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Owner's sour words won't inspire Rays fans

From this day forward, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and team officials should answer every question about attendance and support with one simple response:

It is what it is.

The team came up short in the playoffs, but Sternberg's frustration with attendance and television ratings did more to diminish the day than the Rays' 4-3 series-ending loss to the Texas Rangers.

I understand the disappointment. We all thought the Rays' miraculous run and its four years of winning would have a greater impact at the turnstiles, but it hasn't.

The stadium location, lack of amenities, and relatively small corporate support all are factors. Maybe we're not a great sports town. Maybe we're not a baseball town.

Whatever. Complaints from the owner won't change that. It might even have an adverse impact.

Sternberg doesn't do himself or the organization any favors by saying, "Eventually, Major League Baseball is going to vaporize this team" because fans aren't showing up.

Those aren't the words that will inspire elected officials to help fund a new stadium. That's not the attitude that will reverse this season's decline in TV ratings.

You're not going to guilt or scare this community into buying tickets or building a new ballpark.

Perhaps we're supposed to sympathize with Sternberg because he correctly invested in the team's farm system, embraced the community, put a winner on the field and didn't get the return on investment he deserves.

But of the millions of people living in this market, I would be willing to wager that 99.9 percent would trade places with Sternberg in a heartbeat. As disappointing as the support may be, publicly lashing out won't win the day.

Even in the face of the ongoing problems, he needs to find a more positive approach.

Why? Because complaints take away from his achievements and the team's success.

Sternberg and the Rays should revel in how they defied the odds. Celebrate the rise of Sam Fuld and the emergence of Desmond Jennings instead of lamenting the lack of cash to pay Adrian Beltre.

They've caused a revolution in Red Sox Nation and struck back at the evil empire in New York. They've made baseball experts question everything they thought they knew.

The 2011 Rays season is cause for celebration. It has the makings of a Hollywood movie. America's most lovable team needs to thank every fan who made it to a game instead of making us feel bad that we didn't go to more.

Sternberg may find it difficult to accept perpetual underdog status and eternal payroll challenges. He may even sell the team, which would be a shame because great owners are hard to find — and he is a great owner.

But I hope he can come to appreciate that so many of us love the team and love his effort. There's just not enough of us. Not yet, anyway.

And there won't be more of us if they keep making attendance the focus. Keep marketing, strategizing, trying.

But stop talking about it.

That's not easy when reporters keep inquiring and the media keep criticizing, but what else can you do?

It is what it is.

So, let's go when we can, watch when we're home and cherish every moment of success. Because if the team is going to get vaporized, I don't want to miss a single moment.

That's all I'm saying.

Owner's sour words won't inspire Rays fans 10/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 9:50pm]
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