How would you feel if the Tampa Bay Rays were sold and moved out of the Tampa Bay area? How does the Las Vegas Rays sound? Or, how about the San Antonio Rays?
Sure, the Rays aren’t moving tomorrow. They probably may not be moving at all. But the prospect of relocating the franchise to a market more suitable to financially support a winning baseball team is a rumor that many Bay area baseball fans find unsettling. The woe of the Rays has very little to do with baseball. Rather, it is the stadium and the surrounding area of downtown St. Petersburg that draws ire instead of attendance. The owner of the Rays, Stuart Sternberg, has made it abundantly clear that St. Petersburg offers little sustainability for a professional baseball team. He has proposed a stadium more centrally located within the heart of a populace.
Distance between a product and a demographic doesn’t work. The problem, in spite of Sternberg’s statistical data that aims to disprove St. Pete’s viability as a place where baseball can thrive, is St. Pete mayor Bill Foster’s insistence that the Rays remain bound by their lease to St. Pete until 2027. He strongly believes that The Rays can achieve strong attendance levels in St. Pete, whether they play at Tropicana Field or the proposed site of Carillon Park. Sternberg is thus not supposed to look anywhere outside of the city limits for a possible site to build a new stadium and relocate his team. Sternberg won’t consider sites in St. Pete until he is allowed to consider options outside the city, to which he is most likely referring to Tampa.
New leases are usually sought when old leases expire. The stadium standoff is complicated further by the ever popular question of who will pay for the new stadium. If revenue isn’t reaching profitable levels now, isn’t it within the realm of possibility that overestimating the revenue boost in a new location could further cripple such a small market franchise? What if state funds, private investments, and tax contributions are poured into a stadium that sees the same attendance levels as Tropicana Field? There aren’t guarantees. We don’t need a new stadium to build a winning team. We already have a winning team. Our primary concern should be the lack of love we are willing to show in support of our team. That’s right, the Rays are our team too, New Port Richey. We deserve to shoulder some of the blame for the weak attendance.
Ideally, Mayor Foster, Mayor Buckhorn, the Rays organization, and the fans all want the same thing: Major League baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come. By proving that the Bay area and professional baseball are good for each other, that mission can be achieved.
The average fan has little say in what the eventual stadium solution will be; we’l let the county commissioners, mayors, and Stuart Sternberg figure that out. The attendance is up to us. A vast majority of the revenue comes from us. All we have to do is fill the seats. We love the Rays, but positive opinions aren’t enough to anchor a team.
Sentimentality is a great thing, but it didn’t keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn, or the North Stars in Minnesota. I don’t think any of us want to prove Mayor Foster wrong. He loves his city. The Rays have always played in St. Pete. If it wasn’t for St. Pete, The Rays wouldn’t even exist. Moving them to Tampa would be an admission that baseball failed at its original location. But if they do relocate to Tampa, that might yet be a good thing. A new stadium in a more densely populated city, albeit adjacent to the old one, might rejuvenate interest throughout the entire region.
The Lightning do very well in downtown Tampa. We don’t want The Rays to leave Tampa Bay. That’s going to be our bottom line. We must make up our minds to fit a ball game or two into our lists of priorities. Let the issues plaguing the Rays unite us rather than divide us. It isn’t a battle between Hillsborough and Pinellas. The Rays are a part of all of us. Think of what we have for a moment.
We have a fun team. The most fun team in the Majors.
The Rays act as though winning is a by -product of having fun. Their themed road trips and clubhouse antics give them a personality and reputation that other teams don’t have.
Remember the choreographed leotard dance in front of the Green Monster at Fenway in Boston?
I’m sure the Red Sox do. At a time when the Red Sox were experiencing a tumultuous rift between players and management, the Rays reminded the locals that baseball should be fun. Remember the run to the World Series in 2008 and the playoff clinching win over the Yankees on the last day of the season in 2011 (widely regarded as the best night in baseball history)?
Remember Evan Longoria throwing his arms up as he rounded the bases after his game winning twelfth inning home run? The Rays came back from a seven run deficit in that game.
A little extra support from the fans of New Port Richey won’t solve the problem, but a show of faith from our neck of the woods would only strengthen the Bay area resolve that Rays baseball is ours. Out of state markets will have to bid for their own expansion team. The Rays belong in Tampa Bay.