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The Fred McGriff gauntlet: A field report of Dodgers vs. Braves & Rays

Or “The Curse of Two is born?”

Adric selfie from the Rays Club Seats. Tropicana Field. May 27, 2023.
Adric selfie from the Rays Club Seats. Tropicana Field. May 27, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

I made a new introduction for my travels in the coming year.

As always, the following article is not a Guide, because I am still sifting through my notes on how one should fully experience Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay and supplementing my Guide entry for Truist Park in Atlanta.

[Author’s Note: Fred McGriff famously played for Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay.]

Statistically, the Dodgers are pretty good in OPS with runners in scoring position in 2023. However to my eye in these four games, the Dodgers had a theme: get two runners on and then do nothing. This “Curse of Two” came into sharp focus starting from the first game of the year for me in Atlanta.

“We are not changing the name”

Outside the Battery. Truist Park. May 24, 2023.
Outside the Battery. Truist Park. May 24, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

I have been famously critical of Truist Park for both its exorbitant ticket prices when the Dodgers have been around and the problematic nature of attending a game at Truist Park (i.e. that racist chant). I vowed to not return unless something drastic had changed to make me re-evaluate my opinion.

Imagine my surprise when the ticket prices for Dodgers/Braves series were far more reasonable in 2023 than the year before. Moreover, I had not yet taken a tour of Truist Park as those were not available during my first visit in 2021. I thought that a tour might enlighten me or give me some insight into the park's culture.

It didn’t, but it was a very nice tour, as you can see herein. The main takeaway I had from the tour was that the locals are really not keen to change their team name and wholeheartedly embrace that chant. The situation is ultimately frustrating for this baseball fan if the team were to drop the chant, I could make a solid recommendation for the park.

But in some very real ways, Truist Park and the Battery serve as a negative benchmark or an ideal that is slowly killing the sport. The Battery neighborhood, at its core, is an excuse to have money going to baseball clubs 365 days a year rather than the 81 days that occur during a season. And with that logic, why try for the uncertainty of home playoff games with a productive and more expensive roster, when you can do a half-baked job and entice people to come throughout the year?

The game itself was a fun, if sloppy affair, with the Dodgers stranding a small village on the basepaths to ultimately be walked off by Atlanta. It’s worth noting that at games I actually attend, I live-tweet the proceedings bantering with Lindsay Adams, True Blue LA’s social media manager.

Sometimes I get interesting views of things that happen, sometimes I see balls hit into the next county, and sometimes I get to see Miguel Vargas do something special. After visiting Truist, unless something drastic happens with the park’s culture, I do not see a need to ever return.

The worst game in three years

Tropicana Field. May 26, 2023.
Chase Field’s eastern cousin. Tropicana Field. May 26, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

When I saw that Noah Syndergaard was going to be pitching Game 1 in Tampa Bay, I resigned myself that the Rays were likely going to eat him alive, because they are arguably the best team in the majors this year and he has not been good.

They did — with aplomb. I normally hold out hope for the unexpected when going to the ballpark as these Rays are a dynamic team.

Noah Syndergaard warming up. Tropicana Field. May 26, 2023.
Noah Syndergaard warming up. Tropicana Field. May 26, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

I often talk about the phrase “trapped at the ballpark.” One is trapped at the ballpark when one is at a game that they have traveled to but cannot leave because of the effort expended to get to the game. The most famous example I have is my presence at the Zach Lee game in New York in 2015.

That day the Dodgers were shellacked 15-2, an ugly affair with Zach Lee, Chin-hui Tsao, and Josh Ravin giving up 15 runs in six innings. That game lasted 3:12. Friday’s game lasted 2:45 but I will argue until the day I die that it felt like a four-and-a-half-hour affair, easy. The same pattern emerged over and over: Syndergaard would get a couple of outs and be a hair’s breadth from having a quiet inning, then all hell would break loose, and repeat.

A pseudo-playoff game

Kershaw versus the Rays. Tropicana Field. May 27, 2023.
Kershaw versus the Rays. Tropicana Field. May 27, 2023.
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

For the middle of this series, I made a point to sit in what passes for luxury seating at the Trop. It had all you can eat buffet, soft drinks, and limited alcoholic drinks included in your ticket price. The seats were padded, albeit small, designed for someone who is five-foot-six (or 167 centimeters for our European readers).

The game itself was billed as a playoff rematch between Clayton Kershaw and Tyler Glasnow. For the first couple of innings, it was, as both Kershaw and Glasnow were dueling. Then the wheels fell off as Glasnow started pitching as if he was on the cricket green and Kershaw started channeling Game 5 2017 World Series vibes, i.e. immediately coughing up a lead. It did not improve for Kershaw, unfortunately.

Ultimately, the Dodgers got Kershaw off the hook and prevailed in a battle of the bullpens. From my perspective, the best pure hitter on the Dodgers is Freddie Freeman. Betts and Muncy have better power numbers, but Freeman just hits. If the Dodgers could embrace a “hey, we’re going to put this ball into play”-ethos, watch out.

Absolute bedlam

While you were all in bed on this Sunday, my day started with timely references to the Wicker Man (the original, not the Nicholas Cage remake) and day drinking a vodka vanilla milkshake (that cost $23). Yes, the Dodgers lost a wild, goofy, stupid game.

And I loved every minute of it.

Gavin Stone pitching. Tropicana Field. May 28, 2023
A Gavin Stone sighting. Tropicana Field. May 28, 2023
Michael Elizondo / True Blue LA

While the madness was unfolding on Peacock, I had a front-row seat to arguably the most entertaining game of the year. This game had everything. The redemption of Trayce Thompson and Chris Taylor (his bat). Funny defensive miscues (from and benefiting Chris Taylor and Max Muncy). Timely hitting (from everyone not named Austin Barnes, James Outman, or Mookie Betts).

The fact that the Dodger reserves’ put up this much of a fight is a testament to the grit that has come to define this team. And for all that wacky chaos the game came down to the Dodgers not cashing in when two runners on (the aforementioned Curse of Two) as they had failed to do many times over the past four games. And if you had pinch-hitting Will Smith will weakly pop out to the pitcher as this game’s final out, your powers of prediction are wasted here.

I felt bad for Gavin Stone though, who was trying but is clearly not ready yet to pitch at the major league level. In some ways, he reminds me of Ryan Pepiot last year sans the great changeup. A fastball with underbaked secondary pitches, especially if are middle-middle or a ball out of hand is like a steak dinner to opposing batters.

I am sure he will be okay with some more seasoning in the minors. I was incorrect about my initial prediction of when I would see Stone as I guessed in Baltimore, just after the All-Star Break.

Ultimately, the Dodgers went 1-3 on my first trip of the year, which is less than ideal but three of these games were competitive, entertaining (if slightly frustrating) affairs. Kershaw called a team meeting the following day, but for a different reason rather than the looming Curse of Two. It turns out I was extremely wrong about that.

As for me, if things go to plan, I draft my next field report after visiting Citi Field and/or Camden Yards in mid-July. If you would want a real-time report during my adventures, I would recommend following the official True Blue LA Twitter account (@truebluela).

My adventures are not possible without input from the community. One person who was of great help was Catherine Tinker, a Dodgers-Rays fan who lives in the Tampa area and was a great guide as to where to sit and what to expect from the area. If you would like to help out in the future with these areas, please feel to contact me as all input is welcome.