Most of all, this message is for Evan Longoria and David Price.
You’ve got the best record in
all of baseball , playing in the toughest division in baseball. You’re one game away from clinching the second playoff berth in team history. And yet you’re forced to wonder: where the hell are the fans?
Let me start off by saying this: you have no idea how much this town loves this team. You weren’t around for the dismal years, the green-and-purple years, the basement-fixture years. You want empty seats? Ask Carl Crawford how many fans came to games when he first got here.
But now? We love our Rays. Where are your fans? They’re all around you, if you only had a chance to wander the streets of the Tampa Bay area. You made me a fan, not just of the Rays, but of the sport of baseball. And I, in turn, am passing that on to my sons. Ask my seven-year-old who his favorite player is—the answer is Evan Longoria. Ask my four-year-old who his favorite player is—the answer is David Price. So as for me, and my house, we love the Rays.
What about the rest of the town? Just because they aren’t pressing warm flesh to plastic seats doesn’t mean they aren’t with you. Check the TV ratings—through the roof. Check the merchandising—I’ve never seen more Rays gear on the street than I have this year. Check the game coverage—not from the newspapers or TV, but on blogs and Twitter. Tampa Bay loves the Rays, and you made us love you.
On the field, you guys are holding up your end of the bargain. So why aren’t more of us at the games? I have a few thoughts.
An excuse? Maybe. But not everyone in the Bay Area is drawing million-dollar salaries on multi-year contracts. Florida in general, and the Tampa area in particular, have suffered worse than just about any area of the country, at least among baseball markets. When I bring my family to a game, we’re lucky to get out of there for less than $150. Most families right now just can’t swing that kind of scratch. Even those of us who are lucky to be keeping our heads above water have to pick and choose which games we go to. A Monday night game against the Orioles, where we might clinch the playoffs, or the playoffs themselves? I’m saving my money for the latter—and frankly, I’m a bit worried how much it’s going to cost me to get to a playoff game. But I’m lucky enough that I can do it.
Hey, guys, you play more than a hundred and sixty games a year. That’s a lot of games. Unlike football, which has a mere eight home games a year—and in case you didn’t notice, the Bucs aren’t exactly filling their stadium either—the baseball season offers many opportunities to show up at a game, but also places a heavy demand on the fan base for attendance.
Also, you may have noticed that some of your games fall on Monday nights, Tuesday nights, and other weekday evenings. Those of us who can afford to attend games have jobs, and we’re working longer hours than ever to keep them. And my kids—the ones I’m raising to take their kids to your games—have school and bedtimes.
That means we’ll come to a Saturday or Sunday game—and by the way, what’s up with the team on Friday nights?—but Monday nights are a little bit tougher to handle. We’ll settle for watching the game on TV and hope the team makes it money that way.
For whatever reason, a lot of people don’t like the dome. The location, the catwalks, the idea of playing baseball inside—whatever. I’m fine with the Trop—I’d rather enjoy a game inside than bake in a 98-degree August game or rain off half the schedule—but a lot of people don’t like it.
To some these sound like excuses. And maybe they are. Is there anything more you can do to get more people at the game? No, I really don’t think so. You’ve held up your end, winning your games and making the playoffs. And you’re in a place now that the Devil Rays of five years ago could never imagine being—in the hearts of your city.
When you make the playoffs—tonight, tomorrow, whenever—you will celebrate, and we will celebrate with you—in our seats, in our homes, and in our hearts.
ETA: Those pictures? I took them. At an actual game.