PHILADELPHIA — At a critical juncture when Rays, business and government leaders are trying to secure the long term future of baseball in the Tampa Bay area by building a new stadium, the greatest player in franchise history said they may be wasting their time.
"Honestly, and this is maybe not something I should say, but my gut tells me that the best decision might be to move the team,'' Evan Longoria said Thursday. "I say that only because I look at the example of the Miami Marlins, and (a new stadium) didn't really solve their attendance issues. So from purely an attendance standpoint, somewhere else might be better.''
Longoria spent 10 years with the Rays before being traded to the Giants in December, investing in several homes and a popular business, Ducky's sports lounge, in the Tampa Bay area during his tenure.
As part of a wide-ranging interview Thursday with the Tampa Bay Times before the Giants-Phillies game, Longoria said he is not convinced that the franchise can be successful in the Tampa Bay market even with a new stadium, noting the annually low, and frequently majors-worst, attendance that leaves Tropicana Field largely empty and quiet on most nights.
"It pains me to say that, but players want to play in a place where you have consistent support,'' Longoria said. "It's a selfish thing to say probably as a player, but, I don't know, does anyone really want to play in front of 10,000 a night? I don't know. I'm glad I won't have to hear the backlash again this time (for making comments about attendance, as when he played there).
"There are a lot of dedicated Rays fans … and obviously it would be a shame for those people to lose the team. But you just hope there is consistent fan support, and it historically hasn't been there. I don't know that it's the easiest case to lobby to build a new stadium in the area. It's not a slam dunk.''
If there is going to be a new stadium built in the Tampa Bay area, Longoria said his "good answer and realistic answer" is it definitely should be on the Tampa side.
But he did not agree with the Ybor City site that has been identified as the top choice.
"I think they should move across the street from Raymond James (Stadium, on Dale Mabry Highway),'' he said. "They should build a stadium that looks just like Houston, or very similar to (Minute Maid Park, which has a retractable roof). You can't play outside there (in Tampa Bay), it has to be a retractable. And obviously it should be grass. If you can do it in Houston you can do it in Florida – you can grow grass in Florida indoors.
"That would be the best thing, I think, just to make it in an easily accessible place where you know 30,000-40,000 people can get in and out easily because they do it for 80,000 at Raymond James already.''
Longoria also mentioned the Jeff Vinik-controlled Channelside area of Tampa as an intriguing option. He did not suggest any potential out-of-market destinations if the team, which is signed to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, were relocated.
"I think it has to move to Tampa,'' Longoria said. "If you're staying in the area, it has to move somewhere over there.''
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Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays