The Tampa Bay Rays own the best record in baseball since May 8 at 43-23. But does anybody in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida even care? Judging by the numbers at Tropicana Field, you’d say the answer is no.
The Rays opened the post All-Star break portion of the schedule 29th in the majors in attendance at just 17,791 per game and playing to less than 53 percent of capacity at the Trop.
At his annual All-Star Game meeting with the Baseball Writers Association of America, Commissioner Bud Selig was as blunt as he’s ever been about a team’s turnstile troubles when the subject of the Rays and Selig’s talks with owner Stuart Sternberg came up.
“It’s very disappointing and very worrisome,” Selig said. “The Tampa club is 2½ games out and of course the first thing I do every morning is look at the attendance at every game. It’s beyond disappointing. They have been so competitive, they’ve done a marvelous job in a situation that economically is not tolerable. Stu and I have had a lot of conversations and my patience is running as thin as his, if not more so.
“You look at a club in the major leagues that’s competitive and is averaging 18,000 people a game. That may have been OK in 1956, but that’s not OK today. Your fans want you to be competitive, they ought to have the economic tools or economic mechanisms to be competitive. … I have a very high level of frustration. There is no question there’s a stadium problem, there’s no debate about that. The question is what to do about it.”
The Trop is in St. Petersburg and the team would draw far more if it had a facility in Tampa, on the other side of the traffic-choked causeways that traverse Tampa Bay. Some folks aren’t big fans of the Trop’s neighborhood either, another deterrent to fans who may not be familiar with the area.
There is little concrete talk about a new stadium for the Rays, who have a lease at the Trop through 2027. A commissioner for Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, suggested at a meeting last week that new toll roads could fund a stadium tax. As if Florida needs more tolls. Jeez.
An aside on the Rays’ attendance: The only team worse is the Marlins at 17,416. Bisons owner Bob Rich is not an I-told-you-so guy, but he told MLB some 20 years ago that Florida markets were going to be a bust. For the most part, Tampa and Miami have been just that through their history, save for the odd post-World Series year spikes in the two cities. Florida is even losing a lot of its spring training power to Arizona.
Once baseball gets the Oakland Coliseum situation straightened out and finally lets the A’s move to San Jose, it has serious questions to figure out in the Sunshine State.
Weiner opens up
At the same meeting of the BBWAA, players association head Michael Weiner answered reporters’ questions about topics like interleague play, replay and Biogenesis but also dealt head-on with his declining health. His fight with brain cancer is heading into the homestretch and Weiner is now confined to a wheelchair and limited on the right side of his body.
“I don’t know if I look at things differently,” Weiner said. “There are things that became more important to me, more conscious to me. As corny as it sounds, I get up in the morning and I feel I’m going to live each day as it comes. Not taking a day for granted, not taking the next morning for granted. What I look for each day is beauty and joy. If I can find beauty, meaning and joy, that’s a good day. It’s not that much different, believe it or not, than I did beforehand.
“I live each day and I wake up each day looking for good things, because I don’t know how much time I have. Maybe I’ve just become more aware of things. So I look at my life in a different way.”
Weiner admitted the union is working on a succession plan, with former big-league first baseman Tony Clark a top candidate. Reporters are by nature a crusty bunch, but Weiner got a standing ovation from the group and I’m told by some who were in the room it was as emotional a moment as they’ve seen around baseball in a long time.
Mets ready to spend
Things are looking up for Mets fans. General Manager Sandy Alderson said during the break that the team’s payroll will push $100 million next year after hanging around only $55 million this year. The team is paying nearly $40 million to Johan Santana and Jason Bay this year, which will no longer be an issue.
Many observers think the Mets may not wait until free agency this winter, but could make a deal for a big bat this month at the trade deadline. Alderson is still hesitant on free agents though, having gotten no bang for the buck from the likes of Frank Francisco and Shawn Marcum.
“Something that has disappointed me,” Alderson told Newsday, “is the inability to get any real performance out of some of the bigger investments that have been made.”
Still, between potential moves and all the young arms in the organization, the Mets do not intend to wallow in the National League East much longer.
“Was 2014 always a target year? Yeah,” Alderson said. “It should be an important year for us.”
No cheers for you
Comedian and Mets fan extraordinaire Jerry Seinfeld was appalled by the amount of booing being done at Citi Field during Tuesday’s All-Star festivities.
“This is one of the lowest moments of my lifetime of Mets fandom, when the Citi Field crowd was booing players that they see as rivals to their Mets team,” Seinfeld said on WFAN Radio. “And I’m standing there, I was in shock. I was embarrassed. I thought it was horrible manners.”
With memories of the 2006 NLCS and the 2007 NL East pennant race apparently still raw, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright, and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins got crushed by the crowd. So did Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera. No idea on that one.
“These are the best players in the game you love that have come here to put on a show for you, and we’re booing them like 5-year-olds,” Seinfeld said. “As if there’s some sort of real animosity. The American League is not the Taliban. What are we booing Miguel Cabrera … I was very embarrassed by that.”
Long trip home
The International League needs to have a day off in years when the Triple-A All-Star Game is played in a Pacific Coast League venue. Numerous players missed Thursday’s games because of their long travel days, with Scranton outfielder Thomas Neal tweeting how he had three hours of sleep, a 3:50 a.m. wakeup call, a middle seat on a 4½-hour commercial flight, a missed connection and a four-hour wait for the next flight. Not cool.
You’ll have players pulling out left and right if those kind of experiences get around. The next PCL venue in 2015 is in Omaha.
The Bisons, meanwhile, used the Rich Products corporate jet to ferry Jim Negrych, Mauro Gomez and their families and team officials to and from Reno. Another example of why players talk so highly about their experiences when they play here.
Around the horn
• I still haven’t figured out if I want the Home Run Derby to go away or I just want Chris Berman to go away.
• Lots of talk last month during the draft about the growth of Buffalo baseball with Amherst’s Jonah Heim and Clarence’s Mark Armstrong both getting picked in the top five rounds. Folks in Syracuse have even more to pump their chests over as they had a pair of MLB all-stars in New York in natives Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks and Jason Grilli of the Pirates.
• Frontier High product Garrett Cortright, the ace of the Canisius staff who pitched the Griffs to the NCAA Tournament this season, got his first professional win Monday throwing for the Rookie level Gulf Coast Orioles. Cortright, making his second start, tossed five shutout innings of three-hit ball in a 3-0 win over the Twins.
Amherst’s Heim is one of his teammates but did not play in that game. The 18-year-old has started slowly in his pro debut, going 1 for 18 in his first seven games.
Armstrong has yet to pitch for the Arizona League Reds.