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Dick Vitale to Rays owner Stu Sternberg: Sell the team

ESPN college basketball analyst and longtime Rays season-ticket holder among the many Rays fans who are frustrated with the recent payroll reducing moves.
Dick Vitale cheers during game seven of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2008 MLB playoffs on October 19, 2008 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Dick Vitale cheers during game seven of the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2008 MLB playoffs on October 19, 2008 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Published Feb. 21, 2018|Updated Feb. 22, 2018

PORT CHARLOTTE – Dick Vitale, the Rays' most visible and, as of late, vocal fan, took to Twitter and the 620-AM airwaves Wednesday morning and later in the day in a phone call to the Tampa Bay Times to blast his local baseball team.

Vitale, ESPN's lead college basketball analyst and Rays season-ticket holder since Day 1, called for Rays owner Stuart Sternberg to sell the team.

"If you don't want to own a team and give the fans a chance (to see competitive baseball), sell the team," the Hall of Fame broadcaster told the Times. "There'll be a buyer in a heartbeat."

Is it possible the Rays actually know what they're doing?

Posted by Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lenny Fraraccio of Brandon is using Twitter to organize a boycott of the April 13 home game against the Phillies because he feels it is time to get Sternberg's attention.

"I don't know if it's going to get traction," Fraraccio, known on Twitter as RaysFanGio, said. "Who knows?"

Season-ticket holder Cliff Wolf of Tampa was on a cruise through the Panama Canal on Wednesday when he learned of Tuesday night's three-team trade with the Yankees and Diamondbacks that sent Steven Souza Jr. to the Diamondbacks in return for two prospects.

"If I was a patient man, I'd be okay with it, but giving up major-league guys for guys that aren't major-league ready is frustrating," Wolf said in a text message to the Times. "I know it's the future building, but my tickets are for this year."

Robin Evans of New Port Richey, who said has a flex-pack ticket plan and attends 10-12 games a year, is trying to remain optimistic but finding it hard when her favorite team said goodbye to Brad Boxberger, Alex Cobb, Logan Morrison and Evan Longoria in the offseason, and Jake Odorizzi, Corey Dickerson and Souza during the early days of spring training.

"As a fan, I just feel very unmotivated to open my wallet and hand over my hard-earned money for a product on the field that is not a very good product," she said. "I'm not excited. I'm trying to stay positive, but not excited about the year."

It was much the same on Twitter as Rays fans vented about the salary dumps.

The Rays did rebound somewhat Wednesday with the news they will sign veteran Carlos Gomez to a one-year, $4 million contract as a replacement in rightfield for Souza. But, gone is the face of the franchise (Longoria), the starting American League designated hitter in last year's All-Star Game (Dickerson) and the 2017 team MVP (Souza).

"The point now has reached an embarrassment," Vitale, 78, said. "It's reached a humiliating state. When we lose the people we've been losing, it's absolutely mind-boggling. You want to compete."

Vitale estimates  he has spent more than a quarter-million dollars on his four front-row seats located next to the visiting dugout at Tropicana Field.

"I'm a faithful guy, a loyal guy, and I'll still buy tickets," Vitale said. "But I want to go and be in a competitive state. I want to see major-leaguers. I want to bring people into the stadium and say, there's Evan Longoria. There's Odorizzi. There's Alex Cobb."

Vitale called himself a "frustrated fan."

"We pay major-league prices. We want to see major-league baseball," he said. "I have nothing against the young kids they're getting. Prospects, prospects, prospects. But it's just not fair. It's not fair to the fans. It's not fair to Chris Archer, to Kevin Kiermaier. And it's just very frustrating."

Fraraccio read the comments from general manger Erik Neander on the trades that sent Longoria, Odorizzi and Souza elsewhere. He's not buying the company line.

"It cracks me up that Neander says we're still going to be competitive, Fraraccio said. "You just traded your MVP who makes $3.5 million a year. You're not trying to be competitive. If you're going to blow it up, dude, blow it all the way up. Trade Wilson Ramos. Trade (Denard) Span. Trade KK. Trade Archer. Trade (Alex) Colome. Let's do like the Astros did in 2014. Don't tell me you're trying to be competitive, because you're not."

Fraraccio said he had tears in his eyes when Longoria was traded in December to the Giants.

"I'm going to be a Rays fan no matter what," he said. "I'm going to go to 30 to 40 games this year. I love baseball. It's in my blood. And I love Stu Sternberg. I get what they're trying to do, but it still hurts, man."

Then Fraraccio delivered the dagger.

"We're just like the Florida Marlins now," he said of the Rays' cross-state rival that slashed its roster over the winter.

The difference is, the Marlins have done it before, twice selling off World Series-winning teams.

"The Rays fans have never been through a rebuild like this," he said, "so you have to expect this kind of reaction."

The Cubs and Astros both gutted their rosters, rebuilt through their minor-league systems, added a few big pieces in free agency and won World Series titles.

When asked if she could buy into that future for the Rays, Evans said, "I feel like we've just been rebuilding. I feel like we've been trying to be hopeful like that. Maybe in five years. Maybe in five years, if we have a new stadium and the young players blossom and we keep them, that's key that we keep them, who knows. I like to be the optimist person and believe that."

Vitale wants no part of a rebuild that could lead to a competitive team in five years.

"I live for today. Who knows what five years are going to bring," he said. "That's just searching for excuses to justify the moves."

Vitale donates his tickets to charity or gives them away for games he cannot attend. He said he had trouble giving away tickets last season.

"The point now has reached an embarrassment. It's reached a humiliating state," he said. "When we lose the people we've been losing, it's absolutely mind-boggling. You want to compete."

Vitale wonders if avoiding 100 losses will be counted as a successful season.

He tweeted about and talked about the moves the Yankees and Red Sox made during the offseason. The Yankees traded in December for Giancarlo Stanton. On Tuesday the Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez.

In December, the Rays traded Longoria. On Tuesday they traded Souza.

"If you want to play with the big boys, you have to have good players," he said. "You have to give your fans a fighting chance. They have to be excited to come to the park. Cannot feel excitement, enthusiasm and energy. You can't feel that at the ballpark when you go to the Trop."

Like most Rays fans, Vitale longs for the days of manager Joe Maddon and the teams that competed for the AL division title or the wild card.

"The glory days, it was fun to go to the park," he said. "Joe Maddon made it exciting. We had legitimate major-leaguers."

Vitale won't be at the Trop on opening day. He will be in San Antonio for the men's college basketball Final Four. But he said he will still attend games this season.

"I will be there," he said. "I will take my punishment."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow on Twitter @rogermooney50