Progress: No longer trapped at the Trop, Rays free to look for new home

trop neonThere’s a Major League Baseball stadium that nobody goes to.  It’s about 38 miles from my house.

A pretty good and consistently competitive baseball team plays there.  That team is the Tampa Bay Rays.  That stadium is Tropicana Field.

38 miles doesn’t seem like much.  After all, I grew up in New York City where it took well over an hour by either car or train to get from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play.  Ironically, that distance was also about 38 miles.  Of course that was a different time.  Baseball was more important and stadium beers didn’t cost fifteen bucks a pop, not that I was old enough to drink one.

Unlike the majority of Major League Baseball teams, the Rays have struggled to draw fans into “The Trop” for a number of reasons.  The stadium is old, many claim.  It’s a bitch of a commute, others persist.  Parking’s impossible, most concur.  And to top it all off, a small market team competing in a division with teams that spend two to four times the amount Tampa does wears a fan base down.

All of those reasons are valid and founded, I suppose.  Whether they’re founded enough to deter fans from passing through the turnstiles is the $64 million question, as is whether the team will even stay in Tampa Bay.

Well, all that might be about to change… maybe.  In a perfect world, at least a perfect world according to billionaire sports owners, fans would flock to see their championship team raise a trophy in a ballpark that still has that new stadium smell.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least not in Tampa where the Rays remain stuck in a stadium that harkens back to the Houston Astrodome.

st pete post cardFor the longest time, there has been talk about building a stadium in Tampa, across the water, in a more populous and centrally located area.  The only problem is the team has been trapped at the Trop with a lease that doesn’t end until 2027.  Despite all the talk about how relocating could increase fan interest, the city of St. Petersburg has consistently prohibited the team to flirt with other sites.

That changed last week.

St. Petersburg’s City Council softened its stance, finally allowing the team to look at other areas to build a new stadium.  That might not seem like much but it’s actually one giant step for Rays’ kind.

The entire ordeal has evolved into a delicate, political battle between sister (albeit rival) cities arguing over the future location of its sports franchise whose legitimate third option is picking up and moving altogether.  Fortunately for Tampa Bay (the area, not the team) no other U.S. city is showering Rays ownership with flowers and chocolate.

With the team now released from St. Pete’s shackles, both cities begin their courting process.  Even though much of the talk focuses moving the team to Tampa, its current city (St. Petersburg) still thinks it’s in play, although that would literally mean moving the stadium only a few miles from its current location, which seems like a tremendous waste of money.  Then again, so does building a new stadium anywhere if you’re a taxpayer who may have to pony up an extra half-penny sales tax for it.

imagesDespite the two cities duking it out in sometimes combative styles, the only hope is that both parties realize moving the team out of the Sunshine State results in lose-lose for Central Florida.

So far, progress has been baby step slow. Small time politics hasn’t gotten nasty… yet.  Since no other U.S. city has pressed for the Rays to move, they remain local for now.  Baseball fans in the area can only hope the recent progress will mean the team stays put, in new digs.  That also means fans would have to attend, of which there is no guarantee especially once that new stadium smell is all but gone.

Tampa has a rich and lengthy baseball history.  Here’s hoping the Rays don’t soon become part of it.

17 thoughts on “Progress: No longer trapped at the Trop, Rays free to look for new home

  1. Having departed Florida quite some time ago I’m not aware of the potential sites available on the Tampa side at this time. That said the St. Pete location and the elderly population in the immediate vicinity was a terrible combination known to all 15+ years ago. Most of us hate to hear discussions regarding moving a sports franchise which would deprive the locals of their favorite team, but moving the Rays to the Tampa side would be less dramatic than moving the Warriors from Oakland to San Francisco for example. I’m not sure that you’d see much of a drop off in attendance from the west side but the increase in attendance from the Tampa and Orlando folks would more than make up for it. More importantly it would bring some life into the stands.

  2. Call me old school, but baseball should be played on green grass and under blue skies.

    I’ve always disliked watching games played in domes on artificial grass. I was so pleased when the Twins moved to their new outdoor stadium, where they seemed to lose their tenth man.

    I know, it’s hot and humid in Florida, and the games likely couldn’t be played in an open stadium in July and August, maybe even June and September, which is maybe reason enough for the team to move to a more northern climate, and where a fan base would welcome them.

    BTW, I never understood the wisdom of having a hockey team in Florida and Arizona either. This ice in those arenas are soft pretty much all season long, let alone in May and June.

  3. This gives them a little bit of wiggle room. You never ever know what US city might suddenly pop up into play and Montreal certainly keeps being mentioned as a place worthy to get their franchise back. I would love, love, love to see Tampa Bay stay. Question I have is…does MLB want them to stay…for any franchise move would likely mean mo money for sure. Money talks. I saw where Toronto is using a dirt infield so their outfield and the Trop are the only artificial turfs left. Here’s hoping this move towards keeping the Rays is not artificial but the real deal!

  4. I’m not a fan of any of the teams in Tampa so I won’t travel 3+ hours to watch them unless they play Atlanta. I took my kids to a Braves/Devil Rays game a while back and not only was the stadium a dump but the ticket prices were too expensive. A Rays fan next to me said, “It was Yankee Stadium last week, Turner Field this week, and will be Fenway Park next week!” They charge high prices because so many vacationers from up north will pay a lot of money to watch their team when they are in town. I’ve always said they should combine the Marlins and Rays teams in Orlando. They may never have a home crowd, but they would always have a packed stadium.
    I agree with J. Conrad, play it on natural grass. You can build a retractable roof stadium if weather is threatening. And if they stay in the area, Tampa is the better location.

  5. Good read. I think that a stadium in Tampa would draw more fans, if the right spot can be found.
    I have to question your statement that Shea Stadium was 38 miles away from the Upper West Side. It’s far less than that, maybe about 12 miles or so, depending on where you start the trip.

  6. How often do the Tampa Bay Rays sellout for a home game , Chris ? Also, with the lease on the Trop now rescinded , will Stuart Sternberg and the organization (front office) be paying Pinellas County the $24 million they’re due for the breaking of the lease agreement ? I doubt the county commissioners are willing to overlook that very point , even if they voted 5-3 to grant the Rays the chance to move elsewhere.

    And how much @ss kissing do you believe will now take place by Hillsborough County County Commission , as they seek to lure the Tampa Bay Rays into Hillsborough County ? At the same time , the county’s pseudo agency , Tampa Bay Sports Authority , who are they going to try and con’ in suggesting public financing ought to be used to build the Rays a new stadium ? These are the questions which need to be asked answered . If only there was enough intelligence to be found within country commission and Tampa Bay Sports Authority.

  7. LN…

    They’re actually talking about building a stadium in between Channelside and Ybor which, needless to say, would be huge. If they kept it true to Tampa’s history and built a nice brick stadium, it’d be a draw.

    Of course there are no guarantees but I’ll tell ya’ this. The Lightning draw. The commute is easy. You can take local transport and they put forth a quality product.

    I’ve been to more hockey games over the past two years than I’ve been to Rays and Bucs game combined.

    If you build it, they will come. They just need to have all their ducks in a row. And a retractable dome is a must.

  8. Conrad…

    We get a lot of rain in the summer time. In fact, you can bet on it. Daily. That’s why I said retractable roof is the way to go.

    No obstacles, only opportunities. I know it’s a gamble but they’ve for the space for it. They just don’t have the corporate money here.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind paying a half a cent tax for it but I’m probably in the minority.

    Like I mentioned in the post, Tampa has a baseball history that goes back for years. If they kept it true to the city, the area, and its heritage, it’d be the place to be seen and the thing to do all summer long.

    Til then, they play in that dump that really doesn’t feel like a Major League ballpark.

  9. Burnsy…

    Them leaving is a definite possibility.

    I didn’t go to a game last year. I may have gone to one or two the year before. It’s a hike for me, that’s for sure. Plus, as you’ve heard, traffic at that hour going across the bridge is a bear.

    I don’t know that I’d buy season tickets, I mean who has the time (or money) for that but I’d definitely hit a few more games if they built a nice ballpark for these guys and for this city.

    Again, sell me a product. What am I buying and why am I buying it?

  10. Dan-O…

    It’s not nearly as bad as it was back in the day but you’re right, when the Sox or Yanks come into town, there are a lot of jerseys and hats from the opposing teams.

    First, that’s because there are a lot of transplants and second, it’s actually cheaper for Sox fans living in Boston to fly down and buy a ticket or two to a Rays game than it is for them to see them play in Fenway.

    You can’t fabricate history. Fenway Park is 100 years old. That’s the problem the Rays run into. But they can make the new stadium all about the area, especially if they build it in Ybor.

    That’d bring fans… I think.

  11. Brother Bill…

    I can tell ya’, it seemed like it took forever to get there back in the day.

    Just like it does to the Trop.

    At least NY had the public transit option. No such thing here in Tampa.

  12. Al…

    You know as well as I do that the Rays only sell out for opening day, Red Sox games, Yankees games and if they make the playoffs.

    That’s about it.

    At this point, we have to put our faith in the community leaders to get the job done. They are still a LONG way away from any of that happening.

  13. ‘Bout time they finally shifted from that place… I hope they do that sailboat looking thing they proposed a few years ago. It could be neat to have something wild and new… though nothing will top OPACY #Biased

  14. I remember driving through Baltimore years back, KP, when Camden had just been built.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t that the first of a new breed of stadiums that went through MLB?

    I think Tampa’s got the chance to do something special and like I suggested, if they keep it true to Tampa, I think the place will be a huge draw.

    We always hear excuses like Tampa doesn’t have corporate money, which it doesn’t but I’m sure they can still get things done.

    In my mind, it’s better than the alternative, which is no baseball at all.

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