Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rays players have nothing to apologize for

By Chris Ruddick

Philadelphia, PA - Someone needs to let the people in St. Petersburg and nearby Tampa know that the Rays clinched their second postseason appearance in team history on Tuesday, because judging by the crowds at Tropicana Field this week, the Rays appear to be as popular in the area as the current tropical depression.

Sure, the close-to-18,000 in attendance to watch them clinch on Tuesday were almost 6,000 more than who showed up on Monday when the team first tried to lock it up.

But let's be honest, 17,891 for a playoff clinching win is not a flattering number. Actually it is downright embarrassing, especially for a team that has been one of the best in the league the last three seasons.

Following Monday's loss to Baltimore which drew just over 12,000 fans in a game that could have put them into the playoffs, David Price took to the 24- hour microphone that is Twitter and stated: "Had a chance to clinch a postseason spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands....embarrassing."

Only 17,891 fans were in attendance to watch the Rays clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday. Price's sentiments, which he apologized for shortly after his initial tweet, were echoed earlier in the evening when the team's other young star Evan Longoria told a local newspaper, "For us to play 155 games and go a full season of playing really good baseball, it's kind of like, what else do we have to do to draw fans into this place? It's actually embarrassing for us."

Price had nothing to be sorry about. The fact that we are even talking about this is a joke, and it is about time some of the Rays started speaking out.

"It's kind of become something that's really not talked about anymore because we just kind of expect it," Longoria added. "But it's really not something we want to come to expect; we want to be able to go out there and know there's going to be 30- to 35,000. Especially at a time like this. That's the biggest thing for me.

"The middle of the year when we're not playing very well and we haven't had a track record of playing very well, then that's kind of acceptable I guess because of the way the Tampa Bay franchise has been. But at this point of the year, you'd expect some fans to come out."

Everyone in the Tampa area today seems to be patting themselves on the back for the crowd that showed up on Tuesday. Really? Is that something to be proud of? There were over 31,000 in Cincinnati to watch the Reds clinch on Tuesday. Had Longoria and Price not spoken up, I am sure that number would have been lower too.

Ownership has a part in this too. For one, Tropicana Field is an awful venue for baseball, plus people in the Tampa area will tell you that the field is not exactly the easiest place to get to.

Team owner Stu Sternberg realizes this too, is trying his best to get the team a new ballpark, and has stated that the Rays will not last at the Trop through the end of their contract in 2027. However, finding a landing spot for a potential new ballpark has been a problem.

Still, though, ticket prices for the Rays are as reasonably priced as any team in the league. Far better than say Philadelphia, which has a 12-percent unemployment rate, but has still sold out Citizens Bank Park for the last 123 games.

What is going to happen next year? Sternberg has already said that the Rays' payroll will drop in 2011 due in part to the fact that the team averages 22,913 fans per home game, which ranks 22nd of 30 teams in the league.

Tampa-St. Pete doesn't support this team which has been among the best in the league the last three years. How many people are going to show up when Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena leave?

Bottom line is if you put a good product on the field people should show up. Maybe the Tampa Bay area just isn't a 162-game baseball town. Perhaps spring training is enough for the majority of the fan base down there.

Someone mentioned that if the Rays want to get fans into the Trop, maybe they should play a college football game there.

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