Baseball and Rays return to Tropicana Field four weeks early Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leaves game with right knee discomfort

ST. SAINT PETERSBURG, Florida. Baseball came early to Tropicana Field this year.

Four weeks before the start of the season, the Races against Detroit, Tampa Bay and Minnesota practiced rock music in preparation for Thursday’s spring practice game at the Race’s home stadium.

The Rays’ spring training is split between ESPN’s Wide World of Sports facility in Kissimmee and Tropicana Field because their own compound on Florida’s Gulf Coast was damaged by Hurricane Yan in September. After practice and one game at Disney against the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay moved their operations to St. Petersburg, with the rest of their spring practice home games scheduled at the domed stadium.

“It’s nice,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I am very happy to be here, in awe of what Disney has turned out to be. I hope everyone understands that it’s nice to spend an extra month in the stadium and in your own bed.

Rays infielder David Robertson noted that playing at Tropicana Field provided a “cool” opportunity for players who weren’t at the stadium. It also gives them a chance to live the life of a major league in spring training.

“The guy is kind of knocking on the big league door to get a feel for it,” Robertson said. “The setting, the roof, the lawn. Hey, my goal is to play here someday.”

Before the game, there was a moment of silence in memory of those who died during Hurricane Ian.

Zach Eflin, who signed a three-year, $40 million contract with Tampa Bay as a free agent, started in front of an announced crowd of 2,531. Tickets cost $19 and all the fans sat in boxes.

“That’s interesting,” Eflin said. “I’ve only performed here two or three times. I know the fans are coming, but today it was a little different, it was like crickets. You could hear your own thoughts and stuff, but it’s spring training, it’s still early.

Average home attendance in Tampa Bay in 2022 was 13,927, the third-lowest in the major leagues behind Miami and Oakland.

A number of adjustments were made to prepare Tropicana Field.

The Rays use two clubs for nearly 80 players in camp. Team meals are served in the Media Dining Room, which can be reached by lift from the club level.

Practice is also scheduled at nearby Huggins-Stengel Field, where the New York Yankees’ Babe Ruth and the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden took part in spring training.

“We’ll make it work,” Cash said. “Lots of moving parts, but I’m sure we’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.”

Staying at home allows players to settle into regular season housing instead of having to transition at the end of spring training.

“The air conditioner is amazing,” Eflin said with a smile. “I will never complain about it.

There will be an opportunity to play in the sun while the palm trees sway during road games.

“I love Port Charlotte and being outdoors. Of course, like Boca Grande – then you can have a good boat ride there, – Cash said with a smile. “But no, we’re going to play enough baseball stadiums to learn all of this.”

DUNEDIN, Florida – Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. left a spring practice game against Tampa Bay with discomfort in his right knee.

Guerrero was seen walking towards the clubhouse with an athletic coach in the second inning and was replaced on defense by Reiner Nunez to start the third.

Guerrero had an RBI single during the first half in his lone bat.

Slugger hit .274 with 32 homers and 97 RBIs in 160 games last year.

Guerrero is part of the Dominican Republic for this month’s World Baseball Classic.


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