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Hillsborough's designs on Rays couched in kind words

What you really have to be touched by is the tremendous outpouring of concern, generosity and brotherhood. It's a verklempt moment is what it is.

Sensing St. Petersburg's hour of need, no doubt Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan lit a votive candle, walked the moors in deep contemplation and finally decided to extend a hand of friendship and brotherhood in a completely unselfish gesture to steal away the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa.

Why this was a regular Sydney Carton meets Nathan Hale act of uncommon charity.

The chairman was kind enough to pen a letter to the St. Petersburg community coalition ruminating over where the Rays might best be situated in order to make gazillions of more dollars for owner Stuart Sternberg, who wants fancier digs for his lads to play baseball in rather than their current home, Tropicana Field, which is to major league sports stadia what Port-au-Prince is to urban planning.

In his missive, Hagan wrote: "Please understand that it is not my intention to suggest any specific site or to offer any public funding mechanism or participation." Translation: "We will figure out a way to lure you here even it if means feeding our schoolchildren Meow Mix for the next 30 years."

Hagan, gripped in the throes of Christian empathy for his fellow man, continued: "I strongly believe that Major League Baseball is of critical importance to the entire region from both an economic and quality of life perspectives. And I, for one, feel it is in the best interests of our community to keep Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay."

Translation: "We — more importantly I — feel it is of critical importance to keep baseball in Tampa, er, …, u, … oooops, I meant Tampa BAY. Yeah, that's what I meant."

Fate, Kismet, Duplicity are wonderful things — especially if you are a Hillsborough County commissioner. For at the very moment Hagan was scribbling his Magna Carta of complicity to the ABC— Anywhere But (near) Central Avenue Coalition — it just so happened unnamed, murky forces of commerce and opportunism were starting to scarf up property around the Channelside District, which happen to match the approximate dimensions required for a (Ta-DAH!) baseball park.

Go figure the odds on such a coincidence!

For his part, newly minted St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he was overwhelmed by Hagan's hail fellow well met interest in the economic welfare of the region and then went looking for his wallet. It was there only a moment ago. Sheesh, Elmer Fudd isn't this gullible.

Hasn't this always been the case?

For despite decades of Pinellas and Hillsborough County pols giving plenty of lip service to the need for both communities to work together for the common interest of the greater region, when it comes to one side of the bay seizing the advantage over the other, Tampa always has been Mickey Spillane to St. Petersburg's Noel Coward, brass knuckles to ascots.

Memo to Hizzoner: Dear Mr. Foster, if they can get away with it Hillsborough County will abscond with the Rays before you can say, "Hey where's my watch? It was here just a moment ago." When it comes to groveling before professional sports owners to meet their every whim, Tampa is in a league of its own. The city and the county are like Lady Gaga's backup dancers, more than willing to endure any indignity, any debasement, any amount of money if it will mean getting a peak at Sternberg's leg.

Of course, Hillsborough's hotsy-tots have insisted they have no money, no means to accommodate a new Rays stadium. And if you believe that, you probably also buy into the notion Tiger Woods will hire Rosie O'Donnell as his caddy whenever he returns to the PGA tour.

Monied mystery investors don't start buying up vast parcels of land, architects don't design imaginary baseball stadiums for the mere fun of it, and Hillsborough County Commission chairmen don't write disingenuous letters of civic unity to the object of their desire unless they earnestly intend to lure the Rays to a new home in Tampa.

And why not? Sternberg has about as much kinship with St. Petersburg as a sandhill crane does with Antarctica.

With pen pal Hagan starting to make goo-goo eyes at the Rays, if Foster and the rest of the St. Petersburg swells really want to keep the team they better start getting serious about where they might find a new home for baseball within the friendly confines of Pinellas County.

As for the St. Petersburg mayor, who is probably looking for his car right about now, he might do well to remember the sage advice of that learned existential philosopher Satchel Paige, who famously said: "Don't look back, someone may be gaining on you."

That would be Ken Hagan — humanitarian, statesman, political grafter.

Hillsborough's designs on Rays couched in kind words 02/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2010 6:45pm]
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