Last week, St. Petersburg’s mayor, Bill Foster, said the Rays couldn’t build a new stadium outside of Pinellas County. Two days ago, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the second time in three years, while sweeping the Detroit Tigers. And while Giants fans are celebrating, the city of St. Petersburg is sitting back and wondering what could have been.
In 1989, the city of St. Petersburg was trying to woo Major League Baseball into moving a team or adding an expansion team to their city. After failing to lure the White Sox out of Chicago, the Florida Suncoast Dome, now called Tropicana Field, opened in St. Petersburg in 1990 to show that the city could house a major league team. In 1992, Giants’ owner Bob Lurie agreed to sell the Giants to the Naimoli group of Vince Naimoli, who would become the Devil Rays’ principal owner. Lurie was having trouble securing a deal to build a new stadium after Giants fans were coming to fewer games at Candlestick Park.
Lurie and Naimoli were ecstatic because they both got what they wanted, but what about the fans? Giants fans were distraught, begging that the Giants not move to St. Petersburg. In The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri, Tampa news station WTSP-TV reporter Mike Deeson who describes the final game at Candlestick Park by saying, “There were so many die-hard Giants fans there, and they were just breaking down. Grown men had tears streaming down their faces.”
National League owners eventually voted against Lurie selling the Giants to Naimoli. The Giants were bought in 1993 by a group lead by Peter Magowan, which built their current stadium, AT&T Park.
Imagine what would have happened if the Giants moved to St. Petersburg. The city could be celebrating a World Series win and singing the praises of Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan. But, imagine what the Tampa Bay area would be like without the Rays. No other team can say that they are 162 Strong. Evan Longoria’s infamous walk off home run to clinch the 2011 AL Wild Card electrified the city and Rays fans everywhere.
Without the Rays, Longoria would call another team home, as well as fan favorite B.J. Upton. In his final at bat as a Rays player on October 3, 2012, Rays fans gave Upton a standing ovation and even Upton shed a few tears while sitting in the dugout afterwards. These players are only two of many homegrown talented players that the Rays developed in their farm system, including pitching sensations James Shields and David Price.
Shields was nicknamed “Big Game James” by fans in 2011 and pitched eleven complete games in 2011. He also set the franchise record for pitching fifteen strikeouts in 2012’s second to last regular season game against the Baltimore Orioles. Price earned his first career save in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, sending the Rays to their first World Series appearance and is a Cy Young Award contender this season. Other fan favorites include Matt Joyce, a Tampa native who came to Devil Rays games as a child, and Ben Zobrist, the utility player. Called “Zorilla” by teammates and fans, Zobrist’s skills make him invaluable, which we all witnessed as played shortstop at the end of the season.
Fans could have missed out on seeing these players and others that make the Rays’ roster spectacular if the Rays were never in St. Petersburg.
While many people dislike Tropicana Field because of its location, domed ceiling, and other problems, Tampa Bay is lucky to be home to the Rays. Less focus needs to be on the Trop’s problems and more on what makes the Trop such a great place to take in a game. While playing home to a stellar team and a growing list of inspirational moments and games, people need to accept the Trop and enjoy it for the wonderful events that have happened there. Tampa Bay may have a new stadium in the next few years or have to wait until their lease on the Trop ends in 2027, but no matter what happens, it is a stadium where great moments can be shared by fans and players alike. And hopefully a World Series victory.