Tampa Bay Dome Is Out of Step Before It Opens

A FUNNY thing happened on the way to landing a major-league baseball team for Florida's Tampa-St. Petersburg community. The stadium St. Pete built to help lure a team is already out of step architecturally and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays don't even take the field until 1998.

The ThunderDome's most distinctive feature is a tilted Teflon roof that cuts down inside air volume and makes it more efficient to cool (the Philadelphia Phillies couldn't reach the short end of the dome with test pop flies several years back). The dome might have looked thoroughly modern when completed five years ago. It's not so chic now, however. Nostalgic architecture that pays tribute to bygone ballparks like Brooklyn's Ebbets Field is the new trend.

Denver recently opened Coors Field, the latest throwback beauty. The stadium joins Camden Yards in Baltimore, The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and Jacobs Park in Cleveland, all of which have real grass and are open-air.

One Florida newspaper, casting about for ways to give character to the ThunderDome, suggested knocking out a section of the center field wall and creating a picture window on St. Pete's skyline. Other suggestions were to add palm trees and roof lights that would flash like thunderbolts after Devil Ray home runs.

John Higgins, a team spokesman, anticipates nothing quite so radical. Nonetheless, $47 million in public funding has been obtained for alterations, which could begin a year from now. Nearly half of it will go toward adding artificial turf, a video scoreboard, dugouts, and bullpens. Another $6 million will enlarge cramped concourses. Any money left might be used for such touches as an old-fashioned scoreboard and a center-field picnic area.

Never shy, but now retiring

CHARLES BARKLEY, one of the most competitive stars in the National Basketball Association, retired Saturday with his dream of playing on a championship team never realized. Barkley's team, the Phoenix Suns, lost a seven-game conference playoff series to the Houston Rockets for the second straight year. Barkley is not the only member of the original United States Olympic Dream Team frustrated in his bid to be an NBA champion. The New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing came up short again, too, when the Indiana Pacers beat the Knicks Sunday in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Only two of 10 still-active players from that Dream Team have ever grabbed the NBA's brass ring (Chicago's Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen), but two others remain in contention this season: San Antonio's David Robinson and Houston's Clyde Drexler.

Touching other bases

* Anyone who thinks he's seen it all when it comes to basketball dunk shots hasn't seen Conrad McRae's ''Statue of Liberty'' dunk. To win a contest among professional players in Europe this season he not only soared over two seated people, he jammed home a flaming basketball.

* Word has gone out from the All-England Lawn Tennis Club that a strict interpretation of the ''predominantly white'' dress code will be in force at Wimbledon this year. The operative phrase is ''almost entirely white,'' including shoes. All major tennis clothing manufacturers have been forewarned and are expected to toe the line for the tournament, which runs from June 26 to July 9.

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