A Rays move to Tampa would be worth a cheer

If I lived in St. Petersburg and not Tampa, right now I would feel like my sister just stole my prom date. And my gown. And she expects me to take pictures of him pinning on her corsage before they climb in the limo and leave me standing there, alone and bereft.

But as a Tampa resident, with this glimmer of possibility that Rays baseball might land in my very own downtown, blocks from my office and mere miles from my home, I am trying hard to squelch a quiet sound of pure glee.

I am one of those fickle fans, though "fan" might be a stretch, since I hit but two or three games a year. And I like the Trop (though I was not happy the night I missed out on the Joe Maddon giveaway glasses, all those kids in the stands looking so weirdly hip).

I might have even made some extra effort had that cool waterfront stadium actually happened, but no. So even though I always cheer a win, for me and plenty like me, St. Petersburg can be a trek too far — especially on a school night.

But put me down as one of the 7,000 to 8,000 more fans the Rays expect to show up if the team lands a new downtown Tampa stadium, among other ideas floating out there. The Rays have drawn a line in the sand, saying they want to leave downtown St. Petersburg and talk options on both sides of the bay, a standoff that is not likely to be pretty.

To which I say: Go, Rays! No disrespect intended to the St. Petersburg faithful, though the stands can look awfully sparse even when the team's winning big time. And add my voice to this chorus: Tampa's a heckuva lot closer than, say, Charlotte.

Numbers must be crunched and negotiations finessed, and who knows how it ends? But build it here and fans will come. Here's what makes me think so: hockey and spring training. I'm from Miami — what do I know from hockey? — but I have gone because it's here and, as it turns out, fun. Ditto with Yankees spring training just down the road.

When I called Tampa mayoral contenders for their respective takes, I didn't hear champagne corks popping. They said cautious, respectful things. City Council member Tom Scott: "We have to think regional." Hillsborough Commissioner Rose Ferlita: "We want to support the Rays, no matter where in Tampa Bay." Former council member Bob Buckhorn: "We've got to find a way to keep the Rays."

But Buckhorn also said, "I think the marriage of economics and community point clearly to downtown Tampa." And Ferlita came through with a sports analogy, even if it wasn't baseball: "If we see it's not working and they've got their bags packed and they're going to Arizona, that's it — tackle those guys."

Ever-practical Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio likes the idea of the Rays in Pinellas, with the potential for coupling their light-rail referendum with helping to finance a stadium by making the stadium a rail stop. Well, yeah, I have to admit that sounds like an intriguing solution in a bad economy — even if it would not land baseball down the street from me. Almost as interesting as where they put it is how they, or we — or both — pay for it.

So we need a timeout from our simmering city rivalries and a catchy new slogan for our team, emphasis on the "our." Instead of just Go, Rays!, how about: Stay, Rays, in Tampa Bay, North Carolina's too far away.

Okay, maybe we can work on that one together.

A Rays move to Tampa would be worth a cheer 06/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:03am]

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