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The mourning after

How do we feel? How did Boston Red Sox fans feel when Mookie Wilson's weak little ground ball went through Bill Buckner's legs? How did Brooklyn Dodgers fans feel when Bobby Thomson sent a Ralph Branca pitch high over the left-field fence at the Polo Grounds?

Or more to the point, how did Brooklyn fans feel a few years later, when the Dodgers skipped town and headed for the Coast, never to return?

Even that doesn't quite capture the gloom that has settled over Tampa Bay today. The Red Sox didn't win the World Series in 1986. After all, they never do. And Brooklyn lost the 1951 pennant _ and eventually lost the Dodgers altogether. But at least they got to play the game. And it is far better to have played and lost than to have never played at all.

The temptation is to say that we wuz robbed, but it's not yet clear what went into the expansion committee's decision. Denver and Miami are Major League cities, and National League franchises will be successful there.

But Tampa Bay is a Major League market, too. Commissioner Fay Vincent says Miami and Denver were "obviously" the most attractive choices, but he couldn't really mean that. By all other accounts, we finished a close third in the expansion competition, but that's the worst possible place to finish in a two-horse race.

After an appropriate period of mourning, local officials will have to pick themselves up and see what can be learned from this agonizingly deflating turn of events.

If Tampa Bay was bypassed because of weaknesses in the prospective ownership group that baseball selected to represent us, we can still be confident that the inherent strengths of our market will eventually attract an existing franchise that is struggling in its current home. However much the commissioner's office may frown on relocation, baseball's owners will not block a move that is in the long-term financial interests of the sport.

On the other hand, if Tampa Bay lost because baseball perceived some weakness in this market, local officials will have to redouble their efforts to acquaint the rest of the country with the facts. Not counting Washington, which has the Orioles just up the road and has already blown two chances to make baseball work, Tampa Bay is now the largest metropolitan area in the country without a franchise, and we're growing as fast as anyone.

But that's a logical argument for another day. Right now, all of Tampa Bay has to spend a little time putting this loss in perspective, just like Dodgers fans did 40 years ago. We can be thankful that the sun came up this morning (assuming the sun came up this morning). We can appreciate the sunshine and the gulf.

And we can wait till next year.

Or the year after that.