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A Rays fan’s plea: ‘They owe us honesty’

Frustrated Rays regular John Sizemore took a break from shagging batting practice homers Friday at the Trop to consider the Montreal proposal. “You never know what might happen.”
John Sizemore, 53, of Lakeland could be Rays owner Stuart Sternberg's picture-perfect fan. Sizemore was back at Tropicana Field Friday night for the first home game since Sternberg's announcement he would pursue a plan to split seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
John Sizemore, 53, of Lakeland could be Rays owner Stuart Sternberg's picture-perfect fan. Sizemore was back at Tropicana Field Friday night for the first home game since Sternberg's announcement he would pursue a plan to split seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published Jun. 29, 2019|Updated Jun. 30, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — It rained Friday night in the Montreal suburb of St. Petersburg. Those proposed exchange students, the Tampa Bay Rays, were back at Tropicana Field for a stirring 5-0 loss to Texas.

Let’s get this out of the way: There were no major protests. It turns out we do that about as well as we do at showing up for baseball games. One sign, a few Montreal Expos hats. The announced crowd was 13,955, only slightly below the average dismal turnout.

But John Sizemore was there, and he would do.

Sizemore, 53, an industrial controls salesman from Lakeland, stood near his usual spot in the leftfield stands, section 143, Row X, seats 13 and 14, wearing his Wilson softball glove, trying to catch batting practice home runs. He has been doing it since the Devil Rays debuted in 1998.

Related: MORE RAYS: 'This is not a staged exit'

“I stand here every time I come,” he said. “You never know what might happen.”

Sizemore has caught a few BP homers over the years. He is a regular. He goes to about 30 Rays game a year and has a partial season-ticket package. He is Rays owner Stu Sternberg’s picture-perfect Rays fan, the dream fan.

And his heart is breaking.

“I’d rather them just leave. I either want a team or I can’t have a team.”

He said, “I went to the Boston trip this year, all four games. My wife and I went. I go on at least one or two trips every year. I was getting ready to go to the Angels and Dodgers games out there in September. But after Stu made that announcement, I can’t do it.

“I’ve been coming here since ’98 and my kids first got into it. My daughter is 25 now and she still goes. My son is 30. It’s going to take generations. But we’re probably not going to get there.

“I would probably go to minor-league games. Like in Lakeland, they have the (Florida State League’s) Flying Tigers. I’m an all-in-or-nothing guy. I understand the Rays are innovative and they think outside the box and all. I get it. But I can’t do it. Pick Vegas, pick Portland, pick Charlotte, wherever. I can’t do it.”

Related: RAYS TALES: The road to a Montreal plan will a trip

A high fly, two sections over.

“Technically, they don’t owe me anything. But I think they need to be as loyal to me as I’ve been to them. And they’re not. It’s all business, it’s all about the money."

Sizemore spends about $2,000 on Rays tickets. He also has Bucs season tickets and goes to Lightning games.

“Some people like the movies, beaches. I’ve been a sports fan my whole life. This is what I do,” he said.

Sizemore was at the Trop on opening day in 1998, the first game in franchise history, when it was all so shiny and new. He went to both home games in the 2008 World Series. And he was at the Trop for 162.

“Right there,” Sizemore said, pointing to the lower leftfield seats, where Evan Longoria’s homer delivered the Rays to the playoffs.

“I was here celebrating until 2 in the morning when nobody was left. They didn’t make us leave. My wife and I were here. … We got home at 4 in the morning. I just went to work.”

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He smiled.

“The first thing I did tonight, I walked up to one of the Rays persons here and asked if I could speak to Stu. I need to speak to Stu, I know he has a box, and I’d like to talk to him. Her eyes just lit up big and she was like, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t … ‘ And I understood.

“I’m just frustrated. What can I do? I can boycott the games, but I’m just playing into Stu’s hands, right? If I moved to New York, I’d probably be a Yankees fan or a Mets fan. If I moved to Philly, I’d be a Phillies fan. But you know what? I’m invested here. This is my team.”

Another long fly ball into the seats. Sizemore saw it land, He began to move, but the ball was scooped up by a young boy. That’s the way it should be.

Related: MORE RAYS: After clearing one Montreal hurdle, many remain

“I used to race to get here because the first hundred kids got to go out in centerfield and play catch, back in ’98 on Sundays,” Sizemore said. “We’d be out there. This is one of the places where my kids grew up. I used to coach baseball for South Lakeland Little League. For our parties, this is where I came. I’d bring my teams here.

“If you want to go to a game, you find a way to make it happen. You know how I get here from Lakeland? I go down 75, hop on the Skyway, no traffic.”

A long foul ball off to his right.

“I just think they owe us honesty.”

He heard a crack. Trained ears. He looked up. Another baseball was heading for the seats.

“There’s always a chance,” John Sizemore said.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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