Lightning, Thursday night, Rays, Friday afternoon.
You think anybody in Tampa Bay notices?
There will be no reunion in Boston with Terry Francona, whose Indians fell to the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday night, 4-0, in their one-game wild card showdown. Joe Maddon and the pitching-rich Rays arrive here Friday for Game 1 of the American League division series with Jon Lester and Matt Moore going head-to-head.
Before we get there though, hockey returns to the Hub Thursday night, when the Bruins host the Tampa Bay Lightning on the Garden ice, which last saw heartbreak and Lord Stanley’s Cup paraded around by the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, it was also only 11 days ago that the New England Patriots demolished the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-3 at Gillette Stadium, costing starting quarterback Josh Freeman his job and exposing head coach Greg Schiano as a complete fraud.
Just like Tampa’s baseball fans.
Say what you will about hockey in Florida, but the Lightning were actually eighth in overall NHL attendance last season, playing to 99.2 percent capacity at the St. Pete Forum (tied with Nashville for 19th-best percentage). The Buccaneers have been second-to-last in NFL attendance for the past two years, playing to an 83.9 percent capacity in 2012, but hey, can you blame them?
Then, there are the Tampa Bay Rays, the franchise with Major League Baseball’s most fraudulent fan base.
Like their pinball ballpark, Rays fans are the ultimate laughingstock. It’s no surprise that Tampa Bay was once again dead-last in average attendance (18,645) this past season, which means the Blue Jays, Marlins, Astros, Cubs, Rockies and White Sox – all last place teams – outdrew one of the best, most exciting teams in baseball. That was only to be expected when the Rays were putrid for the entire first decade of their existence, but this is a team that went to the World Series five years ago, and has made the playoffs three of the last four years. No more excuses.
The argument from folks in the Sunshine State has been twofold over the years. Many will say they just don’t have time for baseball, what with all the outdoor recreation that Florida affords, as if we here in New England are bereft of activities on the beach, mountains, ponds, and lakes; museums and other historical landmarks (Sorry, Rays fans, if you’re making the trip here – Ha! – the U.S.S. Constitution and Bunker Hill are closed. Not our fault, you know.)
The more valid excuse for Tampa’s baseball apathy is Tropicana Field, the domed dump that remains the ultimate reason why the Rays simply can’t exist in the area for much longer. Olympic Stadium may have had its downfalls during the years it housed the Montreal Expos, but at least “Le Stade” didn’t have its own set of house rules, which should exist only in Wiffle ball where pitching and hitting are concerned.
CATWALKS, LIGHTS AND SUSPENDED OBJECTS
Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over fair territory:
Batted ball that strikes either of the lower two catwalks, lights or suspended objects in fair territory: HOME RUN.
Batted ball that is not judged a home run and remains on a catwalk, light or suspended object: TWO BASES.
Batted ball that is not judged a home run and strikes a catwalk, light or suspended object in fair territory shall be judged fair or foul in relation to where it strikes the ground or is touched by a fielder. If caught by fielder, batter is out and runners advance at own risk.
Batted ball strikes catwalk, light or suspended object over foul territory: DEAD BALL
Yeah, let’s play postseason games at that place.
We get it, the place sucks and the Rays are stuck in a lease until 2027, which simply can’t be honored. But at what point would you expect fans to accept the card they’ve been dealt? Heck, Oakland might have the absolute worst stadium in baseball, and the A’s still outdrew the Rays by an average of 4,000 per game. Not like Oakland is the fan base you exactly want to adhere to, but you have to start somewhere, right?
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has already come out and said that the pitiful 2013 attendance would affect next year’s payroll. When you’re already 28th in the league in payroll ($58 million), well, that’s not a good harbinger.
"It's not helpful," Sternberg told the Tampa Tribune. "We have to change our sights for next year now. But there's still a lot of baseball to be played and it could be helped by what happens the rest of this year, it could be helped to see what happens in the offseason as far as pre-sales and season tickets and things like that.
"My goals sometimes are pretty reasonable. I wanted to be league average after '08, and I felt (this year) we would be 28th, maybe with a shot at 27th."
Nope. Welcome to 30, Stu.
And so we have the Sox and the Rays battling it out for the right to go to the ALCS. Maybe Rays fans will notice and pack the landfill for Monday’s Game 3. Maybe many of them won’t realize what the Rays have done until a potential trip to the World Series.
As the Bruins noted during the 2011 playoffs against the Lightning: “Loch Ness Monster. Big Foot. Tampa Bay Lightning Fans.”
That prompted Tampa radio host “Cowhead” to encourage his listeners to protest, and the Bruins ultimately removed the signs that were littered around the TD Garden.
You’ll be able to find Rays fans though. They’ll be the ones who insist they were on this bandwagon the entire time, even if the numbers prove they were nowhere to be found.