Every once a while on the highway, I drive by Farleigh Dickinson University. I pass right by their baseball field and one day I noticed something striking: the field had been renamed the “Naimoli Family Baseball Complex.” Ex-Rays owner Vincent Naimoli dedicated the “Complex” along with his family at the school where he received his MBA.
The field is relatively nice, I guess. But it’s nothing special- it’s certainly no complex. It’s right by the highway so you hear the sounds of cars more than the sounds of fans. Speaking of the fans, they only have a couple sets of bleachers to sit in, far from luxury accommodations. The field is made of artificial turf and it looks fine. There’s a groundskeeper who I see there every once in a while, but it doesn’t look like he does very much. Whenever I see the FDU team play there, there’s like 20 fans there and they’re losing by 5 or 6 runs. Sound anything like a real stadium we’re all familiar with?
Vince Naimoli was all about gutting down all costs to the absolute bare minimum. This “Baseball Complex” is the absolute bare minimum of the definition of a “complex,” and then a little further. For Tropicana Field, it’s a baseball stadium, sure. A nice one? No. But let’s not even worry about how the Trop looks right now. Vince Naimoli signed a 30 year lease of Tropicana Field with the City of St. Petersburg. He spent as little money as he possibly could. How? He wasn’t willing to pay more in exchange for the opportunity for out-clause in the deal after say 15 or 20 years , or a buyout, or any way to get out out of the contract. That stupid decision, Naimoli’s relentlessness at being as cheap as he possibly could be, has completely handcuffed the Rays as they try to sort their stadium situation.
Whenever I pass by the Naimoli Family Baseball Complex, I shake my head and wonder what could have been. Nothing brings more joy to me than watching the Rays, but imagine the Rays in a beautiful modern stadium with the type of fan support at the stadium that they have deserved for years now? Vince Naimoli wanted to pay nothing and get everything. Now, the Rays do that in a way, possessing one of the lowest payrolls in baseball while being one of the best teams in the sport. But instead of doing the minimum like Naimoli did, they do the maximum they can within their resources, being more efficient than any franchise in baseball and possessing the best group of talent evaluators that baseball has ever seen. Naimoli wanted the Farleigh Dickinson baseball team to go to the major leagues and win. That’s impossible. And Naimoli’s nonsensical, misguided belief continues to plague the Rays today.