Just a quick, simple question for the Tampa Bay Rays hotsy-tot, Stuart Sternberg, who is acting as if he suddenly discovered his baseball team is compelled to play its games in the equivalent of a FEMA trailer with a gland problem. Did you not notice, Mr. Sternberg, when you purchased this bauble for your investment portfolio, that it was a dump?
Did you not read the fine print in all the paperwork, which obligated the team to remain in Slopicana Field until — well, until you are 68 years old?
And oh yes, can you please show us the gun that was put to your head forcing you against your will to purchase the Rays and all its attendant housing shortcomings?
This was probably something akin to marrying a beautiful, stunningly attractive woman, only to learn her father is Moammar Gadhafi. Thanksgiving Dinner with the family — not fun.
Owners of professional sports franchises are the closest we come in this country to an oligarchy. They feel privileged, entitled — special. And they expect the small people to pay for their whims and fantasies of even bigger and shinier and elaborate palaces for their teams to perform.
See: Glazer, Malcolm and his rug rats, B and P.
So it is that Sternberg came to regard his legal obligations to the city of St. Petersburg and his inherited lease committing the Rays to their Bunker-On-The-Bay as if it was a chewing tobacco spit-stained hot dog wrapper.
Sternberg bemoans the fact that even though the Rays have done well on the field, for some inexplicable reason hordes of loyal fans are not making their way to Orange Pulp Field to revel in the excitement of it all and enjoy the unique pleasure of drinking $9 beers. Who knew?
One argument is that getting to the Rays' Field of Schemes compares favorably to traversing the Khyber Pass, the Bermuda Triangle, the Trail of Tears and Monty Python's Bridge of Death to watch the Boys of Summer scratch their groins and expectorate.
Perhaps. Perhaps there are some baseball weanies out there, who regard driving from Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg, which takes all of 25 minutes or so, as simply too great a burden to bear. Indeed, there are some South Tampa swells who think going north of Kennedy Boulevard is like traveling from the Champs Elysees to Mother Teresa's slums of Calcutta.
But there might be another, more nuanced reason.
Not too long ago the Bombshell of the Balkans and I took in a Rays/White Sox matchup. And as we were walking into the ol' ballpark we started to laugh as we wondered why we didn't attend more games. After all, we're fans. We follow the team, watch games often on television and have acquired all the requisite paraphernalia. And then we quickly understood why.
Now I'll plead guilty to being an old fuddy-duddy. But why is it that attending a baseball game today makes a World Cup soccer match with all those blaring vuvuzelas seem like a Florida Orchestra performance of Brahms' "Lullaby"?
With all the endless, cacophonous noise resonating throughout the building, by the second inning, we both had headaches. The Sunflower of Saks was sitting next to me and we couldn't hear each other. This wasn't a baseball game. It was a convention of people with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Of course, the drunk sitting behind us, with at least nine empty beer bottles under his seat, didn't help as he became increasingly unintelligible by the seventh inning, calling out to various players on the field: "BRGGGGG! FRGGGGLE! ZAPPPPPLEGLORP!" Or words to that effect. No doubt this gentleman inspired the Rays to have the strength to carry on.
The Rays' experience at Lease? We Don't Need No Stinking Lease Stadium runs counter to what baseball is — or should be all about. Baseball is slow. It is pastoral. It's supposed to be relaxing. Sure, there's noise, sure there's cheering and jeering and yes, there is probably the need to hawk stuff — but every waking moment at a decibel level rivaling standing directly underneath a space shuttle launch?
In the abstract does Sternberg have a case to move the team to better, more convenient digs? Sure. The Gateway area has always made more sense, which St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster in a memo to all concerned parties readily acknowledged.
But at what cost to the taxpayers? It is a tough sell to expect the citizenry to help underwrite a mogul's new baseball park so he can become an even bigger mogul when people are jobless, at risk of losing their homes, fretting about putting food on the table and worrying about the next mail delivery of bills to go unpaid.
You want to hear some noise, Mr. Sternberg? At the next Rays home game put a question up on the scoreboard asking your fans how much they would be willing to pay for a new facility anywhere in the Tampa Bay area.
And then get out your earplugs.