When the Tampa Bay Rays proposed building a new stadium, some people worried that if the plan fell through the team might leave town.
Actually, it turns out they already did. They're not in St. Petersburg anymore. They're in Tampa now. Everybody says so.
On Monday, the Toronto Star reported that its battered Blue Jays are 14 games behind the first-place "Tampa Rays." Last week, MSNBC noted that the formerly downtrodden "Tampa Rays" have been tearing up the American League this season. Last month, a columnist for the Contra Costa Times in California said the team is doing so well that "the Tampa Rays think they're the new Red Sox."
Not everybody's a believer, though. In May, the New York Daily News questioned whether the "Tampa Rays" are really good enough to win 98 games this season.
So where did this hot Tampa ball club come from, and whatever happened to the one that used to play at Tropicana Field?
Don't ask Bill Foster. He might snap your head off.
The former St. Petersburg City Council member has made a minor crusade out of reminding everyone where that team named the Rays actually plays. Just last week, Foster fired off a complaint to ESPN about the anchors of Sports Center and Baseball Tonight repeatedly referring to Tampa, not St. Petersburg, as the home field of Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford.
The polite e-mail response, Foster said, was, "We will inform the anchors of the location of the team." (An ESPN spokesman declined to comment.)
Since the first pitch of the first game in 1998, the "Tampa Bay" in the Rays' name has been frequently shortened to just "Tampa" by geographically challenged journalists, much to the annoyance of St. Petersburg residents. And now that the team is on top, notes team vice president Michael Kalt, "it's just that we're being talked about more."
To the fuming Foster, it's a lost opportunity to promote the city: "You've got nine players on the field with a billboard on their shirts. Their billboards should say, 'St. Petersburg,' and instead it says 'Tampa.'"
On the other hand, he pointed out, turnabout can be fair play.
"Thank goodness the St. Pete Times Forum is in Tampa," he joked. "I can't tell you how many people think the Lightning play hockey in St. Pete."
Times staff researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.