As the Rays win yet another series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field, then smash the Baltimore Orioles to smithereens, the dismal crowds at recent home games have drawn the attention of local newscasts and radio shows, and even ESPN. With attendance still in the bottom five in Major League Baseball and the Rays playing as well as they have, some criticism is certainly justified. But which excuses can and can’t be validated? We have heard them all, and now it’s time to examine them to see where the main problems lie and how to correct them. I have assembled cases for both sides of every argument, and will now present my exhibits to the court of public opinion.
The Stadium Is In A Bad Location?
Yes The prevailing argument from many fans across the bridges in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, as well as others around the area, is that Tropicana Field is too far away to be able to get to games on time. Situated about 1520 minutes off Interstate 275 just off of 4th Street North, it takes a drive through large traffic volume in rush hour across one of a few bridges to finally arrive at the stadium. Working fans claim there is no time to get ready and go out there to see games. Fans in areas such as Polk County certainly have a point, having to drive to the very far west of the state and take at least 30 more minutes than it would take to go to games in Tampa. It’s being situated on a series of off roads doesn’t help in terms of locating it. Drivers on 4th Street North basically have to drive looking 90° to the right just to find Tropicana Field. With very few signs indicating exactly where it is, it can be easy to pass for inexperienced drivers. To top that off, the guys on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show talked about how it “couldn’t be any more in the hood.” It doesn’t look like a horrible neighborhood to me, though it is just off the local Martin Luther King Street and that might be just enough to scare some of the older people who populate St. Petersburg.
No Tropicana Field can be driven to in decent time if you pick your spots and drive fast enough to arrive on time. I once left my apartment in northwest Tampa, where I lived at the time, after 5:00, waited in line, bought tickets, and still got in during the pregame. It’s not impossible, at least for those in western Hillsborough County, to drive across the Howard Frankland Bridge and be there for the entire game. It has been proven before, with the NHL’s Lightning and Arena Football’s Storm drawing league record attendances while they played in the thenThunderdome. We know that the people in Pinellas County, who demanded the baseball team to begin with, can always make it out to the Rays games, but why don’t they? People in the immediate area should have no trouble finding the place. And it’s in a “bad neighborhood”? So is Yankee Stadium. And U.S. Cellular Field. Look at the crowds they draw every night. And I have heard no stories of crime in the vicinity of the stadium since it opened. It’s not as bad as it may appear. Just get yourself, wife, kids, whoever is going ready earlier and get to the stadium as quickly as possible. It can be done.
Tampa Bay Is Not A Baseball Town/Is A Fairweather Town?
Yes The Rays have always played second fiddle in the Tampa Bay Area, often a very distant second, to the NFL’s Buccaneers. They have been around the longest time of any sports franchise around here, arriving in 1976. They predated the NHL’s Lightning by 16 years, and the (Devil) Rays by 22 years. The Tampa Spartans college team was really all they had until the early 1970s. Football is the number one sport in the area, year round. From the preseason through the playoffs, then into free agency and the NFL Draft, the Bucs are always in the top headlines. They have developed their loyal fan following and are established as a Tampa icon, unlike the other teams, particularly the Rays. The Rays’ locally televised games are shown on the obscure ION channel 66. The Bucs’ preseason games are shown on NBC channel 8. That alone shows the disparity in coverage. And on April 8 at the Rays home opener, the loudest standing ovation of the night went to Mike Alstott a retired football player. Between the Bucs and the surging South Florida Bulls, with whom they share Raymond James Stadium, football is frequently the talk of the Bay Area. The lack of coverage/years of apathy have led to such incidents as the one Thursday morning on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show, when two out of three callers referred to the team as the “Devil Rays.&rdquo Even Bubba himself was calling them that until a few weeks ago. This team is clearly not a top draw in this market.
On the issue of Tampa being a “fairweather” city, that is basically a wellknown fact. When teams play badly, especially for long periods of time, the people of the area turn their attention to other things almost unlike any other place in America. Bucs games used to never sell out. Then they did when they became a perennial playoff team. But even then, Tampa’s teams have to actually win championships before everyone jumps on the bandwagon. It stems from the mentality of all the transplanted Northerners who watched teams like the Yankees win for all those years. Sure, the Bucs had a season ticket waiting list of tens of thousands for years. But it took a Super Bowl victory to push that figure far above 100,000. The Lightning were already a playoff team, but they had to win the Stanley Cup before they set the NHL record for consecutive sellouts. The people just want proven winners and they fear disappointment. Not that that should be an excuse for leaving a team in the dark, but it’s very true of Tampa sports fans. We need those hardcore fans like the Cowbell Kidd, who has been doing his gimmick and promoting the team since Devil was still in their name, and yours truly, who has been running this blog since before the team was any good. I’ve only been to four games this season, but that beats two the previous three years combined. So those who can go need to at every opportunity.
No Tampa, not a baseball town? It’s been a Spring Training hotspot for over 90 years. Baseball was here before 99% of the population was. Granted, it was mostly low minor league teams and big teams from far away markets, but it has been around. There certainly are people here with enough baseball interest to support the local MLB franchise. If there isn’t a Bucs game on, why not just watch the Rays during that downtime? St. Petersburg was the city that demanded, and later received, their Major League team, but again, why don’t those people go to the games? Well, in another quote from the Bubba Army, “most of those people have died off,” referring to the elderly exNortherners who started the movement for a local team. Between that and the fact that people won’t split up their Yankees and Red Sox allegiances, that town is just screwing itself over and making itself look bad. There are more interested people in Tampa, and once a study is concluded on the best spot to build a new stadium, it may be time to break the lease and move east.
If there really are that many hardcore Rays fans out there, why don’t they fill the seats on a regular basis? My reasoning is that I have little time (school) and little money (college student with bills to pay). But for those who earn good wages and can afford to cheer on the team live and in person, why haven’t they noticed that it’s late August and the team is still winning? In their defense, the 1991 Atlanta Braves only had a home crowd of 20,477 on the night of September 11, the famous combined nohitter. They, too, were in a heated playoff race, and they were still having trouble winning over fans who had sleepwalked through years of abysmal play. So this has happened before, just not under this microscope. But I would think that fans around here could be paying a little more attention and showing more appreciation for this turnaround season. I’m making my plans to go to more Rays games as September hits, and so should thousands of other loyalists.
It’s Too Expensive?
Yes With the rising gasoline prices we’ve seen this year, people are saving more gas and money by traveling less. Those who would drive long distances to Tropicana Field are now saving that gas to extend their paychecks a few more days. With less than four people in a car, parking costs $10, which noncarpoolers are reluctant to pay. Tickets start at $9, better seats at $22, so the parking cost for families is offset by ticket prices. Then food gets to be very highly priced ($8 for chicken fingers and fries?), running the tab off the charts. An average family would spend probably at least $100 per game, all things considered. In today’s receding economy, many of these fans would prefer to save that cash for emergency purposes.
No The Rays were recently named one of the most affordable major sports teams to go and watch. Free parking for those with four or more people in one car and the ability to bring in your own food and drink (thanks Stuart) can ease the burden on the bank account significantly. The team also runs special promotions, such as Dollar Hot Dog Night on Fridays, Party Deck College Night also on Fridays, and Family Fun Day on Sundays. Try living in a place like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York and then see how much games cost. It’s much cheaper here, so please be grateful for the opportunity.
Tropicana Field Is A Subpar Facility?
Yes A dome that has been unfavorably compared to a warehouse because of its seemingly bland architecture and atmosphere, Tropicana Field has also been known as one of the least loved stadiums in the league from day one. The roof makes it difficult to see fly balls, we sit around and look at concrete while the real views are outside, the acoustics are horrible, some seats don’t have great field views, there is nothing to do in the concession areas… those are just samples of what I’ve heard. Some of it is true, especially to those who enjoy the Florida outdoor atmosphere. Why trap yourself inside this plain building when all the fun is out on the beach? They need a new, much better looking stadium soon.
No Stuart Sternberg and the Rays have made over $10 million in renovations since taking over the team. They now have the Ray Tank in center field, the video game lounge, an improved Centerfield Street, and multiple activities for people of all ages, especially during weekend games. Not to mention the weather conditions: 72°, air conditioned. Would you like fried skin and dehydration to go with that ticket? I didn’t think so. Even in Spring Training, that’s what you get sitting outside for hours on end. This is a very comfortable dome with more than enough room. Just enjoy the game and don’t think about the outside.
I think that covers most of the main points of contention among Rays fans across the Tampa Bay Area. I personally believe that the location is not a big issue in terms of where in St. Petersburg it is, because I know how to find Tropicana Field. I think that a new stadium, however, should be much more accessible to most of the Rays’ fanbase. Tampa is a baseball area to some extent, shown by record TV and radio ratings for 2008 Rays games, but fans just need to put aside their worst fears and jump in the line. If you play your cards right financially, the games won’t bankrupt you, just live within your means. And I don’t think Tropicana Field is as terrible as critics claim it is, especially after the recent upgrades. It’s more comfortable than afternoon games under concrete and sun.
As far as your opinions go on this issue and all the questions pertaining to it… that can be for you to decide. You can post them here if you would like to. But I think that if fans only have one or two gripes about going to games, they should put them aside and enjoy what’s happening with this team. We may never see it again. Until next time, go Rays.
The series opener against the Angels was a great one to watch, regardless of how late it was in Florida. In the second inning, the Rays made team history when Evan Longoria, Willy Aybar and Dioner Navarro became the first Rays to ever hit backtobacktoback home runs in a regular season game, doing so against Joe Saunders. Edwin Jackson let the lead get away to 43 in the fourth inning, but the Rays responded with a fiverun inning their next time up and they never turned back. Jackson picked up the victory as the Rays beat the Angels 134 to give Joe Maddon, who worked in the Angels organization for 31 years, his first road win at Angels Stadium. Saunders is now 93, and 02 against the Rays. There are just some pitchers that this team owns. Jackson is 45 after overcoming a few winless starts. Longoria hit two home runs in the presence of friends and family in his native California. Speaking of Californians, the pride of Newhall, James Shields, goes up against Jered Weaver in a battle of young aces tonight. Shields already has a onehit shutout of the Angels on his record this season.
As the Rays continue to wage battles with a very good team in their house, I'll briefly pause to thank Stephanie of the Marmolade Cubs blog for giving me my first plug from another MLBlogger. Well, I plugged hers first, but it was nice of her to return the favor. So thank you again. I am now a Cubs fan. Well, after the Braves and Rays are finished with them next week, then we'll talk. It would make my mom's family proud it is my grandma’s birthday today and she does need a gift. So where are everyone else’s plugs? I’ll get another one about a year from now.
I am giving a speech, the “final project,” in my Principles of Communication class tomorrow night. I have decided to make it about the Rays' new Waterfront Stadium, which is on its way onto the St. Petersburg ballots. I'll be telling people what benefits the stadium brings to the team and the city, where the money is coming from, and that they're fascists if they vote against it. Maybe not the last part, but I could give that message a bit more indirectly.
You know what I haven't had in a while? Big League Chew.
I'll be back soon as the Rays hopefully continue to average 13 runs per game. They really do need to win by a little more than nine every game, the bullpen without Percival scares me just a bit. [/sarcasm] I write early in the morning and end up publishing random comedy. Maybe I should do it more often. Let's just say, until next time, go Rays.
On this Rays off day very rare these days I'll be telling you, Rays fans and otherwise, about some interesting upcoming events.
First, the All Star Game takes place at Yankee Stadium on July 15. I think it's time to vote for some Rays, or at least erase some of the excessive big market influence that has infiltrated this baseball tradition. Some very deserving players are being shortchanged in the voting for this game (B.J. Upton, anyone?) and they need fan support. We should start giving them this support. I've already started, and hopefully others join me in this cause. Vote today, and vote Ray. And by the way, if Chipper Jones doesn't start, I'm starting a riot.
Another major event in progress is the legal process with the city of St. Petersburg to approve the deal on the impending Waterfront Stadium project. Go to http://www.fansforwaterfrontstadium.com for more information on the project and how to support it. I'm entirely behind it, and I think there is no reason not to be. As a matter of fact, no offense to any other Rays fans, I believe that at this point, anyone who doesn't support Waterfront Stadium is an idiot. The funding is right there in place, the land is available, and there is a growing demand for this new, sustainably built, fanfriendly stadium to be constructed and opened. Who wouldn't want to see it open and continue to watch the team and its fanbase grow? The Rays can use this new ballpark, as it should be very comfortable for an openair Florida stadium, and in many ways an upgrade over their current home. So get behind it, urge on the city council and vote for it (if you live in St. Petersburg), and and watch the excitement unfold.
I just thought I would get these opinion pieces/fan requests out of the way before the series in Boston starts. I should be back soon with more on that battle for supremacy, and until then, go Rays.
Hello again Rays fans, this is the aftermath of Rays FanFest 2008. I’ve returned with pictures and a few autographs that highlighted my time at Tropicana Field. This was easily the largest Rays FanFest they’ve ever had, as almost 30,000 fans reportedly showed up for the event. The doors for non-season ticket holders opened at 10:00, and I got there just after 8:30. I had a nice spot in line, as seen by these photos, taken without the aid of zoom:
I did finally get into FanFest, which got off to a bit of a slow start because many of the big things weren’t really happening yet, and those that did had huge lines. Images like these were the first sights upon entering the field:
I found the sights interesting, but the lines to be massive. The waiting times were the only negative part of having such a large turnout. The first people I talked to were from http://www.majorleaguedowntown.com, the people for a new downtown St. Petersburg Waterfront Stadium. They gave me information and a brochure about the new stadium and development that would take place on the current site. Next, I briefly met Rays TV commentators Dewayne Staats, Joe Magrane, and Todd Kalas. After buying a drink, I checked out the autograph lines and found some of them to be far too long to get through in an hour’s time. I tried to get into the James Shields line, but I wasn’t even guaranteed getting to him, so I walked out. Maybe next year for him. I stood around for some time just observing, then I figured that I had to jump into a line sometime soon. At Stage 2 (of 5), Scott Kazmir was up at noon, Akinori Iwamura at 1:00, and Cliff Floyd at 2:00. So at 11:55, I entered the back of that line–and to say it was longer than the Shields line would be an understatement. The line looked like the world’s largest snake, more like a dinosaur, from the back. It weaved around several times and easily had several hundred people in it. I figured that it would be Iwamura signing by the time I got up there, which was perfect for me because it was his 1997 BBM Rookie Card that I wanted signed the most. If not, I had Floyd’s card too, but I didn’t think it would go all the way until 2:00. Even when I got way up in the line, it still looked like this:
In total, I waited in that line for a long hour and 45 minutes. I showed a few people my Iwamura card (someone else had not only his, but even his brother Takashi’s card) and looked around for entertainment. I also caught myself a foam ball that people were throwing out to people in line. Here I am during my painful wait, courtesy of pictures taken by a devoted fan of mine:
I finally arrived up at the front of the line, where I first got my foam ball signed my minor league infielder, ex-Yankee Andy Cannizaro. I briefly talked to him about playing behind Derek Jeter and guys like him, then moved on to Iwamura. I gave him my card, and he said "Rookie!" and then turned over to Cannizaro, to whom he said "12 years ago, 12 years ago!" I just had to laugh. You probably would have too. Then he helped secure my financial future, not to mention make my FanFest complete, by autographing the card. Next, I exited through center field and got some lunch. I was in such need of food at this point that even Papa John’s in small doses was good. After I dragged down the rest of my Souvenir Size Pepsi, I looked for Centerfield Street and found it thanks to the distinctive voice of Dewayne Staats. He, along with Joe Magrane and Todd Kalas, was just opening up a panel discussion with a group of fans (which now included me) where they would answer questions and comments.
I had the honor of asking the first question, which was about the expectations of Matt Garza, our projected new third starter. Magrane went in depth on this topic, comparing Garza to Shields and Kazmir as a guy who has a fastball and a slider as out pitches, but will also throw smarter and not harder to get guys out, and can go up against anybody’s first and second starters. Brief shots about the man traded for him, Delmon Young, followed. They produced a few funny moments, such as Todd Kalas ******* up to his boss for a free beer and Staats doing a picture perfect Harry Caray voice plugging his own beer. The commentators said such things as Shields could have won 18 games last year (Kalas), Barry Bonds was far too much baggage to sign (Magrane, to the cheers of the crowd), Evan Longoria should be called up now (Staats), and the bullpen is much improved (everyone). An elderly fan said that not only was Cliff Floyd better than Barry
Bonds, but even went as far as to predict 93 wins for the Rays this
season. After they exited stage left, radio commentators Dave Wills and Andy Freed, in their fourth year with the Rays, took the stage to speak on many of the same topics (Longoria, pitching), and some different ones (Baldelli/Floyd, Dioner Navarro).
I asked the first question here too, which was about B.J. Upton and whether or not to expect a .300/20-20 season again this year. They mostly talked about his defense, at which he had serious problems for years before his 2007 move to center field. I later asked about Carlos Pena’s power (they expect 30-35 home runs this season) and kayak rental in right field at the new stadium (most likely). They spoke honestly about Dioner Navarro’s disappointing season, whether or not to call up Longoria, and the hardships faced by Rays starting pitchers. I thought it was great to see these guys come into this market and actually care about it like they do, and they turned out to be a highlight of FanFest. After they finished, I returned to the field one last time and found short autograph lines. So I pulled out my previously signed foam ball and headed into Stage 3. Pitching coach Jim Hickey was first–I told him his job should be easier to this year, and he replied that it may be more fun, but may not be easier. He seemed like he wasn’t overly excited to be there, but at the same time, he appeared willing to sign my foam ball. Then I talked to former Mets and Astros infielder Tim Bogar. I told him I used to play as him in my video games, to which he said that he probably got a lot of hits, but couldn’t hit the ball very far. I concurred, telling him he was a singles hitter who played good defense. He confessed that he probably made a lot of outs as he laughed and added his name to the ball. After this, I was out, relatively satisfied.
Rays FanFest 2008 wasn’t exactly perfect, but was indeed a very nice place to be, with tens of thousands of actual optimistic Rays fans. Everyone believes that our best year is ahead of us, with even greater success to follow. The team is finally coming together at the right time, and the image makeover and trades of Young and Elijah Dukes helped improve the team’s attitude. The insiders said so themselves. I’ll be back soon with more Spring Training updates, including pictures from the March 15 Braves-Rays split squad game in Kissimmee. Until next time, go Rays.