Differences aside, Rays and St. Petersburg are ready to put on a party

ST. PETERSBURG — As Major League Baseball's postseason festivities descend upon St. Petersburg for the second time in three years, the hosts sound unified as they brace for the oncoming crush of fans, traffic and media attention.

"The only thing that didn't work in 2008 was we didn't win it," said Mayor Bill Foster. "We will duplicate what we did because it did work."

"When we planned for this in 2008, we didn't know what to expect," said Rick Nafe, the Tampa Bay Rays vice president of operations/facilities. "It's definitely easier this time around."

Yet this time around, as they once again hope to pop champagne corks and launch ticker tape, the two hosts also must grapple with the growing tension between them.

This summer, owner Stu Sternberg urged city officials to let the club out of the contract that binds it to Tropicana Field through 2027 and allow team officials to explore a new stadium site in Tampa. St. Petersburg officials rejected the request, saying it was play ball in Pinellas County or bust.

The two sides agreed not bring the subject up again until after the World Series. The silence that followed has been more pervasive than Foster anticipated.

"When we agreed we wouldn't talk until after the season, I didn't know that meant we wouldn't exchange pleasantries as well," Foster said. "But I guess they meant no talking. Period."

Foster said he has awaited a call from the Rays to offer him an official role in the playoff pageantry. So far, silence.

City spokeswoman Beth Herendeen said the city and Rays are cooperating in marketing the team, but there's less coordination this time around.

"We worked with each other more closely then," Herendeen said. "It was new to both of us. Now, they probably have a better sense of what they need to do."

There was a bit of a mix-up about who was hosting Sunday night's welcome home party for the Rays. At first, the mayor said the city was hosting it. Then, the Rays said the team was hosting and the city had no official role.

On Monday, the city hoisted a Rays banner on the City Hall flag pole while roughly two dozen employees cheered. No Rays officials were in attendance.

There has been no purposeful slight coming from the Rays, said Tom Hoof, the team's vice president of marketing and community relations.

"If there's fewer meetings between us, that's probably because we don't need as many because we've done this before," Hoof said. "We were happy with what the city did to host the playoffs last time, and we have no issues this year."

The Rays and city say they mostly will stick to the 2008 script.

The biggest tweak is there will be no "kickoff celebration" at Straub Park. Held two days before the first pitch of the American League Division Series, the rally drew 10,000 people and the band Survivor, the one hit wonder behind Eye of the Tiger.

But Hoof said the event's main sponsor, Major League Baseball, scrapped the parties last season. Herendeen said the city hopes to throw a celebration this year with Michael Lynche, the hometown American Idol contestant.

Rather than have it on the waterfront like in 2008, however, it will be closer to the Trop on Central Avenue, between 11th and 13th streets.

"We learned that people going to the game weren't going to the waterfront," she said. "We were pulling them in two different directions. It's important to keep everything in that district near the dome."

This year, the city and Rays officials also agreed to enforce a 30-block "clean zone" around the Trop for the American League Championship, not just World Series games like in '08.

A clean zone helps regulate commercial activity around major sporting events. Any vendor that wants to sell inside the perimeter must get a city permit. It helps protect fans from ticket fraud, as well as Major League Baseball from fake merchandise.

Hotels like the TradeWinds Island Resorts and the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club said they learned from mistakes in 2008.

"We didn't know how to manage our inventory, so we ended up having to move a lot of guests around at the last minute," said Chris Adkins, the Vinoy's director of sales and marketing. "This year, we mapped out the possibilities better by contacting the traveling secretaries of the teams in August. We won't have to juggle as much this year."

The Vinoy has rented about 70 rooms to the Texas Rangers for the playoffs, Adkins said.

"I hope there is a parade at the end," Hoof said. "I hope that's the main difference between now and last time. We think the parade would be in Tampa and St. Petersburg."

He was quick to add: "That would have been the plan in 2008, too."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com.

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Differences aside, Rays and St. Petersburg are ready to put on a party 10/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:31am]

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