Lets set the record straight. The Tampa Bay Rays have and will always be my first baseballing love.
Last week I tweeted my genuine joy over the good news which greeted the city of Tampa regarding the future of the Rays and the new proposed site in Ybor City. The good people of Tampa not only deserve a competitive Major League team, but also a state of the art facility. One that they can be proud of and easily access. One that represents their great city.
I love Tropicana Field, I really do. Its like that crappy bar you met your boyfriend or girlfriend in. I fell in love there and I'm sure I am not the only one. 3,000 hits for Wade, Game 162, A World Series, a Matt Garza no hitter, whatever your memory of choice- Tropicana Field has seen alot. You may have read the opening line of this paragraph with the sense there was a but. There is a but and that but is the fact the majority don't love it. Its out of date and its nowhere near the fans.
Located just over 23 miles away from the center of Tampa, the Rays are dependent on fans commuting roughly 1/2 an hour to part with their hard earned cash for 81 days and nights of the summer. That's how much Rays fans love their team.
2x Bleacher Ticket ($30 each) = $60
2x Hotdogs = $10
2x Beers = $10
1x Parking = $15
Total = $95
It's evident Major League baseball isn't a cheap sport to attend. The standard 21st century Major League team's priorities no longer start and finish at fielding the best possible team and achieving the best possible wining record. They're now demanded to have industry leading social media accounts, host promotional evenings designed to attract new demographics to the ballpark and field the best possible team whilst maintaining the best possible future for the organization. Of course the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and so forth can prioritize today at the expense of tomorrow. But everyone isn't the Red Sox or the Yankees.
The teams with the weakest financial punch consequently need to be the shrewdest and closest to the fans. The distance a dollar travels between the paycheck of the the season ticket holder along the third base line and the pocket of the the slugger he is sat watching is the smallest for the most stringent teams.
As a Rays fan, I realize we aren't going to win the World Series every year, nor are we going to ink a pitcher to a 7 figure contract, nor are we ever going to enter win now mode. But that's not why I am a fan. I'm a fan because I love the team, what it stands for, what it does in the local community, the songs that stupid cat (DJ Kitty for those unfamiliar with the Rays) plays on his DJ equipment. I'm a fan for that moment on opening day when every fan from every team tries to make a reason as to why their team can win it it all. When the baseball season comes, so does hope. Hope is all a fan of any team truly wants.
Evan Longoria came. Evan Longoria left.
Brad Boxberger came. Brad Boxberger left.
David Price came. David Price left.
Matt Garza came. Matt Garza left.
Jeremy Hellickson came. Jeremy Hellickson left.
Wil Myers came. Wil Myers left.
James Shields came. James Shields left.
Ben Zobrist came. Ben Zobrist left.
Jake McGee came. Jake McGee left.
Matt Moore came. Matt Moore left.
Drew Smyly came. Drew Smyly left.
I don't have a problem with way the Rays operate. We don't have the financial power of 95% of the league, we can't give players the payday they want and probably deserve when they hit the open market. We play baseball today, with tomorrow in mind. Constantly feeding and watering our young nursery of talent, getting them ready for their day in the sun. Which, let me add I love. I ask you honestly-how much pride is there in producing and then watching 'one of our own' succeed?
Earlier this off-season, the face of the franchise, the hero of every 8-17 year old Rays fan in Tampa was traded to San Francisco. Yes, I was sad to see Evan go, yes I would miss him, yes I wish we didn't do it. But that's the business of baseball for us small market teams. In return, Christian Arroyo, the 5th best thirdbase prospect in the country. Immediately a reason to be optimistic. When pinned with fellow trade acquisitions of Jose De Leon and Willy Adames, to accompany the drafted talent of Brent Honeywell, Blake Snell and Brendan McKay the reason for optimism in Tampa is rife.
If that were just the case, then I wouldn't be writing this piece. There has been no secret made of the fact that Stuart Sternberg and the Rays are cutting costs with the future in mind and with that, the payroll comes first. Gone is Longoria's $13.5m, Morrison's $2.5m, Cobb's $4.2m, Cishek's $6m and Tommy Hunter's $1.4m.
Last night saw that list expand with the trading away Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins for just their 27th best prospect and the surprising news that Corey Dickerson had been designated for assignment. The Rays will save roughly $10m in moving on from Odorizzi and Dickerson and in that lose a quality starting pitcher and an all-star designated hitter.
The Rays are yet to sign to a Major League free agent other than a 34 year old Sergio Romo to the bullpen and in doing so are painting the picture for a very bleak 2018. As the Rays know oh so well, getting fans to not only spend their hard earned cash on but also commute too is a growing problem. This is without factoring in that the Rays are evidently tanking. The Tampa Bay front office owe it to the fans to field a team which the community can be proud of and get behind, because putting tomorrows team before today's, may cost the city their team.