Setting the national media straight about the RaysOctober 2, 2008 at 2:33 am | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 4 Comments
So tomorrow is the big day. For the first time in history, the Tampa Bay Rays will play in a playoff game. It’s an afternoon game, so I’ll be working from home so that I can watch it live. I’m extremely excited. I might not be able to sleep tonight!
Since it’s now playoff time, that means that I won’t get to hear the Rays’ excellent announcers, Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane, call the game. Instead, I’ll have to listen to some national announcers who don’t have a clue about the Rays. Throughout the year, the national media, announcers for other teams, and fans of other teams have all frustrated me by perpetuating some common misperceptions about the Rays. Since I am in a unique position here, as a blogger who blogs about the Rays but has readers who are mostly fans of other teams, I want to set the record straight as the playoffs begin…
- The Rays do not play in Tampa! They play in St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Petersburg (or St. Pete for short) is part of the “Tampa Bay” region, and it’s on the other side of the bay from Tampa. All of the sports teams who are from the region use the Tampa Bay name, although the Bucs and the Lightning do actually play in Tampa. Tropicana Field is about 30 minutes from Tampa. St. Petersburg is a significant city on its own; it is the fourth largest city in Florida.
However, this doesn’t stop other teams’ announcers from proclaiming that they are in “Tampa” when they are actually sitting in Tropicana Field. It’s as dumb as if they were in Oakland and claimed that they were in San Francisco. I don’t see how they could be so stupid. To get to Tropicana Field, they would either have to fly into the St. Petersburg – Clearwater airport (which would make it obvious that they are not in Tampa) or fly into the Tampa airport and then drive on the Howard Frankland Bridge across the bay from Tampa into St. Petersburg.
What makes this situation worse is that the city of Tampa has made it clear that it wants nothing to do with the Rays. I’m not talking about the people of Tampa; I’m talking about their local government. If you drive on I-275 South into Tampa, you’ll notice a large sign that greets you. It says “Welcome to Tampa. Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and New York Yankees”. Yes, the Yankees. You see, the only professional baseball team that actually plays its home games in Tampa is the Yankees. They play their spring training games there, and they have a Single-A team, the Tampa Yankees, that plays there. They have a very nice stadium that is located right across the street from Raymond James Stadium where the Bucs play.
So, the announcers can tell us that they’re in St. Pete, or tell us that they’re in Tampa Bay (which is understood to mean the entire region, not the bay itself), but please do not tell us that the Rays play in Tampa!
- Quit calling them the Devil Rays! OK, so this doesn’t happen nearly as much as it did at the beginning of the season, but it still happens. Just last week, I had to listen to Orioles announcer Rick Dempsey call them the Devil Rays continuously. Come on, it’s been almost a year since the name change and they’ve been the biggest story in baseball this year. You know the new name by now. It is appropriate to call them the Devil Rays when you’re referring to something that happened between the 1998 – 2007 seasons, but if you’re talking about this year, they’re the Rays. Got it?
- Refrain from trash talking about Tropicana Field! Yes, Tropicana Field is a dome, and we all know that domes are not trendy anymore. After the Twins leave the Metrodome next year, the Trop will actually be the only non-retractable dome left in MLB. It was built in 1990 when St. Pete was trying to attract an expansion team. At the time, domes were cool. Is the Trop the best place to watch a baseball game? No. But it’s not awful either. Seriously, it’s much better than the Metrodome, Astrodome, or King Dome ever were. It’s a baseball-only stadium and it’s much smaller than the other domes. It has an intimate baseball feel to it, especially when it’s sold out, which it already is for all of the first round playoff games. And the Rays are trying to get a new stadium built. Check out this web site to see how cool the new place will be.
The one thing that national announcers and announcers for other teams love to mock is the Tropicana Field catwalks. Yes, batted balls sometimes hit the catwalks. Depending on what catwalk the ball hits, the ball is either in play or it is a home run. It’s not ideal, but that’s just the way it is. Deal with it. Don’t act like other stadiums don’t have their own unique features that make the game different than it is anywhere else. Fenway Park has the green monster, Yankee Stadium has had the short right field porch, and the stadium in Oakland has the ridiculous amount of foul territory – just to name a few. So if a ball happens to hit a catwalk during a playoff game, don’t take that as an opportunity to launch a diatribe about how horrible you think Tropicana Field is.
- Refrain from trash talking about Rays fans! This happens all the time. The media just can’t get enough of discussing how low the attendance has been or how Tampa Bay “is just not a baseball market”. Spare me. The team came into existence in 1998 and had the worst record in all of MLB almost every single year since then! On top of that, they had a belligerent owner (Vince Naimoli) who did everything in his power to keep fans away until the new ownership group took over after the 2005 season. It’s easy to see why the attendance has been low over the years. The attendance has increased dramatically this year now that the team is winning. They’ve sold out the Trop on several occasions, even for games not involving the Red Sox or the Yankees. All of the playoff games have sold out quickly. There is obviously still room for improvement, and the Rays will have a huge increase in season ticket sales next year. The attendance will be a lot higher in ’09 now that the fans have experienced a full season of winning.
And about Tampa Bay not being a real baseball market? Please. The area is the 19th largest metro area in the country. Although they’ve only had a MLB team since 1998, they have hosted spring training for MLB teams since 1913 and they’ve had minor league teams since 1919. A huge amount of MLB players have come from the Tampa and St. Pete areas. The community fought to get a MLB team for almost 20 years before they got an expansion team. The fans have a history of supporting professional sports teams (Bucs and Lightning). Now that they have a (more than) respectable baseball team, you can expect to see a huge amount of support from the local fans from here on out. Although they play in Florida, we are not talking about the Marlins here. There will be no fire sales as almost every key player is signed to a long-term contract already.
Finally, despite 10 seasons of playing horrible baseball, the Rays have a hardcore group of fans (including me) that have supported the team through all the bad times. It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve stuck by our team and we are exuberant that they are now a playoff team. The last thing that we need is to hear idiot announcers disrespecting our fans during our time in the spotlight.
- Get it right when you talk about how this team has been built! I cannot tell you how many times I have heard stupid members of the media blather on about how “after having all of these high first round draft picks, it was only a matter of time before the Rays would turn it around”. As if the team is built around its first round picks. In reality, the majority of the Rays first round picks have been complete failures (see Josh Hamilton, Dewon Brazelton, Delmon Young, and Wade Townsend). In fact, only two of their past first round picks were contributors to the team for most of the year: B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria. Rocco Baldelli was a first round pick, but he was on the D.L. until August and is still not nearly the player that he used to be. And David Price was a September call-up who is now being used out of the bullpen.
It’s good to talk about how the team has been built for the success that it is now having. But get it right. Talk about the superb scouting and drafting that includes even low round picks (like Shields and Sonnanstine), the many smart trades that Andrew Friedman has made (like the ones that brought Navarro, Garza, and Bartlett), and the bargain free agents that they’ve picked up (like Pena and Iwamura). Don’t act like it’s all luck because they had so many high first round picks.
- Finally, learn how to pronounce Akinori Iwamura’s name! With a little bit of effort, it’s not really that hard. Stop using the incorrect pronunciation that you’ve been using all year, and say it correctly. Repeat after me: ah-kee-nor-ee ee-wah-mur-ah. Saying it right will make listening to the game so much more tolerable for me…