Rays strike out in latest stadium efforts

by Gary Shelton on December 12, 2018 · 6 comments

in general

Sternberg is still waiting fo a stadium../CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

It feels like the final out.

It feels like it's time to turn out the lights and head for the parking lot.

It feels like it's time to shake your head and roll your eyes. In a game that is all about getting home, it is time for the rest of us to go home. It feels over. It feels hollow. It feels empty. It feels like defeat.

The Tampa Bay Rays pulled the plug on their glitzy new stadium Tuesday, admitting what was becoming more and more clear. After all the meetings, after all the plans, after all the hopes, the sides didn't come close enough to a deal to even continue the talks to the deadline.

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The Rays are still stuck in the Trop./CARMEN MANDATO

Look, even those of us on this side of the bay were willing -- if it meant survival -- for the team to be on the other side of the bay. We could see the empty seats, and we could see that the team was near the bottom in attendance every year. So if it made things better for them to be in Tampa, well, we could live with it.

But what now?

Better question: Where now?

Back to the Trop? Back to the plans for Al Lang? Back to the whispers about Montreal? Where?

This was not a good day for baseball in Tampa Bay. It wasn't a good day for the hit-and-run or bases-loaded triple or the strikeout with opposing runners on third. All of that is in jeopardy today.

You know the disappointing thing? It wasn't even close. It didn't come down to honorable efforts of both sides furiously trying to make things work. It didn't come down to concern for the fans or the taxpayers. It was just a colossal waste of time.

So why go through the charade? Why spend all those man-hours on schemes and plans and happy talk? It was clear from the start that the politicians didn't have the cash. They seemed to want the Rays to not only move to Tampa, but to build their own stadium when they got there. And the Rays? They seemed to expect someone to write them a blank check. So what we got were grade school kids playing a game of "don't blink."

And everyone lost. Tampa doesn't get a team, the team doesn't get a stadium and fans don't get a sport.

You know the darnedest thing? No one knows if baseball would have worked in Tampa, either. I know it's been painted as a cure-all for the Rays, as if a new stadium would open its doors and fans would come running. They haven't in Miami, have they?

The thing is, the stadium still was an expensive gamble. You can't convince me that there are so many fans in Tampa they would jam into a new building every night, and yet those same rabid fans won't drive across a bridge on the interstate to one of the easiest  stadiums to access in the country.

I know, I know. There are critics who will tell you that the game simply wasn't important enough to enough people, that the notion of spending almost a billion dollars to entertain a few thousand fans a night was lunacy. But it was baseball, for crying out loud. If it left, it wasn't coming back.

Oh, the Rays still talk the happy talk, like a glittering new stadium might just fall out of the sky at any moment. Why not talk happily when you may have a decade of living here?

But the Rays are stuck in a place they don't want to be. Sure, they could find another stadium site, maybe a cheaper one, maybe one in Tampa, but the politicians won't change.

So what are we to make of the reaction of Rob Manfred, the baseball commissioner? First of all, understand this. Manfred is all about baseball, and he's a buddy of Stu Sternberg. He isn't Solomon.

But doesn't it say something when Manfred "doesn't understand the feasibility" and questions the "level of commitment" weeks before the deadline? Shouldn't someone have said earlier "these are our finances, and this is how much we'll put into a stadium" months ago? Why did no one talk about paring back the overall cost of the stadium?

In baseball terms, the Rays are caught in a rundown. They are in limbo, between this base and that one, desperate and running out of time.

Maybe Tampa doesn't deserve any better.

Maybe the Rays don't, either.

But those fans who show up, the few and the lonely? They deserve better than this. They deserve two sides who take each other seriously.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller December 13, 2018 at 6:51 am

The Rays owners will be big winners and a lot richer after selling the team for a huge profit instead of spending millions on a new stadium. The new town’s fans will be winners. MLB will be happy to have the team in a town where fans show up to the games (at least for the first few years) in a stadium that is new and shiny.

The losers are baseball fans of this area. With baseball gone we will get even more coverage of the terrible Bucs. Oh boy.

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Gary Shelton December 13, 2018 at 4:07 pm

I agree completely, they’ll lose the way St. Louis fans lost when the Rams left town and San Diego fans lost when the Chargers left.

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Rick Martin December 12, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Season ticket (package) holder for the last decade and have to admit I’m apathetic about it all. I’d like to see them stay here, but heck, I will always have my HDTV MLB channel where the experience for any sport is better in my opinion. I don’t know a single area-voter who thinks subsidizing a millionaire/billionaire’s stadium is a good idea. I admit, I’d even vote “NO” if it came to a Hillsborough County vote. There are way too many other more urgent areas the taxpayers’ dollar should go.

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Gary Shelton December 12, 2018 at 6:43 pm

To me, it depends on the total ticket. Yes, TV sports are better than in-house sports, but a team in your town is better still. There’s no question it gives you a base and a reason to follow. I’ve always said I’d vote for a stadium for a reasonable price. Im just disappointed it was never a real discussion.

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Larry Beller December 12, 2018 at 8:33 am

When you get right down to it the only thing going for this market is that it’s the 13th ranked TV market. Much bigger than any other area that is considered a potential suitor for the franchise. But the money to build a stadium isn’t here. The fans who love watching on TV either can’t afford to attend games or just don’t have that level of commitment. The corporate sponsorship that is absolutely vital is not here. The goal of the Rays ownership group is to pay much less than is needed based on the public money available. That’s not a recipe for success in this area.

Nobody thinks rebuilding at the Trop site is a good idea other than the St Pete mayor. It’s a shame but the end of baseball in this area is coming down the tracks like a freight train. Sternberg’s group will sell the team before the move and make a ton of money. I’d like to think otherwise but I don’t see anything else happening that will save this franchise for Tampa Bay. Do you?

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Gary Shelton December 12, 2018 at 6:46 pm

I certainly don’t see it today. The thing is, the team was a poor-drawing team when Sternberg bought it.

But the Rays won’t come out of this as losers. They’ll sell, and the owners will make a lot of money, and the wnew town will build a stadium.

Isn’t that the way it goes?

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