It is close to the end of the 2021 baseball season, and the Tampa Bay Rays have clinched the division pennant at home, doing so before 23,783 fans, the team’s largest home crowd of the season.
Coincidentally, on the same day, Saturday, Sept. 25, team president Matt Silverman appeared on that day’s podcast of “This Week in Rays’ baseball.” (Comments can be heard starting at the 32:45 mark).
Silverman said that during the post-season, the Rays will add a “sign with a very simple Tampa Bay Montreal graphic.” Silverman said the sign will mark the effort “subtlety” while keeping the focus on winning games in October.
Silverman may see the sign as a subtle message, but it has been a slap in the face to loyal fans of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Under the plan, which would initiate in 2028 after the Rays’ lease with Tropicana Field expires, the team would play in Tampa Bay through June, and then play the remainder of the season in Montreal. Post-season games would rotate between the two cities, probably on a yearly basis.
Both cities would build new open-air stadiums as well.
Silverman has cited the plan as the only hope to continue baseball in the Tampa Bay area in the future. Maybe so, but is it the fans’ fault?
Tampa Bay Rays should blame Tropicana Field, not the fans, for their attendance issues
Putting it simply, Tropicana Field (the Trop) is a dump. It is reminiscent of being a youngster in the Northeast in elementary school being told, due to “inclement weather,” that we instead would play baseball inside the gymnasium. It made no sense, but it was baseball season, so we had to play baseball indoors.
Never mind the basketball hoops that provided a constant obstacle for fly balls, and other restrictions from playing an outside game indoors.
Admittedly, if constructed properly, an indoor baseball stadium can work. But the one major premise is that the stadium must be designed for playing baseball, which is the major problem with Tropicana Field: they have tried to fit a baseball stadium within an already-constructed edifice that was not built for that purpose.
From the start, the fans have been blamed for not going to the Trop to watch games. Ignoring that the stadium is a dump, it is also very inconveniently located. First, fans must make the journey to arrive at the Trop. They then have to pay for parking, pay for admission to the game, and buy at the concession stands at inflated prices.
Does the average Joe want to do that, or stay at home and watch on TV?
Interestingly, the TV ratings for the Rays are good, so there is fan interest in the team. There is no problem with the Tampa Bay Bucs attracting football fans to Raymond James Stadium and the Tampa Bay Lightning attracting hockey fans to Amalie Arena.
The major difference is that they both play in Tampa, while the Rays are in St. Petersburg As Rays’ pitcher Tyler Glasnow has said, “Nobody wants to come over the bridge and sit in traffic for three hours. . . “
So the question now is whether Rays fans will be content watching their games on TV, if the games are played in Montreal.
Essentially, there would be little difference from the current situation. The choice, however, of going to a game later in the season would be removed.
Phenom Shane Baz started at the Trop on Sunday. Tampa Bay-area fans could have decided to go to the Trop to see him. That choice would not have existed if the team was in Montreal.
It is a tough situation. Fans are not turning out to see games in person, but there is little to make them want to do so. In light of that, management is threatening to allow Tampa Bay fans to have a team for half of a season.
Is that an inducement to attract more fans, or a reason for existing fans to turn away?