For Fans, By Fans

Echoes From 527: Ghosts Of Tampa Bay

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On Sunday, Jose Lobaton sent a Brad Lincoln offering over the wall in Right Field to ensure yet another win-less series for the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.

With Toronto’s losing streak at Tampa Bay reaching epic proportions (0-19-1 since April 8th, 2007), I decided to take a look into the history between these 2 clubs while playing in “Sunshine State”.

Perhaps Toronto’s first trip to Tampa Bay in 1998 was a harbinger of things to come between these 2 clubs as on June 15th, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays welcomed the Blue Jays to St Petersburg for the first time by sweeping Toronto in a 3 game set.

Since then, Tampa Bay has won 29 of 43 series vs Toronto at Tropicana Field, good for a total win/loss record of 80/54. If it wasn’t for the Blue Jays strong record at SkyDome (73-63) the overall standings between the pair of AL East Rivals would look a lot worse than the current 19 game advantage  held by the Rays.

*Note – Toronto is actually 54/83 while playing the Rays in Tampa Bay however 3 of those games were played at Disney’s Wide World Of Sports complex in 2008.

The bottom line is that Toronto has always struggled at the Trop… Even prior this monstrous losing streak’s inception in 2007.

The question is why?

Like any sport, Baseball often lends itself to superstition. We’ve all heard of bizarre pregame rituals, curses such as the one that has kept a World Series championship out of the reach of the Chicago Cubs for over a century and of course, the Ghosts of Yankee Stadium.

Well Tampa Bay is known to have it’s own ghosts and although they choose to avoid the local ball park, they have been known to wreak havoc on opposing players and their families while in town.

When Major League Baseball came to St Petersburg in the 90′s, the historic  Vinoy hotel was selected to be the exclusive home to Tampa Bay’s opponents and other league executives while staying in town.

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Built in 1925, the Vinoy Park was frequented by such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, James Stewart and even Babe Ruth who was said to have thrown some wild party’s while staying at the lavish hotel during Spring Training in the late 20′s.

The hotel remained in operation until 1974 when it was forced to close down and liquidate its assets due to poor business. What was once a destination for movie stars, political figures and athletes had now become home to many of the bay area’s homeless and thanks to a 1978 designation as one of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, it remained like this until the early 1990′s when purchased by the Renaissance Group.

The new owners began renovating the hotel with the intentions of restoring the once famous Florida landmark to it’s former glory however a series of unexplained events delayed its progress.

Under tight surveillance, the hotel was subject to constant reports of paint cans being over turned, tools going missing and windows being shattered from within its walls.

Despite a slew of interior vandalism from unknown suspects, the hotel reopened in the mid 90′s, returning to it’s  reputation as one of the top rate hotels in the city. The only difference between the grand reopening and the original function held on New Years Eve, 1925 was that this time, some of the rooms came with guests.

Returning to baseball, a number of players and coaches have reported unusual happenings in their rooms since the 1998 season. Some even refuse to stay at the luxurious hotel, opting to crash on a friends couch or other options around the city.

Former Blue Jays Right Handed Pitcher, John Frascatore lived in the Tampa Bay area and was aware of the hotels “spooky” reputation. Instead of staying with the team, the veteran hurler would commute to his home in Brooksville Florida, an hour and a half north from the stadium.

Prior to squaring off against the Devil Rays on July 3rd, 2001,  he decided to stay at the hotel with his family. Frascatore thought that with the extra rest he would be able to have by avoiding the drive home, he would be better prepared for the following day game.

He checked his family into the hotel and left for the ballpark. Midway through batting practice he received a call from his wife who could barely speak as she attempted to inform Frascatore of the events that had gone on since he left the room.

Shaken by what had just happened, his wife explained how the faucet in the washroom turned on repeatedly along with the adjacent toilet which flushed a reported 4 times (by itself) before she grabbed the kids and vacated the room. When the family requested to change rooms after the game (an 8-1 Blue Jays victory), the hotel staff obliged and simply informed them that that type of stuff happens all the time… In the old wing.

Frascatore isin’t the only Blue Jay to experience strange things while spending the night at the Vinoy… Cito Gaston also has his own ghost story that when asked about, he has no problems sharing.

While serving as the teams hitting coach, Gaston was staying at the Vinoy one night when he was awoken by the sound of his room door being opened and then slammed shut repeatedly. Aside from the fact that it was happening in the earlier hours of the morning, the thing that stuck Gaston as being strange was that not only had he locked his door but he had also chained it shut.

Although a number of stories have surfaced explaining why the hotel is haunted (deaths, fires burial grounds ect) none of them have been proven by local historians or paranormal investigators. This, of course, only adds to the mystery of the ritzy hotel.

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Over the years, a number of teams have chosen to stay elsewhere and avoid the Ghosts of the Vinoy while playing the Rays in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, the Blue Jays have not as the picture above (swiped from J.P. Arencibia’s Twitter account) shows that the team still resides at the hotel while in town.

Can we attribute the Blue Jays lack of success at Tropicana Field on things that go bump in the night? Perhaps the boys aren’t getting enough rest when they stay over…?

Well, probably not but hey, it’s one hell of a story.

 

*More baseball related Ghost stories can be found in Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon’s 2007 publishing entitled “Haunted Baseball”.

Here’s a link to the books website which includes a sample chapter on none other than the Vinoy Hotel. - http://www.hauntedbaseball.com/about.html

 

 

 

 

 

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