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Pennant Race Fails to Excite Tampa Bay Faithful

Tampa Bay RaysThe Tampa Bay Rays are involved in a close and thrilling wild-card race. So where are the fans? Small Tropicana Field crowds cause local officials to revive a new-ballpark effort for the Rays in Tampa.

Last night the Rays hosted the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field, in a game of immense importance to the Tampa Bay’s post-season survival. You’d think that having the popular Yankees in town with the Rays only a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians for the second wild-card spot would excite fans in the greater Tampa Bay area.

And, indeed, a good crowd was on hand for the last home game of the year: 20,390. Not a sellout, to be sure. The good, not great crowd followed some very small crowds earlier in the week: 16,699 for Tuesday’s game against the Yankees and only 8,779 fans on hand for Monday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. Three disappointing crowds for a winning team on the cusp of the playoffs.

If this lack of enthusiasm for a playoff team says anything, it’s that changes are desperately needed in Tampa Bay. For many, that means accelerating talks to move the team to Tampa before it’s lost forever to Montreal. From the Tampa Bay Times:

Calling Monday’s attendance “anemic” and “incredibly disheartening,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said the attendance issues are hurting the region, especially as the team looks to play home games elsewhere. In June, Sternberg announced his intention to explore a two-city scenario, by which the team would split home games between new open-air ballparks in the Tampa Bay area and Montreal. The team needs approval from St. Petersburg city leaders if it wishes to entertain the concept for seasons before 2027, which is when the team’s Trop lease expires….

St. Petersburg City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes, a noted Rays supporter and who threw out a first pitch on Opening Day this year, said he would be willing to let Tampa back into the discussion as the local home of a split-season team. Gerdes’ term ends in January.

“If splitting games does not work for St. Petersburg’s plans for redeveloping the Trop property, maybe it works for Tampa,” said Gerdes, who took his family to Tuesday’s game against New York. “I’m fine with allowing Tampa to explore that. Because it doesn’t work for St. Petersburg.”

But, Gerdes added, he wouldn’t be in favor of Tampa hosting the Rays full-time. No, we don’t see the logic in that. Welcome to the bizarro world of local Florida politics, where a local politico would rather see the team move than play full-time in a neighboring community.

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