ST. PETERSBURG — The Yankees are coming, the Yankees are coming!
In past seasons, that usually meant big crowds — many in pinstripes — at Tropicana Field to see the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and C.C. Sabathia take on the Tampa Bay Rays.
But over the weekend, the crowds were scant for a Yankees visit, drawing between 15,752 and 21,791 for the Friday-Sunday series.
Of course, some experts pick this year's Yankees squad to finish last (despite the weekend sweep of the hometown team). Jeter and Rivera are retired. And Sabathia is a shadow of his former self — statistically, anyway.
Plus on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a playoff game, and Jimmy Buffett played the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater.
Don't forget prom season. And the exit of popular Rays players like Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers and Matt Joyce.
But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?
"It certainly may, but I don't think there is any way to find out," said council member Bill Dudley.
Dudley noted the busy weekend schedule, which included the Mainsail Arts Festival at Vinoy Park. He thinks all the spring bustle — rather than public fatigue with the stadium stalemate — was the root of the problem.
"The true test is when the kids are out of school," he said.
Dudley also wondered if the weekend attendance was much different from the last time the Yanks came to town in April. In fact, the same weekend last year netted crowds between 26,000 and 30,000 for a four-game series, according to baseball-reference.com.
Rays officials have said they won't negotiate with the city during the season, saying they want to focus on baseball. Mayor Rick Kriseman agrees, spokesman Ben Kirby said.
"The mayor was sincere. We're going to put this on the shelf for right now. The Rays are focusing on their baseball product, and we want to be respectful of that," Kirby said.
In December, the City Council rejected a proposal to let the team look at possible stadium sites in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Kriseman and the Rays worked out a new version, which spelled out development rights for the 85-acre Trop property, but the mayor couldn't find enough votes to bring it back to the table before the start of the season.
A council workshop to discuss the issue is scheduled for May 7. Kriseman has said either he or someone on his staff will attend. It's unclear if the Rays will attend. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has said that his staff won't appear at another public meeting.
Perhaps overlooked in any hand-wringing over Rays' weekend attendance is that through six home dates the team is drawing better this year than last — 116,884 to 107,202, according to baseball-reference.com. Of course, last year's first two opponents, the Blue Jays and the Rangers, don't have the appeal of the Bronx Bombers.
The Rays don't seem too worried.
"As Stu mentioned during spring training, we expect our numbers to be down a little this year. However, with an exciting team, energetic marketing campaign, a first-rate fan experience and plenty of great promotions, we know we'll see Rays fans attend games and support the team as the season progresses," said Brian Auld, the team's president.
Kirby, for one, is skeptical that baseball fans are staying away from the Trop because of the political spat between the council and the Rays.
"I don't ever think politics and policy are drivers of people's decisions whether or not to go to games," he said.
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.