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Is Tampa Bay sports teams’ success in the water? Actually ...

With the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Rowdies reaching finals, we ask a USF professor, who says there just might be something to that idea.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman pours a drink from the Stanley Cup into the mouth of Steven Stamkos during the Stanley Cup boat parade on Sept. 30 in Tampa.
The Tampa Bay Lightning's Victor Hedman pours a drink from the Stanley Cup into the mouth of Steven Stamkos during the Stanley Cup boat parade on Sept. 30 in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 1

TAMPA — Kevin Kiermaier has had an insider’s view to the phenomenon of Tampa Bay becoming the home of winning.

The longest-tenured member of the Rays played a key role in their 2020 run to the American League pennant and World Series. He was an ardent supporter of the Lightning as they won the Stanley Cup. And he has become an increasingly bigger booster of the Bucs, rooting hard for them to win Super Bowl 55 on Sunday over the Chiefs.

And like many other sports fans around the country, he wonders how it all happened: having teams in three major pro sports leagues (plus the Rowdies in the USL Championship) reach the championship round for the 2020 seasons.

“You hear people say winning is in the water here in Tampa,” Kiermaier said. “I’ve heard that quite a bit lately.”

Could that be it? Were all those W’s a product of the H20? In addition, of course, to the talent, team building, coaching and clutch performances.

We asked someone who should know: Sarina Ergas, a USF professor of environmental engineering who specializes in water studies.

Usually she is involved in serious topics, researching issues regarding public health, wastewater treatment, aquaculture and aquaponic systems, and environmental biotechnology. Though admittedly not much of a sports fan, she played ball with us.

Sarina Ergas, a USF professor of environmental engineering, said the local water supply tastes good, and could help players in other ways.
Sarina Ergas, a USF professor of environmental engineering, said the local water supply tastes good, and could help players in other ways. [ JOSEPH C. GAMBLE | USF ]

“I don’t know about things in the water that could account for their success,” Ergas said initially. “There’s a lot of factors. Realistically, I think they’re working really hard, and they’re working together.”

But, as Ergas kept talking, she acknowledged there is something in the water.

Actually, several things.

Specifically, elements that could, in some slight ways, be considered performance enhancers, making local athletes better hydrated, stronger, happier and more refreshed.

Most of the drinking water in the area comes from multiple sources and varies depending on the municipality and time of year. Tampa, for example, gets its supply from the Hillsborough River and ground wells, and via the Tampa Bay water agency, Ergas said, and benefits from top-notch water treatment facilities.

The result?

“Our water tastes great,” she said. “They use a combination of ozone and biofiltration, which means they remove a lot of the compounds that would cause tastes and odors in drinking water. It also means they have to use very little filtered chlorine to disinfect the water. So one thing you might want to point out is that since we have such wonderful-tasting water that our teams are really well hydrated.”

(And, she said, players, along with fans, are better able to enjoy the multitude of tasty craft beers brewed locally.)

Also a factor is what’s in the water, such as trace minerals as a result of the groundwater aquifer.

Calcium, for example, makes for stronger bones and teeth (which also benefit from added fluoride in the water.) “I think that could be helping them,” Ergas said.

Bucs quarterback Tom Brady celebrates during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady celebrates during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

And lithium. “It’s present in really minute concentrations, but lithium has been known to put people in a good mood,” Ergas said. “So it may help them with their endurance, their willingness to keep going when the going gets tough because they’re in a good mood.”

Another potential benefit?

“Our water lathers really well,” she said. “We have really good hardness in the water, so you get a really good clean after you shower and you feel much better when you get all of that grime off you.”

So there really could be something in the water that has led to all this success?

Ergas laughed: “Maybe I’m convincing myself.”

Bucs general manager Jason Licht has gotten the same question.

“I don’t have a theory on why it happened in Tampa,” he said. “I guess maybe you can chalk it up to the water, I don’t know. But I’m just happy it happened. … I think it’s something that, 100 years from now, they’ll still talk about — during the (coronavirus) pandemic, all the teams had success.”

Ultimately, that’s what matters most, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.

“We’ve seen everything come together this year,” he said. “It’s really fun to be a part of that. Hopefully the Bucs win one more and we can celebrate again.”

Tampa Bay Rays stand at midfield to receive the American League championship trophy following their victory against the Houston Astros in Game 7 of a baseball American League Championship Series, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. The Rays defeated the Astros 4-2 to win the series 4-3 games. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Tampa Bay Rays stand at midfield to receive the American League championship trophy following their victory against the Houston Astros in Game 7 of a baseball American League Championship Series, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in San Diego. The Rays defeated the Astros 4-2 to win the series 4-3 games. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis) [ ASHLEY LANDIS | AP ]

Tampa Bay is on a short list of markets with three major pro teams playing for championships in the same season.

“Just realizing how special of an accomplishment for this community having all three sports teams make it, it’s incredible,” Kiermaier said.

“I don’t know if it’s in the water or what, but, man, I’ll tell you what, all three organizations were firing on all cylinders this year. We want to see the Bucs finish it the right way. If the Rays are the outcasts of the group (for not winning it all), we’ll gladly take that. We want to see the Bucs bring it home.”

To help them, Ergas had a suggestion:

“Give the Chiefs bottled water so they don’t get any of our secret sauce.”

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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