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Early starting time for playoff game has some Tampa Bay Rays fans grumbling

ST. PETERSBURG — Thanks to the Detroit Tigers, eighth-grader Connor Killian will miss a few classes today at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. St. Petersburg resident Tammy Watkins will give away an $85 ticket behind Tropicana Field's home plate.

Such is the unpredictable fallout of playoff baseball, when national television sets the agenda.

The Tampa Bay Rays — they of the never-say-die September surge — may seem like destiny's team to hometown fans.

But to TBS and Major League Baseball, the Rays and Texas Rangers are still more of a warm-up act — priming audiences for big-town headliners that will follow later in the evening.

Game Four of the Rays-Rangers division series will begin at 2:07 p.m. today — going head to head on the tube with the likes of Rachael Ray, Let's Make a Deal and El Gordo y la Flaca.

To attend the game, thousands of fans will have to skip work, cut class and rearrange child care.

Adding to the scramble is the 11th-hour nature of postseason scheduling.

Tickets went on sale Friday, giving the Rays time to process them. But Major League Baseball didn't establish today's actual game time until late Sunday, after the Tigers beat the New York Yankees.

The Tigers' victory guaranteed those teams will battle again tonight in Detroit. New York's huge ratings clout made it a no-brainer for TBS to slot that game into its prime-time 8:37 start.

Philadelphia, another huge TV market, will play the St. Louis Cardinals at 5:07, leaving the Rays-Rangers with TBS' early afternoon intro.

Don Blair, 44, bought three tickets to today's game through the Rays' lottery system, figuring he would take his sons, 9 and 11.

But the 2 p.m. start killed those plans. Blair would have leave work in St. Petersburg by lunch time, drive to South Tampa, take the boys out of school and race back over the Howard Frankland Bridge. So now Blair is selling his $42 upper-deck tickets at face value on Craigslist.

"It's disappointing,'' said Blair, an investment banker at Raymond James. "I was aware there could be a change. I just didn't have in mind that it could be 2 o'clock.''

Tammy Watkins, 34, has two tickets in Section 105. A friend who was planning to pay for the other ticket is a nurse who doesn't finish her shift until 3:15.

"I had to give it to another friend for free, just to have somebody to go with,'' Watkins said. "This is ridiculous. It's not a fan game any more. It's all about money for Major League Baseball.''

Well-established teams in major metro markets have fan bases used to day games, she said.

"We don't have a lot of people who can get off work and jump on a train to get to the game. People here have to travel an hour or hour and a half.''

Major League Baseball staggers postseason games throughout the day to maximize the nationwide TV audience, spokesman Matt Bourne said.

Lots of factors play into the decision, including team travel between cities, time zones and audience size.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle,'' Bourne said. "We try to limit the amount of overlap. Our overall goal is to put on match-ups that will draw the largest audience.''

St. Petersburg resident Kevin Killian, 51, was philosophical. He will take his son Connor out of school for a few periods to cheer from the upper deck. Missing class is inconvenient, Killian said. But Connor gets straight A's and is up on his homework. Besides, the Rays made the playoffs, he said. "This doesn't come along very often.''

Early starting time for playoff game has some Tampa Bay Rays fans grumbling 10/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 8:20am]
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