Tropicana Field is known for its emptiness, for its quietness, and, honestly, for its ugliness. It's something Floridians have gotten used to, mostly because we've had no other choice.
But this weekend, Tropicana Field seemed different. It felt different. It sounded different. And it was all thanks to the Mets.
On Friday night, I sat about 20 rows behind home plate, just off center toward the third-base line. As in any stadium, those are the more expensive seats (I got mine from work; I won't pretend I'm dropping a few hundred dollars on baseball tickets, even if it is the Mets), and a lot of the fans tended to be people looking for an outing, rather than an actual baseball game. But the sections directly behind the visitor's dugout were filled with blue and orange. Adult men in shirseys with names like Darling and Hernandez and Agbayani (that was a first for me, too). Boys calling out to Daniel Murphy and Curtis Granderson to sign Little League gloves that looked too small to hold a ball. One girl clung tightly to a doll clad in a pale pink Mets jersey to match her own. Every generation was out to see the Amazins.
On Saturday and Sunday, I sat in the nosebleeds, high above home plate with a direct downward view (they're cheap and they're great, as long as you're not afraid of heights). Now, we know that the Rays have trouble filling the seats. It's no secret. And for several years, the team has covered the back 20 rows or so in the third level, essentially cutting down the stadium capacity. But on Saturday, I saw something I've never seen in all my years at Tropicana Field: They moved the tarps back.
That's right: there were TOO MANY fans at Tropicana Field for probably the first time ever. Saturday's attendance was 31,042, the second sellout of the season and the first since Opening Day. And, from someone who sat in those stands for the entire series, most of those fans were rooting for the Mets.
Almost two weeks after the-trade-that-wasn't, Wilmer Flores is still getting standing ovations around the country. But there was more than that in St. Petersburg this weekend. Chants of DUDA and GRANDYMAN echoed around the roofed stadium. And every inning, "Let's go, Mets!" erupted from seemingly a different section of the ballpark each time. From a family in right field and from the group of men in their mid-20s along first base, a call for success from a team that's been without it for so long.
I had goosebumps most of this weekend because people love the Mets again, even down here in the Sunshine State. It's more than 1,100 miles from Citi Field to Tropicana Field, but the Amazins had home field advantage in the stands. Fans were louder for the Mets than I've heard them for the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Marlins, because winning is fun. Success is fun. The Mets are fun.