PHOENIX — It seems Tampa Bay is notable on Bud Selig's radar these days. The commissioner is impressed with the Rays on the field, concerned with attendance in the stands and bothered by the words of St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.
On opening day at Tropicana Field, Foster said he was prepared for interference from Major League Baseball and all of the commissioner's "tricks" when it came to stadium issues in Tampa Bay.
Selig would not discuss the apparent stalemate between the Rays and the city but told the St. Petersburg Times that he took exception to the mayor's characterization of his role.
"Yes, I did," Selig said. "I did take exception to that."
Rays owner Stu Sternberg also said on opening day that his patience was greater than MLB's and that the league would take a greater interest if there was no progress on stadium talks.
That day, apparently, has not arrived. Selig talked in generalities about attendance problems but declined to say much more.
"I must admit to you, and I've said this before and I'll say it to you here today, it's a terrific organization, very competitive, more competitive even this year than people thought they would be," Selig said before the All-Star Game on Tuesday. "And of course the first thing I do every day is look at the 15 attendances to see how we're doing, and I agree with Stu Sternberg: You have to be concerned. He has to be.
"If you want to put a competitive club on the field, there has to be revenue to support it. And they've done a brilliant job, but this year (attendance) has surprised me."
The Rays are last in the American League in attendance with an average of 19,115 fans per game. That's about a 14 percent decrease from the same point last season.
A homestand beginning Friday with the Red Sox and Yankees could be an interesting barometer with the Rays chasing both in the AL East.
MLB executive vice president John McHale, the Devil Rays' chief operating officer in 2001, said baseball continues to have faith in Tampa Bay as a market.
"I don't know of any facts that would make me change my opinion from some number of years ago that this was a potentially successful major-league market that kind of needed to figure out how to have its ballpark situated in the right place," McHale said. "Maybe that's possible to do, and maybe that's not possible to do."
Does that mean the Rays need a new stadium in Tampa?
"I don't think I'm allowed to have an opinion on that," McHale said, grinning. "I'll leave that to the owners in Tampa Bay."