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Good grief, are we now having a petty argument over the St. Pete Rays?

John Romano | The City Council is pondering whether a name change should be a condition for approving a stadium deal.
 
The Rays have embraced their St. Petersburg home (along with their mascot Raymond) but that does not mean the team does not need the region-wide support indicated by the Tampa Bay moniker.
The Rays have embraced their St. Petersburg home (along with their mascot Raymond) but that does not mean the team does not need the region-wide support indicated by the Tampa Bay moniker. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 2, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — The argument about where to build a new baseball stadium was long, often feisty, but clearly necessary.

The negotiations about cost, revenues, infrastructure, real estate, amenities, history, housing and all the other details that creep up in a project of this size were extensive and, presumably, contentious but also critical to reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

And the new debate about changing the team’s name to the St. Petersburg Rays?

Well, that’s just silly and superfluous. Also, counterproductive and parochial.

Former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker has been pounding this drum lately and, based on a recent Tampa Bay Times story by Colleen Wright, has gotten the attention of a handful of City Council members who ultimately need to sign off on the stadium deal and redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.

The thinking is that St. Pete is making a sizable financial investment in the stadium and, therefore, should reap the benefits of having the city’s name front and center. I get it. The idea has a certain, visceral satisfaction to it. Especially for a community that spent years dealing with the civic equivalent of an inferiority complex.

But, ultimately, this quarrel feels small-minded and pointless.

The Rays have no interest, or intention, of agreeing to this condition and their position is understandable. They have struggled to attract fans from around the region — partially due to their location — and it’s not going to help their cause to double down on the idea that this is primarily St. Pete’s team.

More importantly, it’s in the city’s interest for the team to succeed. Not just from a financial standpoint, but also a reputation one. As far as the rest of the baseball-watching world is concerned, the reason the Rays have struggled is because they have been stuck in a sleepy bedroom community.

And anything that reinforces that flawed narrative is not going to help. Not at the box office, and not with the city’s image.

St. Pete is a vastly different city than it was in 1998 when the Rays threw out their first pitch. Some of that, undoubtedly, can be traced to the presence of a Major League Baseball team. Much of it, however, has been the organic growth of downtown that has created a hip, neighborly vibe from the waterfront to the parking lots of Tropicana Field.

“Here to Stay” is displayed on the scoreboard as Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced on Sept. 19 an agreement for a new ballpark to be built in St. Petersburg.
“Here to Stay” is displayed on the scoreboard as Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced on Sept. 19 an agreement for a new ballpark to be built in St. Petersburg. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]

The city should be delighted with that evolution. Former mayors, such as Baker, should be proud of the role they played.

But the bottom line is St. Pete is still MLB’s smallest city. Smaller than Arlington, Texas. Smaller than Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Anaheim.

So it goes without saying that St. Pete needs ample help from the rest of the region if a new baseball stadium is to be more successful than the Trop. It needs Clearwater. And Sarasota. And New Port Richey. It needs the beaches and the suburbs. And, yes, it desperately needs Tampa’s help.

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Other business, social and political endeavors have always understood this. That’s why Tampa Bay has become a brand name even if doesn’t exist outside of a body of water.

St. Pete does not gain by poking Tampa. The cities need to embrace each other. They each serve different functions in the marketplace, and they benefit from each other’s presence. Think of Tampa as the right side of the brain, and St. Pete as the left side. One without the other is either rudderless or boring.

Of course, none of this is a suggestion that the City Council rubber-stamp the stadium deal.

It deserves scrutiny and that’s the job of your elected representatives.

If they believe the Trop land will be more productive with something other than a stadium as the centerpiece, they should speak out. If they believe the city can find a better partnership with developers than the Rays and Hines, they should speak out. If they believe the city’s contribution to the stadium cost, along with the Rays and Pinellas County, is a bad investment, they should definitely speak out.

There are plenty of issues that could be, and should be, clarified and resolved.

A name change is not on that list.

Do you know the easiest way to convince someone you’re a few cows shy of being a hick town?

By continually shouting that you’re not a hick town.

It’s sort of like a politician wearing lifts in his boots because he doesn’t want anyone to notice he’s short. After a while, the only thing people are talking about are the stupid boots. In other words, it defeats the purpose.

St. Petersburg is marvelously friendly and funky. It is diverse and artistically significant. It is growing in size and stature, and the redevelopment of the Historic Gas Plant District will only hasten that progress.

St. Pete does not need its name on a uniform to prove it is big league.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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