance; we were constantly bumping into people, literally. I waited to buy tickets until we were in line to park (paid parking too!), at which point I saw that we would have to wait for an hour for the next available entry time. That sucked, especially in this brutal heat. But at least the parking lady had issues with her credit card machine, so I got free parking. And they allowed us into the café and gift shop area while we waited, so we didn’t have to be out in the sun the whole time.

The exhibit itself was fascinating. They arranged the rooms basically chronologically, and there’s a clear break from the early works of Dalí, where he’s trying to develop an Impressionist style, to where he boldly broke free into his own style. If ever there was an avant-garde artist, Dalí would be it. Most people associate him with Surrealism, and he was probably that movement’s most prominent figure throughout the 1930s. But after 1939, he went and did his own thing, always trying to push the boundaries of what he could do, and what could be considered art.

I liked the Surrealist works; there’s so much imagery packed in there, and every time I looked at the same painting and tried to figure out what was going on, I would see something new. Even dad enjoyed seeing these pieces. As he commented afterward, it’s not something he would normally be into, but it was anything but boring.

The optical illusions were fantastic—with Abraham Lincoln and the bust of Voltaire being the prime examples in this collection. Perhaps the most famous image that Dalí ever painted was the melting clock, which most people associate with the Surrealist painting The Persistence of Memory (1931). That was NOT in this collection, but his response from his post-Surrealist period WAS here—The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954), which is probably my favorite of his paintings.

Most of the individual pieces had no written commentary (unless you downloaded the app and listened to it on there; but having no ear buds with me, and knowing that dad wouldn’t really be down for that, I opted to just enjoy the visual stimulation). It was simply a feast for the eyes.

After we were done with that section of the museum (90 minutes, give or take), we ventured over to the exhibit on the photography of Lee Miller. It was interesting, but not nearly as captivating as the art we had just seen. Dad wasn’t too impressed, saying he could look at photos back at home and didn’t need to go to a museum to see them.

All in all, we were there for about 2 hours. And it cost about $20 apiece, so if you can afford that, it’s a wonderful way to enjoy your time and perhaps even get away from the mundane beach stereotype that tends to engulf the Tampa Bay area.

Part 2: The Religious Life

I’ll skip to the other non-sports thing we did on this trip—our visit to the Church by the Sea on Saturday morning. While it’s not technically by the sea these days, it was when it was built in 1944. We got a nice history lesson from Jazz, the guy who takes care of the building and grounds for the church. He was happy to talk to us for a few minutes when he saw us pull into the parking lot; I thought perhaps he was concerned we were going to vandalize the place, but he was pretty chill. An ex-truck driver in a sleeveless shirt and a rocking silver mustache, he was thrilled to talk about the renovations and recent flooding that they had experience with the hurricane. And it’s a non-denominational church, so they welcome all kinds.

The main draw of the church for non-members, though, is its appearance—Jazz told us it was known as the “Chicken Church” because the bell tower looked like a chicken’s face when viewed from any corner. And it’s true. So we took pictures of it and with it, and I got a picture of their cool crucifix on the side of the building—it’s got Jesus, of course, but he’s opening his hand downward as a white dove emanates from that hand. Nice metaphor.

Part 3: The Trop

The main reason you’re reading this is for the baseball experiences, right? If not, then you can stop reading any time.

I had been really excited to attend at game at Tropicana Field, known as “The Trop” and home to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. Despite being the second-closest MLB stadium to where I grew up, I had never made the journey. So when my Blue Jays went there during my summer of following that team around the nation, I knew it would need to make the list. To say I was disappointed with the experience would be an understatement.

We went to a game on Friday night and another on Saturday afternoon. They were two very different environments, but neither one lived up to my expectations. And just so you don’t think I’m all negative, I’ll list the positives about my time there first:

• You can pet actual hognose rays in the tank in right field! They’re really slippery on the wings, which is the only place you’re supposed to touch them. The line to enter the petting area was a bit long on Friday night, but on Saturday afternoon, I only stood in line about 10 minutes.
• There’s a dome! On Friday night, this was great for beating the heat (mid-90s F). On Saturday, thunder and rain during the second half of the game made for a captivating auditory experience. The dome also meant we weren’t drenched. From the outside, the dome is at an odd angle, not simply level with the ground but tilted upward, with the highest point being just behind home plate. So internally, the ceiling slants downward toward the outfield.
• The concession area along the outfield concourse is legit. It’s clear that this is a newer part of the stadium, and they have a wide variety of options, not just the typical ballpark fare. And they have an area devoted to sitting or standing while you eat, so you don’t necessarily have to go back to your seats to enjoy your food.
• Despite being named for Tropicana, which is owned by Pepsi, all the drinks are Coke products. That’s always a welcome relief.
• The employees were VERY friendly and helpful. Even when dad would joke with them about needing a wheelchair or some kind of assistance, they would take his teasing at face value and jump in to help with whatever he was requesting.

So what was wrong with the venue? Glad you asked:

• The place looks like it hasn’t had a good makeover since it was constructed, in 1990. The interior just looks dull and uninspiring. Thankfully, the air conditioning helps with the ambience, or I don’t think anyone would attend.
• There are not a lot of people at the games. One of the attendants told us she wouldn’t expect more than 7000 people or so, even though it holds over 40000. They’ve dropped all the Covid limitations, so all seats are available. I checked the stats afterward, and for both games, they had around 10000 people. That’s still less than 25 percent. Lots of empty seats.
• Despite the employees along the concourse being helpful, the ones at the main Guest Services desk were not. They had 4 people working, and when dad and I approached them at the same time as a young girl and her family who wanted them to stamp her “baseball passport” book, all the employees busied themselves trying to find the stamper and whatnot. All of them. We waited patiently for several minutes; all we wanted were the little “first game” certificates that you can get at all the MLB ballparks (except Miami, for some reason). When it was clear that all their efforts were being devoted to this one girl (and as the line of families forming behind her started to grow), I just took two of the certificates from behind the plastic barrier, along with a blue sharpie next to them, and filled them out myself. No one tried to stop me, and probably no one even noticed because all hands were on deck for that one girl and her passport stamp. Sheesh.
• Those damn cowbells. You can fit them around one finger. I have no idea why this team decided to go with the cowbells, and I don’t care. Maybe the enclosed space within the dome amplifies the crowd noise from such a small number of fans?
• Low baseball IQ from the fans. Primary example being with the pitcher throwing to first to keep the runner from stealing second. Even on the very first throw to keep the runner on first, the fans were already booing. Don’t they know you don’t do that? Wait until the second time at least, because that’s where it can get tiresome. But one throw to first is okay. Another example would be the chants. One of the drawbacks for small crowds is being able to hear so many individual voices shouting from the stands. And so many attention seekers are among them. One guy kept shouting “PIT-cher’s RAT-tled.” The first time or two, okay, that’s different. But after the twenty-fifth time, it’s no longer new or interesting. And you’re way out in left field, so the pitcher can’t hear you.
• The bullpen is part of the field of play. Like seriously, several foul balls landed in that area, including one that a Toronto player could’ve caught if he hadn’t had to check to see where the pitchers were and make sure they got out of his way before he slammed into them.
• The fans tend to forget they’re in St. Petersburg, not Tampa. Many of their cheers and chants left out the “Bay” part of “Tampa Bay.” They also insisted on calling themselves “Champa,” since their local hockey team had just won the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive year. Personally, I wondered how many of them actually followed the hockey team all season long, or how many only paid attention to the post-season.

Of course, I could add the fact that my team lost both games I attended, but that’s just part of any sporting event. You win some, you lose some. The game on Friday night was worse, and it probably didn’t help that we had driven a long time and had already had a tiring day by the time the game started to go south for my team. The game just seemed to keep going, already over 3 hours in the seventh inning, and the obnoxious fans in and near our section didn’t help. Several people were saying derogatory things about Canada in general, or trying to be haughty about the fact that Canada still has a mask mandate (“Where’s your mask, Canada?” I heard several times being directed to the pitchers in the bullpen, maybe even to some of the fans, as well). And some Rays fans ridiculed my team for not being allowed to play in their home stadium due to the US-Canada border being closed (“Come on, Buffalo,” I heard at several points). I didn’t mind that one so much, honestly, but after hearing it for the third or tenth time, it got old.

I also had several insults directed at me personally because I was wearing a Blue Jays jersey on Friday night. Most of them making fun of Canada, since they assume that I’m from Toronto specifically or Canada in general. I mean, that’s the only way anyone is a fan of any team, right? Geographical proximity?

On Saturday afternoon, our seats were in the upper deck of the outfield (the so-called “Party Deck”), and one other Blue Jays fan commiserated with me about people assuming he was Canadian, when he was in fact from the Tampa area.

But frankly, the Saturday game was much more enjoyable, mainly because the fans around us weren’t so annoying. A California couple over from their vacation in Disney World, just because the guy wanted to check the baseball park off his list; a grandfather (who had lived in Toronto when the Blue Jays started in 1977 but now lived in Florida and was a Rays fan) with his grandson and the kid’s friend; and several others nearby but not packed in there like Friday night, and who mostly left after the seventh inning. Maybe the less hectic day, the kinder fans, and the fact that it wasn’t such a catastrophe for the Blue Jays’ offense combined to make it more enjoyable.

When we left on Friday night (in the bottom of the eighth inning), some teens yelled, “Hey, Bo Bichette!” down at me from their descending ramp. Sure, I was wearing Toronto stuff and have a beard and shoulder-length brown hair like Bo, but that’s where the similarities end. They probably meant it in jest, but I took it proudly. After all, I was wearing Bo Bichette’s jersey number. I don’t normally leave any sporting event early, but the hour, the score, and dad’s energy level (as well as mine, frankly), led me to just want to be unconscious for a few hours. On Saturday, we stayed the whole time, probably due to a better score and the need to wait out the thunderstorms passing overhead. No umbrellas allowed in the stadium.

But as we walked out of the stadium, I was glad to be leaving Florida behind. It hit me how much I really don’t care for this state. It’s overhyped, and I’ve been there so many times that finding something new and exciting is pretty difficult. And I would hate to be stuck there. The temperature all week had the same high and the same low, and the same rain chance. If that’s your idea of perfection, run with it. But I’m not really a beach person, and I like having 4 seasons. As I mentioned above, I value creativity and originality. Seeing and hearing the same thing on repeat just won’t do it for me. It’s why I like to travel. So you can keep your monotony, Tampa Bay. I’m moving on.

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