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  • Justin Stombler

Hang A Banner, Hit A Dinger: A Brief Look at Tropicana Field's Most Celebratory Home Runs

Is there anything more majestic than a towering home run? Some home runs land in the first row, other settle into the upper decks. What about above that? Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field has a very particular set of targets that only two hitters have managed to reach in recent memory.


Banners decrying the accomplishments of the Rays sit above in the rafters at Tropicana Field
 

Originally named the Florida Suncoast Dome and opened to the public on March 3, 1990, Tropicana Field (colloquially known as the Trop) finalized a brand deal in 1996 to use the moniker it now goes by. In 1998, the newly created Tampa Bay Devil Rays took up residency.


Tropicana Field; St. Petersburg, Florida

In its short history the stadium has been, in a word, controversial. The ceiling boasts catwalks that impede baseballs and are considered in-play. The playing field is one of the only remaining that utilizes artificial turf. The location leaves much to be desired as well, being horrifically inaccessible to the local population. This leaves Rays fans with little easy transit to games and has led to bottom of the league attendance year after year, even while the team has been great as of late.


Which, at first, they weren't. The Rays spent their first decade in the MLB languishing, finishing dead last in the AL East all but one year (they finished second to last). However, since 2008 the curse has been lifted. The Rays have won the AL East 4 times and made the playoffs on 9 occasions, with a particularly strong start to the 2020s.


This of course has given the fans at the Trop a lot of reason to celebrate, and how does any self-respecting franchise celebrate? By hanging banners, of course.


Banners of the Rays' Achievements, Tropicana Field

These banners sit high above the upper deck beyond left field in the Trop. There are no official measurements for how far away from home plate they sit, but suffice it to say it's a long distance.


That hasn't stopped a few hitters from taking aim.

 

The Few...The Proud...


Marcell Ozuna

Miami Marlins @ Tampa Bay Rays

May 3, 2017


With one out in the top of the 4th and the Marlins trailing 3-0, Marcell Ozuna steps into the box.


In his first appearance of the day, Ozuna struck out swinging in a 5 pitch at-bat that included 2 changeups from pitcher Blake Snell. After a first pitch fastball, Snell tests Ozuna with another changeup. It finds a lot of the plate, and Ozuna is at this point well prepared to time it up.


Ozuna wallops the offering to deep, deep left field. The ball would have easily hit the back of the Trop if not for one thing.


The banner celebrating the 2011 American League Wild Card hung high up in the rafters.



This behemoth of a blast gives us our first look at predicted distances associated with these celebratory banners:


468 feet, with an exit velocity of 112.2mph and a launch angle of 31 degrees.


Take note of the launch angle and exit velocity. When looked at side by side with the next example, it gives a good idea of the potential measurements needed to even be on the proper flight path to go banner hunting (nevermind the need for the ball to be pulled to left field).


 

Avisaíl García

Chicago White Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays

July 20, 2019


With the 7th inning stretch fading out, and the crowd of a little over 16,000 at the Trop hoping for some fireworks, we now join Avisaíl García as he strides into the batter's box to face Lucas Giolito in the middle of a scoreless game.


García, like Ozuna, has struggled with the changeup so far on the day, swinging and missing on both Giolito has offered him in the zone; it's probably why Giolito chooses to start off the bottom of the 7th with yet another. However, again like Ozuna, García is able to time this one as it rides up and in on the strike zone.


García blasts off, his ball only being stopped by the 2008 AL East Championship banner hanging a few feet to the right Ozuna's impact.



A quick look at the Statcast metrics reveals similar data to the Ozuna home run. 459 feet, with an exit velocity of 111.2mph and a launch angle of 34 degrees.


Both home runs were absolutely spectacular. Now, we can look through the numbers and show just why these are so rare.

 

By The Numbers


As a reminder, below are the launch angles and exit velocities of the two home runs we've just discussed.



It's important to remember that these banners are incredibly small in the grand design of the stadium, and as such it takes a very specific flight path, driven by very specific angles and velocities to reach them.


Hits with these metrics are incredibly rare. For the sake of fairness, let's assume that any home run with a launch angle from 30 to 35 degrees and an exit velocity from 110 to 115 mph will suffice.


Of the 48,311 home runs hit in the MLB since Statcast began tracking velocities and angles in 2015, only about 650 have been within this range, or 1.35%.


During this same 9 year span, only 11 HRs at Tropicana Field that have had the potential to enter into legend.



Furthermore, the batter pretty much has to be right-handed to have any chance. Jack Suwinski absolutely smoked a ball off of Jalen Beeks, but he was hitting lefty, where no banner dare to hang.


 

The odds of another banner shot is obviously very low, but who is the most likely to be the next? For that we can use Baseball Savant to see who the most HRs over the last 9 seasons that fall within our velocity and angle requirements.



The best candidates are going to be either Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. They are both righties, and their New York Yankees share a division with the Rays, so they will play more games at Tropicana Field than anyone else on this list. They can certainly hit the ball hard enough.

 

Indeed, while not impossible, another home run off the Trop's banners might take awhile.


All we can do now is wait.


And all the Rays can do is keep hanging banners.


 

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, give me a follow on Twitter at @SevenYardsBack

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