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Give me your tired, your poor, and your Rays

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  May 25, 2010 10:01 AM

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Maybe we shouldn't just appreciate the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe we should embrace them.

Maybe we should even call them our own.

It's no secret that despite their sizzling start to the 2010 campaign, the Rays simply aren't a draw in Florida. Tampa Bay is 21st in home attendance with an average of 22,755 per game, playing to a 52 percent capacity. The Rays are 32-13, following last night's 6-1 loss to Boston, which is one of the few teams that helps Tampa Bay fill the cavernous mess that is Tropicana Field. Twenty-one thousand, four-hundred thirty fans attended last night's game, the Rays' highest weeknight attendance since Opening Day.

There is, of course, talk of a new stadium in Tampa, but even that is no guarantee that the Rays can work long-term in Florida, where baseball plays secondary step-child to the NFL, college football, high school football, NASCAR, and fishing. The ABC Coalition, a group exploring the possibility of a new stadium for the Rays, suggests that funding for a new stadium should come from taxes, state and federal funding, and private contributions, yet admits that the state of Florida law limits sources of funding.

The Rays' lease on Tropicana Field also runs through 2027, and the city of St. Pete has been somewhat touchy whenever the topic of relocating to Tampa arises.

Yeah, fun times.

Recently, some opined that the team might be better off someplace else, and brought up the distant possibilities that a team in New Jersey or Connecticut might work. It probably would. Despite the presence of the Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets, the Northeast would give Major League Baseball a much better shot at success than say, Las Vegas or Richmond. Heck, you put that team in Montreal even, and we'll all remember what a great baseball town it can actually be.

OK, that's a long shot, a near impossibility even. So is this.

Bring them here.

The Red Sox would never allow it, of course, but Boston's re-birth as a two-baseball team town would present an epic shift of the sports landscape that would have long-ranging civic impact. A ballpark on the waterfront would finally become a reality, opening a new avenue for prosperity for the state and its residents. As far as loyalties in a town where the Red Sox are king, you might be surprised how many might shift their allegiances to the shiny, new toy.

The Red Sox will always be the Red Sox, of course. Still, whether you want to admit it or not, the mystique surrounding them has vanished with two World Series titles under John Henry's watch. Being a Red Sox fan is no longer a badge of conviction worn on your head, it's a popularity contest at a sing-along amusement park. The team may be great. The park may be historic. But the experience can be pretty cheesy.

One would think the Red Sox and Bud Selig would want to embrace such an idea. After all, if you're one who thinks the rivalry with the Yankees has died down in recent years, imagine the animosity in Boston's city streets between Sox and the new team's fans. It would be a hardball civil war between those keeping the faith, and those joining the rebellion. Move the Rays to the National League and Boston will finally get the point of having Interleague in the first place.

Better yet, keep them in the AL East and watch this city explode 36 times a year.

It's been 58 years since Boston employed a pair of baseball teams, but the city is a far different, world-class destination than it was in 1952. Much like Boston itself, a second team would meld the old and the new, the classic Red Sox and the new kid on the block. Most importantly, a new team would serve as the cherry on a revitalization project that is underappreciated at best.

The Red Sox would never want to risk playing second fiddle, which is why the mayor would never even raise the possibility. TV ratings would take a hit, as presumably would ticket sales with fans paying the highest average price in the game hopping across town where they can afford a seat and maybe even a hot dog to boot.

So, no. It will never, ever happen. Boston simply isn't a big enough city for the Red Sox to absorb the kinds of losses a second team would bring. Good for the consumer. Good for the city's financial future. But for the current baseball occupant, it would have drastic downside.

But the fact remains, sooner or later the Rays are going somewhere. Whether that's a few miles, or cross-country.

Never has a team this good been so ignored (outside of Atlanta). Somebody at least should embrace them and give them a home.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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