ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A haunted hotel occupies the postage stamp-sized downtown of this, the 79th largest-city in America. More remarkably, so does the home stadium of a Major League Baseball team.
Teams visiting St. Petersburg to play the Tampa Bay Rays have many options when choosing a hotel in the area, and they often pick the haunted one.
The Vinoy Hotel was built in 1925. It expanded in 1992 to include a picturesque tower, which is not haunted by all accounts. Depending on where you stay, then, your visit to the Vinoy might not be very eventful.
Kiké Hernandez had an eventful night Monday.
“I heard a weird noise around midnight,” he said. “It sounded like a phone vibrating. … So I put my Netflix on, watched a movie. As soon as I put it down, I heard it again.
“I heard more last night than I did in two stops at the Pfister.”
What’s the Pfister, you ask?
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is only a little bigger than St. Petersburg, but it also features a Major League Baseball team and a haunted hotel that visiting teams tend to frequent. The Pfister’s latest victim was Angels first baseman/outfielder Ji-Man Choi, who was visited by a ghost Sunday night.
“I survived the Pfister,” Hernandez said. “So bring it on, Tampa.”
I asked almost everyone in the Dodgers’ clubhouse — players, coaches, bullpen catchers — if they experienced anything unusual. Hernandez was the only taker.
Pitcher Scott Kazmir played parts of 11 seasons in the American League, including six in Tampa Bay. Told that only Hernandez had a visitor during the Dodgers’ two nights at the Vinoy, Kazmir scoffed.
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
Of course, if you were a ghost and you wanted the story of your haunting to get around, would you visit anyone else’s room?
Kazmir pondered the question for less than a second.
“That would be the guy you’d want to mess with,” he declared.
Hernandez’s invisible vibrating phone is one of the tamer stories to emerge from the Vinoy.
When he played for the Angels, Kazmir recalled the time when Steve Soliz, then the Angels’ bullpen catcher, had a visitor.
“He actually had a picture of a lady looking across the mirror,” he said. “He looked into a mirror and saw a shadow of a lady looking across the room. … Took a picture and showed it to everyone.”
Nomar Garciaparra, currently an analyst on the Dodgers’ road television broadcasts, recalled a similar story from then-teammate Scott Williamson when the Boston Red Sox played here in 2003. A man and a woman walked across Williamson’s room and the pitcher felt a tingling sensation, then pressure on his chest. The story is now widely told.
At the time, Garciaparra bought it.
“(Williamson) started describing what they were wearing — her dress, his suit — in detail,” Garciaparra said. “The clubhouse guy googled it and pulled up an image of a couple that died. (Williamson) said, ‘That’s who I saw!'”
These stories don’t come around often because the Dodgers don’t visit St. Petersburg all that much. Wednesday’s was only their eighth game ever in 19 seasons of baseball at Tropicana Field. Not everyone in the clubhouse would admit to believing in ghosts, either, including outfielder Carl Crawford.
Maybe that’s for the better. Crawford said he was assigned room 666.