Since 2010, only four Major League Baseball teams have produced five 90-win seasons: the Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox — and the Rays. It’s a remarkable feat for Tampa Bay to be in any conversation about on-field success with the well-funded titans of the game, but the adoration it receives in this market doesn’t seem to match its achievements. Is the hometown team under appreciated in its hometown? We convene a roundtable to get answers.
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: Certainly for the success they’ve had on the field competing against the big bucks boys in the AL East, highlighted by four playoff appearances in six years, and last year’s talk of baseball pitching innovations and resulting 90 wins. And the front office acumen and creativity to get there. Also for their place in the community. For all the bashing the Rays take, and the occasional missteps they make, they have done a lot of good, in terms of donating money and providing opportunities. Or, look at it this way: Even if you don’t like the Rays they allow Major League Baseball to be played here and all the visiting teams to come in, and make the area feel major league.
They deserve more support
Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: It’s hard to not think the Rays are under appreciated in Tampa Bay. Baseball does not have the kind of level playing field or revenue sharing enjoyed by the NFL and some other sports leagues. Considering this team plays in the AL East, arguably the best division in baseball, against large market teams that can outspend them two or three to one is an enormous disadvantage. And yet, they have won an AL championship. They have been to the playoffs multiple times. They have won 90 games as recently as last season through shrewd trades and some good players they drafted and developed. They have been on the cutting edge of innovation with the analytics and inventions like “the Opener,” that is being copied by other MLB teams and may change baseball. They have endured an inferior ballpark in a less than desirable location. And they routinely finish last or near the bottom of MLB in attendance. It’s hard to say they’re appreciated when they have to shrink the seating capacity to 25,000 at the Trop to create an artificial demand for tickets and a better fan experience by centralizing the fans. Now, nobody is going to throw a telethon for the Rays nor should they. Stuart Sternberg has seen the Rays franchise value increase. He could certainly commit more of the Rays revenue toward the cost of a new stadium. They’ve made mistakes like any pro team. But only a handful or more teams have won more games in the past decade or so. The Rays job is to field a good product and win. They’ve done that.
Value the support the team does receive
Frank Pastor, digital sports editor, @frankpastor66: I don’t believe the Rays are under-appreciated in Tampa Bay. I believe the appreciation for the Rays in Tampa Bay is under-appreciated. Especially in St. Petersburg, where the team is a source of civic pride. Just because the team doesn’t draw at the gate doesn’t mean that people don’t care about the franchise. This is a nontraditional market, with unusual demographics and unique challenges that arise from them. Transplants that grew up rooting for other teams. A lack of major corporate support. Less expendable income. Public transit problems. And, yes, an outdated venue located on a peninsula surrounded by water. But local television ratings are strong, Rays apparel is everywhere, and while perpetual discussions about whether the team might leave for someplace else undoubtedly create fatigue, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who truly wouldn’t care if the team left the market. Tampa Bay appreciates the Rays. It just doesn’t show it at the turnstiles.
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Rodney Page, @rodneyhometeam: Yes, the Rays are under appreciated. And here’s why: They won 90 games last year. 90! That’s with one ace and a bunch of openers. With no real star in the lineup. And this team is built the same way and already off to a good start. Some teams are predicted to be lousy when the season starts and live up to it. The Rays always seem lousy out of spring training and often surprise.
Show some love
Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you: If you love the Rays, count the number of games you attended last season and then commit to adding to that total. Even if it’s just one more game, it matters. And to be candid, I’m talking about you St. Petersburg. The Rays are a regional team, but it starts with the host city. Despite the disdain that may have been caused about talk of a move, this team has produced too much success not to have more fans going through the turnstile. Frank is right, the TV ratings are strong and the pride is evident, but they deserve a bigger push at the gate. While the lure of sun, sand and Beach Drive restaurants is strong, St. Pete can show more love.