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"Kill the umpire,' says a jilted St. Petersburg

For baseball fans, news that St. Petersburg didn't get a team was worse than than going down swinging on three straight pitches. Worse even than a rain out. Ask Bob Dell of the baseball card shop, Talkin' Baseball.

"I wish Miami all the bad luck in the world," he said. "I told my wife, "Don't talk to me."'

He said he would have have loved nothing more than to put a sign on his shop, "Closed. Gone to the ball game."

From barrooms to board rooms, the reaction was the same Tuesday. Fans were devastated, angry and frustrated by the news that Major League Baseball expansion teams would go to Denver and Miami.

"This is a definite setback for us," said Roland S. Kennedy, chairman and chief executive officer of Barnett Bank of Pinellas County. "But I am convinced the area will get a team sooner or later. The baseball heritage of this community and, despite what some skeptics are saying, the ready-built dome gives us a definite leg up. And we will get either a team that will move in here or maybe we will get favorable consideration from the American League."

Many fans were less optimistic. They focused their wrath on the Tampa Bay ownership group, blaming it for not having enough capital to persuade baseball officials to give St. Petersburg a team.

Tampa Bay's group was led by Washington, D.C., attorney Stephen W. Porter and included millionaire real estate investors Sidney and Allen Kohl.

"I was quite positive we were getting the team," said 69-year-old St. Petersburg resident Don Weisensel. "We deserved it. I think we were sold out by the Kohl brothers."

For many fans, the loss was particularly difficult to accept on top of news that economic troubles are forcing a delay in downtown redevelopment.

"We could have walked the expansion committee through a beautiful downtown St. Petersburg as opposed to all this half-a---d construction," said locksmith Robert Martin. "And officials saying it's going to be built, there's going to be stores here, there's going to be people. You can't just build and then expect baseball to come. This is notField of Dreams."

Many fans hoped baseball would fuel the city's economy and spark pride in the area.

"I guess St. Petersburg is basically going to stay the way it is for quite a while," said Rich Renner, sipping a beer at Stanley's Sports Bar on 34th Street N. "The stadium is going to stay empty. Downtown is going to continue staying broke. We should build some more shuffleboard courts down there."

On the other side of the bar, Sandy Rydstrom poured beers and lamented life without baseball.

"It would have helped get some excitement in this place _ just something to look forward to, just something that we would have that's ours," she said. "Now it's just another disappointment."

_ Staff writers Gore Zvobgo, Thy To, Alan Goldstein and Robert Trigaux contributed to this report.

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