ST. PETERSBURG — Fans of the Tampa Bay Rays offered mixed reactions Saturday on the idea of moving the team out of town.
A business group has suggested several possible stadium locations, including three in Hillsborough County. While the Rays and local politicians have downplayed the significance of the talks, most fans who weighed in at Rays FanFest say that the talks could foreshadow action.
Whether the team should move depended mostly — but not always — on where fans live.
"I don't see anything wrong with the Trop," said Ron Rotondo, 27, of Gulfport, who contends that Florida does not produce die-hard fans, period. "I remember what it was like after the lockout with the Lightning. The seats were empty."
But fans turned out for the Rays' playoff run culminating in the 2008 World Series, he noted. "It's not crossing the bridge. It's not the prices. If there's a winner here, people will come."
Fans from Hernando, Pasco and Sarasota counties also gave a thumbs-down on moving.
"I think it's stupid," said Tom Petrowitz, 51, who doesn't mind the 45-minute drive from New Port Richey. "They've got a nice facility here."
Van Dixon, 31, drove from North Port to 10 home games last season, often with his 12-year-old son, Sean.
"I feel if it's not broke, don't fix it," Dixon said.
Thomas Carey said he could see positives and negatives in a move.
"If the team wants to pay 100 percent, I'd say fine, go for it," said Carey, 40, a software engineer who lives in Fort Myers and works in Tampa.
"If we're going to pay 100 percent, I'd say, what's the benefit? Those dollars could better be used to promote schools, roads, infrastructure."
Mike and Gloria Zelazo live in Tampa but don't mind commuting for Rays games. They make a night of it, stopping for dinner on the way. Mike Zelazo, 51, a teacher at Riverview High School, said he wants whatever will keep the team in the Tampa Bay area.
On the team's discussions with Hillsborough business interests, Zelazo said, "I'm afraid they may be doing it as a bargaining tool down the line."
Several fans, including Zelazo, questioned the convenience of locating a stadium in downtown Tampa.
"Channelside may not be the best area," he said. "After Lightning games, we've been stuck in the parking garage for 20 minutes. (At Tropicana Field) I'm out of here in 10 minutes, max. And that's on a busy day."
St. Petersburg native Donald Brooks weighed in on the team's rumored interest in moving to Hillsborough as he watched fans trying to catch swirling Rays coupons inside a glass booth.
"It would be a shame," said Brooks, a 51-year-old St. Petersburg native.
"They've got hockey (in Hillsborough). They've got football there. This stadium is built for St. Petersburg."
Don Andrews, 58, also of St. Petersburg, had an idea to help the team.
"What could boost attendance?" said Andrews, a U.S. flag flying from his motorized scooter. "Stop shooting off about how bad the stadium is. That turns people off."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.