Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm back

So what did I miss while I was enjoying beer and anti-Nazi riots ? Let’s see:

The Lightning were on a hot streak!
The USF Bulls are making a push for a bowl game not located in Birmingham.
Aubrey Huff said something dumb in Tampa about Baltimore. It’s like he never left!
New uniforms and a possible new stadium for the Rays.

The first three are nice stories and we’ll look at them in due time. For now lets focus on the Rays. It’s official they are now the Tampa Bay Rays and as expected they unveiled the worst kept secret in the TBA.

The uniforms will be comprised of a blue, white and yellow color scheme. The focus is moving away from the animal and more into Rays as in sunlight. The fate of the cow nose rays in the centerfield “Rays Tank” has yet to be determined.

The news was met with a muted response. Any hope of suspense or excitement was removed when the details were leaked online during the summer. Luckily the Rays had another bullet in the chamber.

Reports surfaced and were confirmed that the Rays are in negotiation with the city of St. Petersburg to build a new stadium at the waterfront property currently occupied by Al Lang Field.

The public’s reaction has been less than positive. According to a special report by the St. Petersburg Times 57% of registered voters surveyed approval of the plans to build the stadium (yea more than half!), but 69% of those same voters don’t want taxpayer money to pay for it. The sample size was 616 voters and has a 4% margin of error.

Wow how about those numbers? This town loves its Rays don’t they? Instead of embracing the fact that the team is making a commitment to stay in town and improve the atmosphere for its fans the public is worried about paying for it.

It’s a tough time in Florida for sure. The housing market is down, taxes are creeping up and the threat of a hurricane wiping out everything is always right around the corner. That’s understandable, but if you want to call yourself a true sports town there are sacrifices that have to made. You concede that you’re going to pay more for tickets every year, you understand that the price of a beer inside the stadium is going to be more than a six pack outside of the stadium and once in your lifetime you and everyone else are asked to pony up for a stadium.

It’s not the Rays fault that the City of St Pete convinced voters and taxpayers to build a stadium as a way to entice Major League Baseball into giving the area a team. Tropicana Field was outdated before Wilson Alvarez threw a pitch inside it. Aren’t you embarrassed as a fan to have explain the catwalk rules to fans from out of town?

The days of owners paying for stadiums out of their own pockets have come and gone. I was surprised that the ball club has already said that they’re willing to kick in any money at all. Think back 10 years and ask yourself how much money the Glazers kicked in for Raymond James. Were the Bucs any better than the Rays are now? Fans can’t have it both ways. They can’t complain about the park the team currently plays in and then shoot down the idea of a new park before there’s even a concept in place.

This is a good thing. This needs to be done. Whining about the “secret” negotiations or the lack of parking or the burden it’s going to place on downtown isn’t going to endear the owners to the town. If this goes to a public referendum and gets shot down don’t be surprised to hear serious talk about the team moving. A cynical person may say that Stu Sternberg is floating this out there knowing it’s going to fail just so he has an excuse to move the franchise.

Don’t take this as a blanket endorsement for the current ownership. There are hundreds of details that need to be ironed out. The parking concerns are valid as is the minor problem of finding $450 Million + to pay for the stadium. The point is that it is not time to focus on the negative. What the team is looking for is excitement. Let’s talk about the virtues of an open stadium or a retractable roof. Should there be a version of McCovey Cove and what should it be called (Canseco’s Cove? Huff’s Harbor? Boggs Bay?)

2012 is the estimated completion date for the stadium. By then the organization should know what the product on the field is going to be like. Will Scott Kazmir and James Shields fulfill their potential? They’ll know if BJ Upton is an All-Star centerfielder and if Delmon Young is the player they hope him to be.

Imagine a team that has been able to compete in the toughest division in the MLB. Imagine a truly competitive team stepping out under a sunny April sky instead of the dull florescent lights of the Trop. Imagine ESPN and Fox gushing about seeing sailboats in the distance. Imagine an All-Star game in St Pete.

Those are things that team should be hearing about right now. There is plenty of time left for the details. For now imagine the possibilities.

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