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Tampa Bay Rays off to an incredible start to MLB season but few are watching at home

tampa bay rays
Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays clearly were the most exciting team in baseball in the first two weeks, running off a season-opening winning streak of 12 games. The Rays scored the most runs in the majors in that time at 92, hit the most home runs at 30 and allowed the fewest runs at 27.

Alas, they must not have been that exciting to their own fans.

The Rays rank 27th in home attendance out of 30 teams, at under 17,000 a game for nine dates although, in truth, that is up from their average of 13,927 for a playoff team last season. The Rays never have drawn as many as two million fans in a season since coming of age in 1998 as the Devil Rays.

For years, baseball’s biggest problem hasn’t been the length of games. It has been attendance woes in St. Petersburg, Florida and Oakland, and commissioner Rob Manfred is getting anxious.

tampa bay rays
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Manfred would like to expand to 32 teams but doesn’t want to do that when he has dead weights in Florida (Miami is not a strong franchise, either) and California, where it appears eminently clear the Bay Area needs just one team in the San Francisco Giants.

Will a new stadium help Tampa Bay Rays?

At least the Tampa Bay Rays are watchable and there are plans afoot for a new stadium to be built in St. Petersburg in time for the 2028 season opener, although the tricky details of financing remain.

The A’s, probably the worst team in the majors, are not watchable and there really seems no such advanced plan — or hope — for a new stadium in Oakland. And Las Vegas, which welcomed the National Football League Raiders, doesn’t seem all that excited about bringing in an Oakland team in another sport.

Already, the A’s are averaging only 11,428 per game although again there is scant progress since last year’s average for a full season at the 63,000-seat Oakland Coliseum was only 9,973.

That was the lowest average since the dead-men-walking Montreal Expos played their final season in Olympic Stadium in 2004, drawing an average of 9,356 a game before moving to Washington, D.C., where the Expos, renamed the Nationals, drew 2.73 million for the 2005 season.

At one time in the past couple of years, there was a plan afoot to have the sagging Tampa Bay Rays split their home games between St. Petersburg and Canada but that was dumped. No such talk has been brought up about doing the same for Oakland and Montreal but it seems the A’s will have to go somewhere, even it’s not Las Vegas. Montreal, Nashville, Portland and Charlotte are some of the cities seeking big league baseball — a return in Montreal’s case and new vistas for the other three.

Oakland A’s, Florida Marlins also having attendance woes

It is one thing to knock off 25 minutes or so a game with the new rules, notably, the pitch clock, this season. It is another to have one floundering franchise in Oakland, another sketchy one in Miami (although the World Baseball Classic thrived there) and a franchise that deserves better in Tampa Bay, which attracted just 13,470 for Monday’s thrilling 1-0 win over the Boston Red Sox, who usually attract enough of their fans to make a decent crowd out of it at Tropicana Field even if the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t any good. The next night, for win No. 11, the crowd was only 12,649 for the Rays’ 7-2 triumph over Boston.

At least, No. 12, a 9-7 triumph over Boston on Wednesday night, attracted a paid house of 17,136.

Interestingly, if the Tampa Bay Rays can somehow parlay their fast start into their first World Series title, it would be quite the daily double with a championship team playing its regular-season and exhibition schedule in the same park.

When the Rays’ spring stadium at Port Charlotte, Florida took on hurricane damage, the Rays moved their early training to the Disney complex but played their home exhibitions at Tropicana Field.

It hardly would be the first time a team had trained in St. Petersburg and won a World Series title. The New York Yankees, who last trained in St. Petersburg in 1961, won 18 world titles while they trained in St. Pete. The St. Louis Cardinals, who last trained there in 1997, won five World Series while training on Florida’s Gulf Coast and the New York Mets, while wintering in St. Petersburg, won two Series in 1969 and 1986 before moving in 1987 to Port St. Lucie, Florida, where they have won none. 

Rick Hummel, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for baseball writing, is the baseball columnist for Sportsnaut.

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