Debunking the myth of the Tampa Bay Rays fan

“You gonna watch the game tonight?” asked one passerby to another.

“You know I am.  I got my t-shirt in the car and I’m just waiting to get off,” the other answered.

This conversation, between two men who had never met, took place only hours before Game Five of the American League Division Series, the second biggest home game in Rays history.

Tampa Bay received a lot of criticism for its lack of attendance this season but even though fans didn’t turn out to the Trop in droves, there’s no denying the community is firmly behind this team.

Once thought dead and buried, the Rays vanquished a two-games-to-nothing deficit to force a fifth and deciding game against the eventual American League champion Texas Rangers.  Although they ended up losing, Rays fans area-wide couldn’t have been more proud of their team.

Don’t be fooled, people.  Rays fans aren’t flighty.  This area knows its baseball.  They know their lineups, they know their rotation and they repeatedly bemoan the coaching tendencies of the numerically-inclined Joe Maddon.

For example, there isn’t a person around who didn’t either openly dispute starting James Shields in Game Two, rip BJ Upton a new one for his cold, post-season start, question why Kelly Shoppach was in the Game Five lineup or hasn’t already concluded Carl Crawford will be wearing a different uniform in 2011.  Despite popular opinion, Rays fans are both dedicated and knowledgeable.

If work didn’t call that night, I’d have trekked across the water and purchased a ticket for Game Five for THAT was the atmosphere every sports fan wants to experience in person.  I chose instead, to watch at a local pub with some friends as soon as I got off work.  A season ticket holder told me later that the Trop was at standing room only.

Rays fans littered the restaurant I was at as well, only to leave disappointed.

In the end, a few costly mental errors and an inhuman performance from Cliff Lee cost the Rays their season. Weeks later, fans are still talking about the year that was and what could have been.

Look, the Rays have several obstacles no other expansion team has had to face:

Tampa is comprised of transplants, many of whom are Boston or New York fans.  Asking them to trade in the red socks or pinstripes they were raised on and begin cheering for another team, particularly one they see as inferior, is tantamount to asking them to give up their first born.

The Rays had the misfortune of being placed in the American League East, perennially the most competitive division in baseball.  They play baseball’s deepest payrolls 36 times a year.  Once considered a division doormat, the Rays can no longer be overlooked.

Tampa is the only Major League city which boasts a field bearing the name of its bitter rival’s late owner.  Steinbrenner Field, one of the most beautiful spring training facilities in all of baseball, stands right across the street from Tampa’s football stadium.

Derek Jeter has played 2295 games in a Yankee uniform.  The Rays have only played 2106 games in their entire existence.

Despite all this, and another year falling short of their goal, all is not lost as many local sportswriters would have you believe.  After the Game Five loss, Marc Topkin of the St Pete Times wrote this “could be the end of the Rays’ run of success.” Gary Shelton told Rays fans to “say goodbye to excellence” and that “the ride is over.” After watching the Rangers make quick work of the Yankees in the ALCS, the Rays performance doesn’t look all that bad in hindsight.

Were the Rays a better team than the Rangers, or even the San Francisco Giants, who barely made the post-season?  Perhaps.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  That doesn’t mean this team, even with the forthcoming changes, won’t be back.

Ownership has made no secret of its plans to slash payroll but doing so and putting a winning product on the field are not mutually exclusive.  The Rangers proved you don’t need to break the bank to build a championship team.  Their payroll is considerably less than Tampa Bay’s.  All you need is a few key ingredients.  The Rays already have many of those pieces in place and a slew of young talent that’s dying to get into the lineup.

Next year the Rays will have one more year experience under their belt, another excruciating sense of underachievement to inspire them and a new generation of fans who weren’t raised on their parents’ passion for another team.

These Rays will not roll over.  Don’t be surprised if this team continues to exceed expectations.

27 thoughts on “Debunking the myth of the Tampa Bay Rays fan

  1. Chris

    This is the same old story that’s continually dredged up as cannon fodder. You want to know a fact ……. Sternberg bitches and whines but rarely does he take time to attend Rays’ home games . But somehow his ass can be found attending a Knicks’ Mets or Yankees game ? What are his actual priorities concerning the Rays other than bilking the community in order to get a new venue built ? I couldn’t give a damn ’bout a hypocrite who for the large part is now stiffing the community of Tampa while sitting on his a_s in NYC making millions as a financier investor in the commodities market.

    Rich DeVos who owns the Magic and was a co founder of Amway got the residents of Orlando to stump up $400 million to build their new facility . Out of pocket expenses for De Vos a measly $100 million . This from a guy whose wealth is estimated to be just over $2.6 billion .

    tophatal :)

  2. All good points and similar to the arguments heard about the two time world champion Marlins here in SoFlo but you left out a key one that also applies down here. The Trop is a lousy place to see a game as is Pro Player/Joe Robbie/Landshark/ whatever the hell they call it this week. For starters the Trop is outdated and not the right configuration for baseball at this level.It is also on the wrong side of the bay! The stadium in SoFlo also sucks but for different reasons. The two most obvious are horrible sight lines. You are forced to look over your shoulder the whol game. It’s not great for Football either because you are way to far from the field. The other issue is that an outdoor stadium in the summer is a rainout looking for a place to happen. It is also geographically challenged similar to the Trop as most Marlin Fans are in Broward and Palm Beach and the stadium is in Miami. To make matters worse the new stadium is being built on the site of the old Orange Bowl which is in a pretty crappy area and even further south. But at the end of the day its really about the transplants and the owners ripping the roster apart every year or two. Hard to root for a team when the guys you love end up elsewhere. The league is scattered with former Marlins. Cody Ross, Edgar Rentaria to name just two who were huge in the recent playoffs. It’s about to be scattered with former Rays as well.

  3. Chris

    Moss was jettisoned from the Jets after a verbal altercation with a coaching staff member. Enough expletives were used by Moss to make even Rex Ryan blush as he cast aspersions about that staff member’s birthright , parentage and ethnicity . Thanks Randy but no thanks you ought to know when to fold ‘em and when to show ‘em !

    He’ll have to kiss much a_s to find his way back into the good graces of Belichick and the team .

    Nepotism Can Be A Double Edged Sword ….. That Bitch Can Cut Both Ways And It Hurts !

    :(

    tophatal :)

  4. Too much to drink got Jets on the mind instead of the Pats. Landed a big client for the firm via some old contacts back in the UK.

    top’ ……….

  5. Chris

    It’s not only that some teams that’ve proved to be disappointing this season but the real lack of quality coaching around the NFL .

    top’ .. :)

  6. Thanks for the demographic lesson Chris! I never really thought all that hard about what was up with the Rays fans. It makes sense there are a lot of transplants there, just like where I am in LA.

    I do think they are going to have a slight rebuild year after this one, but I doubt they will be that bad!

    Here’s a good post from one of our readers that broke down the World Series in a different way. I thought it was interesting so you might too… http://classic17.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/the-world-series-but-different/

  7. Hold on now, Al. Let’s not paint DeVos out to be some sort of saint.

    There was a long time there where was a crappy product on the court and Magic fans were stuck watching Darrell Armstrong trying to score 20 every night.

    He got lucky when he assigned Otis Smith that GM position because Gabriel wasn’t getting crap done. Drafting Brooks Thompson in the first round is not my idea of franchise-building.

    Call me naive but I still feel that Rays brass want to put a winning product on the field. I just don’t think they want to go broke while doing so.

  8. Seth…

    It’s funny you should mention the Trop. I didn’t want to dwell too much on that topic or use it as a crutch like so many have.

    The guy I mentioned in the Rays piece, the season ticket holder, now, he was just a poll of one and you’re right, most gripe about the ballpark, but he said he loved going there.

    It’s no Camden Yards or brand new Yankee Stadium but shit, man, it’s a ballpark. Fenway isn’t the nicest of accommodations but people go because it’s the Sox and they only fit 35,000 people.

    The topic of constructing a new stadium and where to build it will come up soon. The stadium will likely move over this way, eventually. And we’ll unfortunately have to follow the daily soap opera that ensues.

    Until then, I really feel the “It’s a shitty stadium” argument doesn’t hold much water.

  9. Al…

    It looks like the Titans for Moss.

    That’s a pretty good little team. We’ll see if he makes or breaks them.

    Vince Young is already a sensitive enough cat as it is. The last thing he needs is Randy Moss’ redneck ass laying into him.

  10. Chap…

    Rays fans are worried about losing Pena, Crawford and their closer, Soriano, who was pretty damn money this season.

    Who knows what will happen behind closed doors but what I saw from this Rays team was that they had lots of good young talent in the pipeline ready to come in and contribute.

  11. All the more reason to take the Rays and Marlins out of cities with crappy fan attendance and move them somewhere that will support them, or better yet, shut them down. Too many teams already! I’m so tired of the “crappy stadium” argument. It’s crappy fans and ridiculous prices. There are too many teams with lousy stadiums in smaller markets that pulled in far more fans than the Rays and Marlins. The Rays with the best team in the majors couldn’t pull in more than 8-10,000 fans. Tell them it’s a soccer game and they will come in droves.

  12. Dan-O…

    Spoken like a Bulldawg who just got upset by the Florida Gators.

    Here’s a link to some 2010 MLB attendance figures:

    http://espn.go.com/mlb/attendance/_/sort/homePct

    The Rays drew just shy of 2 million fans, a number that used to be a pretty good showing just a few year ago.

    They averaged 23,000 fans this season, slightly above your estimate of 8 to 10 grand (Georgia math).

    Compared to the size of the area’s population, those numbers are actually better than others. Plus they ranked in the top ten in most watched teams on television in their local market.

    Unemployment is around 12% here, brother. Cut us some slack.

  13. Chris,

    Living just north of Tampa/St. Pete I’ve been swept up into following the Rays. I don’t look for much of a let down next season, in fact I can see them doing as well or better. Look at who won the World Series. A team that struggles to score runs but is loaded with young guns pitching the ball… Sound familiar? I’m looking for an attitude adjustment next season. I hate the thought of CC moving on, but as you pointed out there are several young potential stars just chomping at the bit to get on the big club. By attitude adjustment I mean possibly shipping Shields down the road and letting Carlos “Home Run Swing—Strike Out King” Pena go find someone else who wants a good fielding, light hitting first baseman. B.J. Upton might be worth something too… The one real need next season is once again a closer. I can’t see the Rays’ management trying to sign Soriano after the season he just had. Howell should be back after missing the whole season but will he be the same???

    No, other than a top notch closer, the Rays would appear to have the players to make yet another run.

    Now what can be done about this terrible economy?

  14. Well apparently, Dwin, the voters have spoken and a clean Republican sweep is just what the economy needs.

    Re: Crawford, it’ll be an interesting off-season. I don’t think teams are going to shell out major bucks for free agents simply because of the economy and attendance figures.

    Not long ago, the Sox and Yanks would drive up the cost on a guy like Crawford just to make smaller market teams pay more but I don’t know that that will happen this year.

    He’s the Rays all-time hit leader but in this day and age, who other than Jeter stays with the team they came up with for their entire career. Either way, he was definitely a fan favorite.

    And your Giants comparison is appropriate. I saw a lot of similarities between those two teams.

    Another name we haven’t mentioned is Garza. I’ve heard trade rumors involving him for a bat.

    Ladies and gentlemen… I present to you Dwin the man, a knowledgeable Rays fan who just proved my case.

    Thank you, sir, may I have another?

  15. Good points made, C-H.
    In addition to the problems stated, you have more than half your regional fan base in Tampa Bay making a commute they feel is a bit too long, myself included, to make it to games. And STILL the team drew well among the rest of the smaller market teams; many people consider it a small market but that point is still up for debate.
    Regardless of the commute, I think the Trop is not a bad place to take in a game. Sun Sports’ own Todd Kalas told me the stadium is underrated and I agree. It’s not exactly a suite for everyone involved but $8 a seat in the party deck? I spend more on gas getting there. It’s a hell of a deal.
    While I am worried about the repercussions of the unavoidable roster losses (Crawford, Soriano) I think what many fail to realize is that they’re not the only ones leaving. Joaquin Benoit is free agency bound, as is a good chunk of the bullpen. At the same time, the organization still has a solid core of talented young players to build around. I’m a bit worried, but it aint the end of the world.
    Good stuff, as always. Keep it up, man.

  16. The Rays will have very good starting pitching next year. The addition of Hellickson to the rotation will improve an already solid group.
    The bullpen is good and if J.P. returns to form can be a very realiable closer.
    They can probably resign Pena and Desmond Jennings, while no Crawford by any means, can continue the tradtion of speed in the outfield and on the base paths.
    We ain’t done yet brother!

  17. Thanks, KT.

    And I know you look forward to covering the upcoming stadium debate.

    Shame we didn’t catch a game together this year but next year, fo’ sho’.

  18. Aer…

    I think everyone is looking forward to what Hellickson will do in that rotation.

    Whether Garza stays or is traded, most feel Hellboy can come in and fill in at either that two or three hole.

    I’m iffy on Pena, man. I’d like to see fewer homers and twenty points higher in that batting average, but who wouldn’t?

    Unlike Al, I trust ownership to make the right moves.

  19. Chris

    I never alluded to the fact that DeVos was a gilded lilly . He’s just like any other owner who happens to own a professional sports franchise. Greed plays its part !

    What you fail to take into account concerning the Marlins is that they lease their stadium for games from the owners of the Dolphins . No other team in MLB is in that situation and furthermore they get little if any of the concessions as it relates to parking food and beverages as that all goes into the pockets of the owners.

    We all know now that the Rays front office will prune their payroll and in doing so it’ll be back to square one as far as the team goes. I’ve faith in the fact Friedman will make what he deems to be the right decisions but at the same time even you have to acknowledge that they’ll face an uphill task competing next season in the AL East.

    You simply know that neither the Red Sox, Yankees will stand pat and the Blue Jays are an ever improving organization.

    tophatal :)

  20. Chris

    The Magic under Gabriel only achieved limited success . Shaq , Lil Penny and their first appearance in the NBA Finals. In comes in Weisbrod and that moron couldn’t spot talent much less spell the word.

    And as good as the team now appears to be I’m still not sold on the likes of Carter or Lewis to step up to the plate when it really matters ! As for Dwight ’til he can show us all that he’s a dominant force and presence within the game he’ll merely be seen as a guy who’s a caricature of what a truly great center ought to be.

    tophatal :)

  21. Chris

    Titans’ owner Bud Adams wants to know if Moss hates Jews, Italians , Latinos or women given his own perspicacity when it comes to throwing out epithets of any kind ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Marge Schott is now said to be spinning in her grave .

    Between now and the Winter Meetings we’ll see the moves made by the Rays’ front office and the direction that they intend to go in.

    Aybar gone , Pena gone , Baldelli one and quite possibly several guys from their bullpen. Soriano is not liable to return given the fact that he’s hired Scott Boras as his agent. And there’s no way in hell that I can see them paying what’s allegedly the going rate for Crawford at between $15-$18 million a year for seven years . Way over the budgetary restraints that Sternberg has set for the payroll which will be way under $ 60 million next season that’s for sure.

    tophatal :)

  22. But the Marlins have a new stadium being built, don’t they, Al?

    Last time I went to a Marlins game, there were about 5000 people there. Of course, that’s not what it said in the box score.

  23. You’re right about Dwight, Al. I want to see how his post game will show up in this year’s playoffs. He has to be a force and consistently so. He’s still, however, the best center in the league.

    I wonder how Patrick felt about him warming up with Hakeem this off-season.

  24. I’m sure Schott would give Moss a chance in her lineup, Al.

    And I’m interested in seeing not only the changes the Rays make but where Las Vegas sets their over/under for wins next season.

  25. Pingback: Debunking the myth of the Tampa Bay Rays fan, MLB | Hyping the Best Sports Blogs, News | BallHyped

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