Florida baseball fans still not sold on Rays

Posted Aug. 30, 2008, at 4:55 p.m.

Red Sox fans may have a hard time understanding this. Tampa Bay is the biggest story in Major League Baseball this year. They are on their way to the postseason and are having one of the greatest turnaround seasons in baseball history.

On Wednesday they played Toronto at home in St. Petersburg and the “crowd” was 12,678.

Rays’ pitcher Scott Kazmir went on national radio after the game and said of the crowd, “It’s embarrassing.”

He also said it was so quiet, he thought he “heard crickets.”

That line is kind of like the line that when it comes to the economy, Americans are “whiners.” Kazmir, like Sen. Phil Gramm, will wish he hadn’t said that.

First, some people actually have lives that don’t involve baseball or sports at all. Shocking to some who spend their lives draped on the sofa with a clicker in their hand, but these other folks are completely happy.

Second, the fact a team of any kind plays somewhere doesn’t mean they have a right to be financially successful. Owners don’t want to hear that as they beg for public dollars to build stadiums and then want the law to treat them as a private business — except when their losing money.

The Tampa Bay Tribune ran a column on the team’s attendance and fans responded. Here is a sample.

“It gets a little old hearing the complaints about attendance. Especially from people making millions of dollars a year.”

“The [White] Sox attendance of 38,000 is .4 percent of Chicago’s 9.52 million population. The Rays’ attendance of 12,700 is .5 percent of Tampa Bay area’s 2.72 million. Stop whining. …”

The economy was mentioned repeatedly. “I have to work two jobs just to keep a roof over my head, food in my stomach and my cable on so I can at least watch the Devil Ray games on the box and keep abreast of info on the internet.”

Another fan said there were lots of reasons for the bad attendance numbers including, “Bad stadium, and bad environment. … Not a big fan base yet. … Most of the fans of the game of baseball in this area are fans of other teams.”

There were also the notes from fans who wish others would join them to celebrate the team’s year, but they were the minority.

The Rays situation, however, is a reminder that there is a greater life out there and lots of people live it.

It is also a reminder that baseball is a business and like all sports it has to be sold to the fans. Fortunately for owners, that is simple in most places and very rich indeed for teams like the Red Sox.

For the Florida teams, both the Marlins and the Rays, the selling hasn’t been easy and may never be.

We close with the words of one fan who wrote to the Tampa paper, “Gotta go. I hear the crickets outside my window asking me if I want to go to the D-Rays game, they’re buying.”

bdnsports@bangordailynews.net

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