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Rays’ two-day playoff attendance regresses from puny to punchline

Tampa Bay’s two losses to the Rangers are the worst-attended postseason games of the last 100 years.
 
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena is seen as another small playoff crowd watches play in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Rangers.
Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena is seen as another small playoff crowd watches play in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Rangers. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Oct. 5, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Rounds of radiation to treat vocal cord cancer preclude him from using his voice for now, but Dick Vitale used a text to convey the outrage his tongue couldn’t.

“Very disappointing as this team has battled injuries, plus lost their best all-around talent in (Wander) Franco and win 99 games, and yet the fans don’t come out,” the Hall of Fame hoops broadcaster and longtime Rays fan texted from his lower-level seat Wednesday at another modestly attended Tropicana Field postseason game.

“The Rays deserve a hell of (a lot) better fan support.”

For the second day in a row, the Rays’ bats — and the energy that often had surged throughout this ballpark in the regular season — barely showed up. Tuesday’s woeful, widely-panned turnout of Game 1 of this Wild Card Series (19,704) was only mildly eclipsed, when 20,198 showed up for the Rangers’ 7-1 elimination of Tampa Bay in Game 2.

They are the worst and second-worst non-pandemic postseason turnouts of the last 100 years, according to baseball-reference.com.

“I wish that it had been packed out,” Rays closer Pete Fairbanks said. “I know that playing at a 3 o’clock on a Tuesday and Wednesday, especially with everything that has hit the common household in the past two years, that does make it tough. But yeah, I would’ve loved to have seen it packed. I understand both sides of it.”

The feeble attendance perpetuated a national punchline. Even ABC play-by-play veteran Sean McDonough took a jab after the Rangers took a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning.

“And some boos starting to come down from the group,” McDonough said. “I’m not sure we can call it a crowd. The group here at the Trop.”

As for the Rays themselves, reactions ranged from disappointed to diplomatic.

“I don’t really want to comment on (the energy level),” said Rays right-hander Zach Eflin, chased Wednesday from his first postseason start after allowing four earned runs on eight hits in five innings.

“It wasn’t necessarily a great showing the past two days, but you know, at the end of the day, we’ve got to win.”

Fairbanks, who never got an opportunity to pitch in this brief series, seemed to concur.

“I’ve been in the Trop when it’s been (33,000) strong and it’s been loud,” he said. “And honestly, I think from those games (the energy) was from the get-go. I don’t know if that played a role in the energy being down.

“Obviously I’m not (out) there playing positions, I can’t speak for what they took from that, but you would love to see people more into it. Maybe we didn’t give them a chance to be into it. It is what it is at this point, and we’re going to have to live with it.”

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Justin Lazarra and Jeremy O’Dell, two government employees who drove from Tallahassee, laid the blame for the attendance solely at the feet of Major League Baseball, which determined the mid-afternoon start times in coordination with its network partners.

“We were kind of joking about it before they even announced the time on Sunday,” said Lazarra, 37.

“I was like, ‘Man, the Rays are probably going to get crapped on again.’ Of course, we get the 3 o’clock slot for the wild-card (games). What are people going to do? It’s a Tuesday-through-Thursday series, and the games start at 3 o’clock. Listen, I’m blessed with paid leave coming out the ying-yang, but what about the folks that don’t have that luxury, man?”

Empty seats are seen around fans at the start of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series between the Rays and Rangers on Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Empty seats are seen around fans at the start of Game 2 of the Wild Card Series between the Rays and Rangers on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

MLB didn’t release Tuesday and Wednesday’s start times until Sunday evening, hindering those who might otherwise have planned to attend on a few more days’ notice. Yet those logistics didn’t impair the turnout Tuesday at Target Field, when 38,450 showed up for the Twins’ Game 1 triumph against the Blue Jays in a contest that began at 3:38 p.m. CST.

That game marked Minnesota’s first playoff appearance in three years. Tampa Bay has reached the playoffs five consecutive seasons.

“I feel like you guys want me to say that we’re disappointed because there’s no fans here; that’s the answer you want,” shortstop Taylor Walls told reporters after Wednesday’s loss.

“But it’s a double-edged sword. If I sit here and say we’re disappointed because nobody showed up, the fans that did show up are going to feel some type of way, and they’re going to get disappointed. And then maybe the fans that didn’t come are going to turn their backs even more and never give us a chance.

“But to be honest, coming forward, we’re very appreciative of the fans that did show up, show out, the people that are supporting us at home on television. We have a good fan base here, a great fan base.”

Just one probably more conducive to prime time.

“When you announce a game with a day’s heads-up at 3 o’clock, people do have lives,” infielder Brandon Lowe said.

“People do have other things that they need to do — children, work. It’s hard to get off, so I love every 20,000 that came out, and I believe that they cheered and gave us something to play for and everything else. Hopefully next year we get back to the postseason and we get some 7 o’clock games, get some guys off work, let our town, let our area have some time to get to the games.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

Afternoon delight, afternoon debacle

Though the Rays drew historically low audiences for Tuesday and Wednesday’s Wild Card Series games, prior postseason afternoon contests at Tropicana Field have drawn considerably larger crowds.

Rays 10, Astros 3 (ALDS, Game 3)

Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 (1:07 p.m.)

Attendance: 32,251

Rangers 4, Rays 3 (ALDS, Game 4)

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011 (2:08 p.m.)

Attendance: 28,299

Rangers 5, Rays 1 (ALDS, Game 1)

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010 (1:38 p.m.)

Attendance: 35,474

Rays 6, White Sox 4 (ALDS, Game 1)

Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 (2:38 p.m.)

Attendance: 35,041

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