Friday, August 17, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Mad at Evan Longoria? He’s just speaking truth to Rays stadium delusion

This probably had to be akin to your tipsy Uncle Claude after one too many Manhattans piping up at the Thanksgiving dinner table to observe what the rest of the family always knew but never uttered — that Aunt Bertha is uglier than a night in jail.

So it was that former Tampa Bay Ray icon Evan Longoria recently opined that maybe, just maybe, it might in the home team’s best interest to forget all this chin-rubbing about moving from St. Petersburg to Tampa and just put everyone out of their civic misery by moving to — where? Charlotte perhaps? Or even Nashville, or, well, pick a locale.

Longoria, who now plays for the San Francisco Giants, told the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin he suspected a relocation from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to a possible site in Ybor City could still be problematic if the team’s long-standing history of attendance woes continue.

RELATED COVERAGE Evan Longoria: Rays might be better off leaving town

And because such heresy was being uttered by one of the Rays most beloved former players, no doubt his views carried more clout than a few disgruntled fans sitting around the bar making the same exact remarks.

This is, to be sure, a pretty lousy time to the gabbing about the Rays possibly moving to Ybor, for two reasons.

First, any new stadium is likely to cost in the $800 million or so range. And second, the Rays really stink this year.

It is true, a brighter future could well loom. But when the Rays are currently fielding a team that would have a hard time beating the Toledo Mud Hens even if you spotted the lads five runs, talking about building a nearly billion dollar stadium seems like throwing money away to construct the National Earwax Museum.

Longoria was speaking truth to delusion.

The former Ray noted the experience of the Miami Marlins, another struggling team, who built a $650 million stadium, yet nearby minor league teams often draw bigger crowds.

And that is the Rays biggest challenge moving forward. There simply seems to be zero appetite to employ any taxpayer funding for a new Rays ballpark, especially in a community that still feels scammed by the Glazer family’s sweetheart deal that led to the public paying for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play in Hellooooo Sucker Stadium.

RELATED COVERAGE Finding creative ways to pay for a Rays stadium

Longoria was also right about one other thing.

If — and it is a huge IF — the Rays were to actually come across the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa, you have to wonder what the team’s brain trust was thinking when they alighted on the notion that jamming a stadium into Ybor City was a brilliant idea? This was like trying to cram ten pounds of phooey into a five-pound bag.

Should the Ybor City site become a reality, traffic will be a nightmare and parking even worse.

Longoria wondered to Topkin if the Rays were so insistent on coming to Tampa why weren’t possible sites on Dale Mabry Highway more seriously considered? After all, there was plenty of space to build a stadium in an area already accustomed to handling large traffic flows.

Who knows? Perhaps the Rays front office regarded Dale Mabry and the rest of West Tampa a faraway suburban hinterland.

Will a Rays stadium deal ever get pulled off? Never underestimate this town’s love affair with sports, with the opaque notion of being considered a major league hot spot.

Our schools may struggle with funding. Teachers will continue to be underpaid and underappreciated. Our short-sighted public transportation system will continue to remain clogged. Our South Tampa streets will continue to flood every time we get a heavy dew. The homeless will continue to be homeless.

But we will always figure out a way to pay unto sports moguls what sports moguls think they are due.

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