From all the hub-bub you might well have thought Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan had alighted on a new home for the Tampa Bay Rays that rivaled the Roman Coliseum meets Carnegie Hall meets Augusta National.
This was big! Very big! Indeed the site Hagan announced in Ybor City had everything you could possibly want in a baseball stadium. It had dirt. And then it had ... well, it had dirt. And at least that’s a start. Dirt. Very important.
With Hagan, who has sort of become the Branch Rickey of The Big Guava, as the point man for the effort to lure the Rays to this side of Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg, officials announced they had reached an agreement to purchase a 14-acre site bordered by the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, North 15th Street, East 4th Avenue and Channelside Drive.
And there was great joy in Yborville.
It is probably true if you plopped a stadium into the Ybor footprint, it would likely be a spiffy new place for the Rays lads to play baseball. And let’s face it, don’t all lads just love to play baseball?
Yet, as earnest as the Hagan announcement was, there are just a few teeny-weeny little issues associated with the Ybor City location. Probably nothing of any consequence.
For starters, the site proposed for the new Rays ballpark made no mention of where everyone is supposed to park. Not that, given current attendance figures for the team, you really need all that much space.
The presumption seems to be fans will be able to park at nearby city parking garages, and since Ybor is such a haven of public safety at night, what could possibly go wrong?
Then there is the little matter that even if the Rays decide to settle in Ybor, it is estimated a new facility could cost as much as $600 million. It seems everyone keeps whistling past the graveyard whenever the subject of who foots the bill for a new stadium comes up, sort of like diplomatically ignoring crazy Uncle Claude who lives up in the attic and thinks he’s really Teddy Roosevelt.
But any facility that is going to cost well into the nine figures better well be addressed while Ken Hagan awaits the honor of throwing out the first pitch on opening day — someday.
There appears to be precious little appetite for the public to pay very much toward a new stadium that will only accrue to the financial benefit of Rays owner Stu Sternberg and his multi-millionaire roster of players.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn isn’t onboard to commit taxpayer dollars for a stadium. And let us not forget in his euphoria to announce the Ybor site, neither Hagan nor anyone else from the county ever bothered to give Buckhorn a courtesy heads up. Buckhorn probably wasn’t amused.
Indeed, not even the Rays could summon up much enthusiasm for the Ybor location, offering a sort of tepid, "That’s very nice, thanks for the effort," boilerplate response. Think of this as baseball’s answer to the wife who asks her spouse, "Does this dress make me look fat?" No, not at all.
It might very well turn out the proposed Ybor site will come to fruition and all will be wonderful, all questions about financing resolved without public money, all parking concerns put to rest.
But in the meantime, you have to suspect the Rays will continue to cast about for other land throughout Tampa Bay for a new home. It ain’t over until it’s over.
There is one possible overlooked option to be considered.
Have the Rays pondered the possibility of relocating to Helloooooo Sucker Stadium? After all, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t seem to be using it very much these days.