Jones: Imagining a Rays ballpark in Ybor City


TAMPA ó Thereís an old Frank Sinatra song called There Used To Be A Ballpark.

Itís a sad little number about a baseball stadium that has long been torn down. Some hear it and think about legendary Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The guy who wrote the song said it was about the Polo Grounds in New York.

Right now, Iím standing at the corner of Channelside and Adamo Drives in Tampa, staring at historic Ybor City in the distance. Itís a beautiful day. Brilliant blue sky. Sunny. A perfect time to dream. And so I think of what could be another song.

There Will Be A Ballpark Here.

Thatís the hope of some, anyway. A ballpark for the Tampa Bay Rays right here in the neglected blocks between Channelside, where the Lightning plays, and Ybor City, a tradition-rich home of food, drink, music and cigars.

Hillsborough County leaders announced earlier this week this should be the place. Itís not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination. But letís worry about the details another day.

This is the time to wonder what might be.

And so here I stand, surrounded by warehouses, unkempt single-family homes and bumpy roads, trying to envision what the dream will look light.

I walk past a tire shop. This could be second base right here.

Chickens stand on a brick road where Evan Longoria could swat homers someday.

Thereís an old chair next to an abandoned craftsmen shop. Someday, a chair right here could be the best seat in Tampa Bay.

Maybe home plate will face the Tampa skyline. Imagine the office buildings all lit up as we watch the Rays playing the Yankees or Red Sox in a state-of-the-art $600 million stadium.

Maybe home plate will look out over the water past the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Imagine looking at a marina full of sailboats as you enjoy a pleasant spring evening.

Maybe home plate will look toward Ybor City . Imagine looking into the distance and seeing where you might go after the game for a Cuban sandwich or black beans and rice.

Itís fun to think about all this stuff.

Maybe there will be a retractable roof. Maybe there will be windows so we can see everything.

And, of course, thereís the baseball.

Think of a packed house ó maybe 35,000 ó watching a Rays team that no longer has to be embarrassed by its modest home.

This all could happen.

After years in drab Tropicana Field and after years of nothing but hand-wringing, rumors and lip-smacking about where a new Rays stadium should go, finally it feels as if there is some movement.

Most of us who follow the Rays have long believed the team will end up in Tampa.

The Trop is just too far away for too many people.

And most of us who believed the team would end up in Tampa have long believed Ybor City made the most sense. Yes, there are concerns about traffic getting in and out of that area. But it feels better than anywhere else in Hillsborough Country.

Better than next to Raymond James Stadium. Better than across the street from Amalie Arena. Better than way out at the State Fairgrounds, which always seemed just a little too far for Pinellas County residents.

So now we look to this spot in Ybor City.

Call me skeptical. Until I see a shovel in the ground, Iím not sold on anything.

But maybe weíre getting closer to actually swinging by Home Depot and buying some shovels.

I still donít know whoís going to pay for it. I still think thereís going to be plenty of backbiting, double-crossing and setbacks from both sides of the bay before anyone throws out a first pitch. Iím still not 100 percent sold that baseball works here no matter where the stadium is located.

And, I hate to say it, but I think thereís as good a chance the stadium ends up in Montreal as it does in Ybor City.

But, for the first time in a long time, we can actually picture it.

We have something a little more concrete.

Even if that concrete is being poured in our dreams instead of the ground.

Go out to Ybor. Take a look around. Imagine it.

There could be a ballpark here.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones