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Spring training games a hot ticket this year

The Blue Jays, Phillies and Devil Rays have their mitts on bigger sales than last year.

The Devil Rays, who train at Al Lang Field in Florida Power Park in St. Petersburg, are seeing a steady increase in ticket sales compared with last spring.

After six games last season, the Rays drew about 21,600. This year, the team has attracted about 25,700 fans.

"Most likely, you can attribute it to the fact that we have a lot of young players that have gotten a lot of attention," said Rick Vaughn, vice president of public relations for the Devil Rays.

"Our fans know this is the time they can get to see those players because they're not yet ready to play at the big-league level."

The Blue Jays train at Grant Field in Dunedin. At this time last year, they had sold about 38,500 tickets. So far this year, the team has sold 44,379 tickets.

Some say such success is the result of the team's decision to stay put.

Last year, the Blue Jays threatened to move their spring training operation elsewhere if the city couldn't strike a deal with the team.

And despite some disagreement among residents who didn't think the city should spend the money, the city sprang into action. A last-minute deal was made, keeping the team in town for another 15 years with an option for an additional 10 years.

"The fans feel more comfortable that we signed a 15-year agreement," said Ken Carson, director of Florida operations for the Blue Jays. "We are not a lame-duck business waiting around not knowing what will happen, which has a lot to do with it."

Also, a recent influx of fans from Canada is evident at Grant Field.

"You can tell usually when the national anthem is being sung and who is singing it," Carson said. "It gives you a good idea. I don't know how significant of a boost we are having, but I think there are more (Canadians in attendance) this year."

Meanwhile, fans like Robert Sloboda have a different theory.

"Baseball has gotten a little bit more popular lately," the Seminole resident said. "For a while, with the strike and higher salaries, people were a little disgruntled."

More Phillies fans are coming to Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater. The team is projecting a 10 percent to 12 percent increase in spring training ticket sales compared with last year.

STYL parameter error Although the team is enjoying more success in the ticket office, other elements have come into play and affected their numbers, said John Timberlake, director of Florida operations for the Phillies.

"We are ahead of last year marginally by about 4 or 5 percent," he said. "Unfortunately, because of the rain situation, we may not be as strong as we want to be. But barring any further rain, we're going to outdraw last year."