Start saying your goodbyes to Tampa Bay baseball now

Is this the Rays' future? "Seasonís Greetings from Montreal! Wish you were here!"
Fans enter the stadium through the rotunda for the Rays' opening day at Tropicana Field on March 29. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Fans enter the stadium through the rotunda for the Rays' opening day at Tropicana Field on March 29. (MONICA HERNDON | Times)
Published December 12 2018
Updated December 12 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — No baseball in Tampa Bay.

We need to begin to wrap our minds around it.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Major League Baseball wants a baseball team in Tampa Bay. I'm not sure Rays owner Stu Sternberg wants a baseball team in Tampa Bay. I'm not sure Tampa Bay wants a baseball team in Tampa Bay.

That about covers it, right?

Where once I was cynical, now I am practical.

We need to wrap our minds around this.

It goes beyond MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's blistering letter, which helped harpoon the Ybor City stadium plan, which Manfred presumably wrote between sending out Christmas cards.

Season's Greetings from Montreal! Wish you were here!

The Ybor City deal is as dead. The Rays and Tampa Bay politicians, civic and business leaders — and the rest of us — are down to the last strike. We lead the majors in last strikes.

We knew Ybor City was in trouble once the plan was unveiled months ago, when we saw through the see-through ballpark and realized our end was going to be roughly half a billion dollars. Fantasy baseball at its best.

I also recall, at the same news conference, as if in a dream, someone standing up to say that he couldn't think of another American city with as many mass-transit possibilities. I'm sure all three trolley conductors burst with pride.

I have not arrived slowly at wrapping my head around no more baseball. I always saw a new stadium, anywhere in Tampa Bay, as a 50-50 proposition. It's just that now I'm leaning toward 90-10 … or 100-0.

I could be wrong. I want to be wrong. My summers have always been baseball summers, and I don't want that to end. Jeff Vinik, can you hear me?

Baseball is a timeless game. Teams just don't pick up and leave. We're probably several years away from a final act. In other words, we have time to do something, or, more likely, to not do something and adjust to life without baseball, though imagine the unrelenting doldrums between Lightning playoffs and Bucs training camp. Repeating: Bucs training camp.

Have we forgotten what that was like?

I just can't get it out of my head that MLB has tired of underwriting and subsidizing a franchise with bad attendance when it already has one of those in Florida. And if you think anyone is going to try to nudge baseball man/god Derek Jeter and the Marlins from Miami, you're daft. Jeter beats the Rays, again.

Sternberg, who has done well by this franchise, wouldn't move this team. Too much of a purist. But he'd sell it to someone who would, or to baseball itself, which would then do the deed. Sternberg didn't make all that money by not making money. I can't get it out of my head that he would make out just fine, maybe even end up owning another team, like the Mets, provided their ownership continues that franchise's corkscrew into nothingness. Stu to the rescue, again.

I can't get it out of my head that a lot of Tampa Bay leaders and just plain fans will look back years from now and want to blame someone for the Montreal Rays, or the Las Vegas Rays, or wherever.

But somewhere along the way, if it's curtains, we might have to admit that as great a place as this is to live, it's not a baseball town. Mind you, that's not a crime, simply an admission that this blue-collar community can't support three professional sports teams and the Rays are the odd team out.

Just because Babe Ruth once homered and belched here in spring training a hundred years ago, and Al Lopez, Lou Piniella and Tony La Russa grew up here, as did Dwight Gooden, Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez, doesn't make a place a baseball town.

This doesn't mean Tampa Bay is an ant hill or a network of caves. You can't beat living here. And I'm not about to tell people how to spend their money, especially on stadium construction, though cities do it all the time. But no complaining if the Rays leave, okay?

The Rays have made the postseason four times, or four more times than I ever thought they would. Now they have their mojo back. They played the kids last season, started relievers, did what it took and produced an astonishing 90 wins. They were aces at home. If you had gone to a game at the Trop last season, you probably saw the Rays win.

You probably didn't go.

Someone else will step up with a stadium idea. Then someone will shoot it down, as MLB, which looked the other way when it came to the steroids stain, looks the other way here, too.

A new Rays ballpark is hurtling away from us. Our community has staying power. Tampa Bay hung in there when St. Petersburg struck out on landing the Giants, White Sox and Mariners but eventually was rewarded. Maybe the eleventh hour will again be the charm. But Tampa Bay needs a miracle, like the Rays and 162. You dig up those Vinik numbers yet?

The clock isn't ticking.

I think they threw out that clock.

Maybe someone needs to announce plans to build a new downtown clock. Put me down for 50 bucks.

Baseball is a timeless game.

But it ain't that timeless.

It's time to wrap our minds around that.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or 813-731-8029.

Advertisement