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Outside Tropicana Field, all's quiet in downtown St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Around lunchtime Wednesday, Cyndi Lyons was sitting on a bench downtown, taking her regular smoke break.

Just a few blocks away, the Tampa Bay Rays were about to take on the Texas Rangers in the first playoff game in the American League Division Series.

But from where Lyons sat, outside an office building near First Avenue N and 13th Street, not much seemed different than any other day.

"I really don't think you can tell," the 55-year-old said. "It seems too quiet."

For sure, there were many more cars trying to maneuver the streets, while a steady stream of foot traffic allowed Lyons to people watch. And some fans showed up early to drink, party and dance at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill hours before the stadium gates opened.

But for the most part, pre- and post-game celebrations seemed confined to the area immediately around Tropicana Field. The rest of downtown St. Petersburg seemed pretty tumble-weedy.

Even the blue plaid flags along Central Avenue were easy to miss.

"I expected more hoopla. I really did," said Fran Emerson, 69, of St. Petersburg, who arrived downtown shortly before 9 a.m. "I expected there were going to be long lines, but there wasn't."

Instead, Emerson and her friends, who had all rearranged their schedules to attend Wednesday's game, ate breakfast at Ferg's and waited for the gates to open.

"I never thought I'd have potato skins with my coffee, but I did," Emerson said.

Many fans said the fact that the game was in the middle of the day in the middle of the workweek probably had something to do with the subdued atmosphere elsewhere downtown.

"I did think it would be more crowded here," said Wanda Petkiewicz of Seminole, who watched the game at Ferg's.

Although the parking lots were packed and more fans showed up than during most regular season games, fans on Wednesday didn't seem interested in lingering too much.

Hot dog venders positioned several blocks from the stadium tried to catch the attention of those who were rushing quickly along the sidewalks as the game's start time neared.

But the fans — many of them parents like Luis Aponte of Tampa, who brought his 11-year-old son Alex to the game — had one goal in mind: get inside quickly.

"We just parked and came straight in," Aponte said.

At Savannah's Cafe, just a couple blocks from Ferg's, a small crowd hovered around an outside bar and watched the game on TV.

"I think it's too early," said Courtney Virden, a bartender for the nearby Double Wide Saloon. "People would stop, get one drink, then go straight into the game. I'm sure we'd be a lot busier than this at night. ... It's like a ghost town."

Still, downtown fans managed to show their support in other ways, even if they didn't go to the game.

Along Beach Drive, many stores opened their doors and played the game on the radio. Lunchtime diners at restaurant Bella Brava huddled around the bar in their Rays gear, watching the game on a large flat screen.

On the second level of the same building, Brian Vanek and Michael Alexis were working on renovations to the building and repainting the trim.

The pair painted the phrase "Let's Go Rays" on an extra drop cloth and hung it from the roof.

"We decided to show a little team spirit," Alexis said. "How can you not be into it?"

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

Outside Tropicana Field, all's quiet in downtown St. Petersburg 10/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 11:00pm]
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