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The Rays' 25th year nears with 'checkout-free' concessions, sharper videoboards and more

Exterior of Tropicana Field
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
The Tampa Bay Rays begin their silver-anniversary season on Thursday at Tropicana Field by introducing some modern fan experiences while looking back on 25 years of team history.

Tampa Bay's silver-anniversary season begins Thursday afternoon. If you're going to the Trop this year, here are some high-tech additions for fans to go along with new food and beverage options.

The Tampa Bay Rays begin their silver-anniversary season on Thursday at Tropicana Field by introducing some modern fan experiences while looking back on 25 years of team history.

Opening Day gives fans more to talk about than new stadium locations. Instead, it's more about the playoffs, players and prices (there's now a standing-room-only season ticket for $249, or $49 a month).

There may also be some conversation about speedy beer runs and bigger-screen replays when the Rays don their Devil Rays throwback uniforms for the opener against the Detroit Tigers at 3:10 p.m. [Buy tickets here].

Let's get the ball going: What's new outside the lines?

A leadoff hit may be the new “checkout-free" concessions on the Budweiser Porch that overlooks center field. The concept, called the Short Stop, allows fans to validate cashless payment, then grab and go — no lines. The goal is to get customers in and out with 20 seconds.

The Short Stop uses high-resolution camera technology and shelf sensors to eliminate the checkout process and dramatically reduce wait times. The Rays say the Zippin, which received the Sports Business Journal’s 2022 Best Innovation Award, developed this 21st century approach to the old Automat.

It’s the latest high-tech update, coming four years after the Trop introduced accepting only credit/debit cards, now a standard at most big-league sports venues.

“From digital ticketing to becoming the first major league sports venue to go cash-free in 2019, imagining new ways to improve the fan experience through technology is part of our DNA,” Rays chief business officer Bill Walsh said in the news release. “This type of frictionless experience is the next step in that journey, where fans spend less time in line and more time watching the action and having fun.”

Perhaps the first thing guests may notice in their seats are three new high-definition videoboards. The Rays say the new 10 mm-resolution outfield panels are 30 percent larger than the previous screens and “optimized with best the latency, color science and viewing angles.”

The Rays promise the videoboards will produce a “brighter, sharper and bolder viewing experience.”

In addition to the usual scorekeeping and statistics — including MLB’s new “pitch clock” — the video board will deliver a new graphics package and game presentation look.

Keep an eye out for a 25th anniversary hype video narrated by Rays megafan and Hall of Fame basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale.

Aside from technology, the Trop will present some new food favorites from local and national brands:

  • Omaha Steaks: high-quality meats from burgers to brats and beyond. Throughout the stadium.
  • Daddies Donuts: local doughnut shop. Right Field Street, Third Base Food Hall, Rays Club.
  • Beach Drive BBQ: loaded pulled-pork nachos and brisket sandwiches. First Base Food Hall.
  • Little Greek:  grilled Mediterranean dishes. Third Base Food Hall.

Some returning menu items include:

  • Beans & Barlour. milkshakes and alcohol-infused desserts. Third Base Concourse, Budweiser Porch in Center Field.
  • MingsBings:  James Beard-winning chef’s vegan, gluten-free and nut-free handheld pocket. Right Field, Suite A-La-Carte Menu.
  • Pig + Potato: the Footlong Tater Tot and a new hand-rolled Nathan’s beef hotdog on hand-rolled pretzel.  Center Field Porch.   

Some other additions to the Trop fan experience:

  • A patch on player batting helmets in remembrance of Dave Wills, the Rays’ longtime radio broadcaster who died March 5.
  • A 25th anniversary logo, which will be available on a number of retail wear and souvenirs.  See thebayrepublic.com for details.
  • A Friday night beer promotion with buy one-get one free Budweisers on the Budweiser Porch.
I’m the online producer for Health News Florida, a collaboration of public radio stations and NPR that delivers news about health care issues.
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