Thursday, August 28, 2008

Staying away from the Rays

With a little more than a month remaining in the regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays are in the thick of the pennant race for the first time in franchise history.

And, really, no one down here cares. Tonight's Rays game against Toronto figures to be the fifth time in the past six games when Tropicana Field has hosted fewer than 16,000 fans.

Says John Romano:
Call it sobering. Call it disappointing. Soon, you may be calling it disturbing or threatening.

Because if you assume the attendance figures have been lost in the excitement of the division standings, you are naive. The commissioner's office has taken notice, and owner Stuart Sternberg has surely been paying attention.

And what they see is a community running out of excuses. It's no longer about poor ownership, because Sternberg's crew has done everything possible to reach out to the fans. And it's no longer about losing because the Rays have been among baseball's best teams for four months.

For a number of reasons, Florida - in particular, the Tampa Bay area - is a terrible market for professional teams: many residents (like me) are transplants with allegiances to other teams; the downturn in the economy has hurt Florida more than most other places; and, to be honest, most people down here care only about college football.

But the Tampa-St. Pete metro area isn't going to get too many chances to prove itself as a viable market for pro baseball. The clock is ticking and the nation will soon be watching, assuming the Rays advance to the postseason. Those empty seats at the Trop will look awfully sad before a national TV audience.

I get the feeling, however, no one will really miss the Rays until they're gone. If then.

No comments: