Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Another new thing that got old quickly: Red Sox edition

Tropicana Field with fans in it - a sight reserved mostly for when the Rays play the Yankees or Red Sox.

Pelicans were everywhere in St. Pete. This one was on The Pier.

The past week has been one of uneventful firsts.

I wrote yesterday about my first authentic alligator sighting. It would have been more memorable if I saw it eating a bird or something ... or someone.

Today's first actually was last Tuesday's. And it was something I had been waiting years for. It all started with a coast-to-coast trip July 1 to St. Petersburg.

I went there to see the Red Sox play a regular-season game. I had watched them during spring training, but that's like seeing a gator at a zoo: It doesn't really count. So this should have been such a momentous occasion that it should have left me itching to blog about it.

But as it was with the gator, the game was nothing special. And the surprisingly cocky Tampa Bay Rays fans, who have a steeped tradition of being losers, made it more forgettable.

But I wanted to tell you about it before it completely fades from memory.

Tropicana Field is a uninspiring venue, full of seats that rarely are filled during a baseball game. The Sox seem to garner the most fans when they're in town, so the Rays franchise exploits that by charging more to see those "premium" games.

My $28 seat was in left field, among several drunken, loud and ill-mannered fans of the home team. Friends told me that the Sox fans would outnumber those of the Rays, but judging by the woos versus the boos each time Manny Ramirez was introduced to the plate, that wasn't the case.

Tim Wakefield delivers a knuckleball as the Rays batter waits ... and waits for it to arrive.

I had a full view of the action, but the indoor stadium is dark compared with open-air ones, so taking good photos with a telephoto lens was unlikely.

Boston played like the team I fell in love with during my childhood. The Sox set their fans up for a stellar finish, loading the bases in the eighth inning with one out and a 2-1 deficit, only to follow through with several strikeouts and the accompanying disappointment for their fans, already disheartened by intoxicated hecklers telling them to "go back to New England" or "Clearwater."

"At least we've been losing only for 10 years," a Rays fan told a Sox fan. "You guys had been losing for 80 years."

So, that was that. It was a game. That's all.

St. Pete, on the other hand, performed admirably and did not let me down.

I arrived in the city hours before the 7:10 p.m. first pitch so I could walk around and explore the downtown and its waterfront.

Around 2 p.m., I entered a garage that offered $6 daily parking. But I left at 1 a.m. without paying a cent. The gates were wide open when I exited, and there was no attendant around. The city of St. Pete must have been feeling generous that day.

As it seems with many Florida downtowns, St. Pete's was quiet. But unlike others, it had much to offer.

Nic Weathersbee, owner of the St. Petersburg Candle Gallery

I made my way to The Pier, on the end of which is a five-story building in the shape of an inverted pyramid, making it journalism friendly. The structure featured a candlemaker making a Boston Red Sox candle, above, a coconut-themed restaurant on the top floor and, of course, great views of Tampa Bay and of the cities of Tampa and St. Pete from the observation deck.


Several dolphins wiggled their way around the pier, dangerously close to a speeding motorboat, whose driver seemed clueless as to the finned creatures around it.


And of course, there again were many winged creatures, above, including the ubiquitous pelicans, below, that soared through the sunshine and plunged into the water for fish.



And a dove landed on the head of an old lady, below. But she didn't seem to mind. Actually, she didn't even move.


I ate lunch atop The Pier's building, with the bay as the view to my left and St. Pete's skyline to my right. The outdoor dining area at Cha Cha Coconuts is usually graced with comforting sea breezes. But during my visit, a large electric fan offered more relief from the heat than Mother Nature.


I ordered Cha Cha Coconuts' fish soft tacos, which were made with corvina and accompanied by fried plantains, beans and rice. I'm not wild about fishy tastes: I don't like to get a bucket of ocean water thrown into my face. But when I eat fish, I like to be subtly reminded that I'm eating fish. Because of the strong flavors of the onions, salsa and cheese in the tacos, however, I hardly tasted the meat. The corvina's taste, apparently, is too delicate for tacos. Yes, they were good, but they were not memorable.

The view of St. Pete from Vinoy Park.

I left St. Pete early Wednesday morning, when the city looked just as beautiful, above, as it did during the day.

The two-and-a-half-hour trip back to the Atlantic coast offered another first. And this one was memorable: I turned the heat on in my car during the summer. I've acclimated myself to Florida's heat, and 72 degrees at night was nearly unbearable.

A paperboy brandishes his wares outside the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Like the lady with the dove, he didn't move much. Lazy paperboys: the reason we can't sell newspapers. Actually, the one in the photo is "Free! Free! Free!" Heck, we can't even give them away.

The headquarters of the St. Petersburg Times.

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