This is directed in part to raysfanboy, who dares to taunt the ghost of Pedro, but more to the local Tampa Bay sports radio commentators and callers, who disparage Red Sox nation at every turn. They tend to claim that the Rays are “all grown up” and have taken control of Tropicana Field. As a Red Sox fan who regularly attends games at the Trop, I watch Rays fans ring their bells with the same disposition that I watch my two-year old daughter almost color within the lines: “that’s so cute, its almost like a grown-up would do it.”
I will readily admit that Rays fans are showing up in greater numbers since the end of 2008, but let’s not forget that the the Trop was, and still in large part “is,” the house that Pedro built. As always, I decided to do some research.
First, my initial hypothesis: I expected to find that Rays attendance spiked significantly whenever the Northeastern Axis of Baseball came to town: that is, the Red Sox or the Yankees. I admit I was wrong. Over the course of the 2008 and early 2009 season, attendance consistently spikes only when the Red Sox come to town. And I do mean significantly.
Some numbers (to keep my calculator time to a minimum, I’m rounding off to the nearest thousand):
- Attendance for non-Red Sox/Yankee games: 1.323k, 21k a game
- Attendance for Yankee games: 183k, 20k a game
- Attendance for Red Sox games: 297k, 33k a game
How about some breakdown? Attendance for the first twelve games of 2008? 182k. Attendance for the three game series against the Red Sox? 98k. The opening game of the Red Sox series saw 30,290 fans–the night before a whooping 9,540 turned out to see the Royals. That 9540 was the biggest turnout for the entire series. The night after the Sox left town, hello 12,039.
I probably don’t need more evidence, but to be certain: the 2005 Rays (I picked this season at random) drew more than 20,000 fans to 14 games all season. They drew 30,000 plus fans 3 times all season. How did the Red Sox play into that? 7/14 and 3/3. Wait, did I really just say that they only drew 20,000 fans 14 times for an entire year? Don’t feel too bad Rays fans. The Sox had trouble drawing 20,000 fans a game. In 1966.
Some serious reflection–I think the argument that the stadium’s location hurts attendance is realer than people imagine. The Rays average significantly more fans on the weekends than they do during the week. Were the stadium closer to where people actually live (in Tampa rather than St. Petersburg), then I think they could significantly boost attendance. Another problem with the Trop is one that I don’t know how to fix: its in a rather unappealing area. Every major baseball culture I have known has a kind of cultural carnival surrounding their stadium. Cask and Flagon, Stan’s Sports Bar, Sheffield Grill; for those who haven’t visited: do you know what’s around the Trop? Parking lots and industrial plants and convenience stores so sketchy I find myself grabbing my wallet as I pass by… in the car… Addressing the location of the stadium, which will likely not happen until the current lease runs out in 2016, would drastically improve the appeal of Rays games. So then, they might not rank last in the AL in attendance for another 7 straight years. Sorry, sorry, cheap shot…
These issues aside, the Rays fan base is steadily developing. Even in a down economy this year, ticket sales are up over 20% at last glance. They’ve got fiscal control over plenty of young talent (but, fanboy, seriously, you have to come to grips with the fact that this is the Carl Crawford good-bye Tampa tour) and should, avoiding mismanagement, be a competitive force in baseball’s best division for at least the next five years.
But, let’s be frank. You don’t have to like the Nation, Rays fans, but you better respect us. Because the minute we stop coming to your stadium, you are going to have to start rooting for the Albuquerque Rays (“Oh, oh, so hard to resist. Mesquite-grilled onions, jalapeño relish … wait a minute, those are Southwestern ingredients. [the crowd gasps] Mango-lime salsa? That’s the kind of bold flavor they enjoy in … Albuquerque!” Hungry, Hungry Homer).
In the meantime, go ahead, ring your cowbells. Its ok, we give you permission, I mean, hey, we paid for the damn things anyway.
Carl Crawford’s epic all-star catch last evening has my friend Rob rightfully ringing his cowbell. But I thought two things as I watched the slow motion replay:
- Wow, that really saved Pap’s butt. Pap, despite strong numbers, has made Sox fans nervous on more than one occasion this season…
I thought the Rays made a solid decision holding onto Crawford this offseason and building the team for a championship run. But, with the kind of season he’s having (he’s on pace to top his career highs in hits, walks, runs and steals), I can’t see Crawford staying in Tampa without a big money contract extension after this season.
I know, I know, the club has an option to pay Crawford $10mil. But that option comes with a 1.5 million dollar buy-out. Crawford could have bought out of the contract after last season (for $2.5mil), but he chose to accept the $8.25mil instead. I don’t see lightning striking twice.
First, the free agent crop for outfielders is particularly weak next season. There’s a list of great names, but nobody there is in their prime, outside of Jason Bay. The Red Sox will want to keep Bay, and I expect them to make a hard push to keep their righthanded power hitter, though the fact that Youk and Dustin are righties, coupled with the decline of Ortiz means they could look at a lefty. Particularly a fast lefty? Couple to the Rays challenge to retain Crawford the fact that the Yankees will be losing Damon; they, too, could be interested in upgrading a terrible outfield defense and getting younger.
Hey, wait, a fast, left-handed, slick fielder with a buy-out option who just won the All-Star game MVP could become a free agent in an off-season in which the Sox and the Yanks will be bidding for a starting left-fielder? CHA-CHING!
I also think you’ll see speed coming back to a premium ahead, as the Earl Weaver “get a big guy to hit the ball really hard” (note: PG rendition) strategy will whither with homerun totals. All the unquantifiable dimensions of speed on the basepaths (i.e., the slidestep, the hesitation of middle infielders, the distraction on pitchers, the gift ball of a pitchout) will come more into play.
To be clear, I think Tampa handled this right. They are getting a great season out of Crawford- if they can pick up some bullpen help, and if their starting pitching holds together, and if their middle infield defense plays better, they have a great shot at a title again this season. They will likely loose Crawford this offseason, but unlike other sports, they won’t get nothing in return. Crawford’s departure will bring them draft picks as compensation–and its likely the picks are near equivalent to anything they might have brought in through an offseason trade (I mean, this is the team that gave up Jackson for Joyce…cheap shot, sorry, sorry).