Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
As I sat in my living room on Monday listening to the noon time Tampa Bay Rays Press Conference with principal owner Stuart Sternberg, I had heard these words hundreds of times before in my life. His dialogue and his diction might be a bit different, but it was a brief microcosm of the many stern and parental actions/reactions my Father had with myself and my younger sister as a child. We had that bitter sibling rivalry that most kids have, but I had a deep passion for getting the upper hand, for wanting to be the “winner” and did not care who or what got damaged in the wake of my goal.
Same thing happened yesterday without a lot of us noticing it. We got hand slapped again, spanked back into a sense of reality that every action has a consequence, and that our own judgments could one day ruin a good thing. And as two young kids, my sister and I had our special toys and game that people gave to us as “gifts for both of us”, but immediately one of us deemed them “ours” and we fought like cats and dogs to protect our ownership and anyone or anything wanting to violate that sanction was to be dealt with swiftly and in a defining way.
Funny, but this sounds just like something presently going on within the belly of the region I call home, of the place that nurtured and matured me…or did it? As Sternberg sat at that Rays podium in the Whitney Bank Club yesterday, I envisioned my father scolding his two children for not sharing, for not acknowledging a sense of unity that needs to happen in life. For showing his bitter disappointment in a situation that could have been handled differently.
When he spoke of the Rays not being Stuart Sternbergs’, not being Tampas’, not being St. Petersburgs’, but being the region’s team, my father commanding voice came through loud and clear. Sternberg had had enough from his regionally spoiled two brats and had to verbally shake them up and let them know that no one is above the act of sharing….no one.
RRC Maybe that is what this region really needed to hear right now. From the months of each side of the estuary called Tampa Bay pounding its breast and confirming it had the power, money and prestige to keep the Rays harnessed within its grasp, we had forgotten this was a regional treasure and not something to be plundered or taken for the sake of vanity. That the two adult communities of Tampa and St. Petersburg need to forget their childish banter and posturing and begin to work towards a regional goal of keeping this team, of sharing before it is too late and it is taken away from us.
Now this doesn’t mean that Sternberg will take our toy away and leave, but that is also a viable option until we prove we are a mature community that can earn back his respect and admiration. No where in that speech yesterday was a threat or a direct admonishment of taking his toys and leaving, but his words were loud and clear, if this region doesn’t put down their petty in-fighting and transform into a collective unit to show its true colors to the Rays, then maybe a bigger change is on the distant horizon.
Some people within Tampa Bay forget just how much this region yearned, pleaded and wanted a Major League Baseball franchise. How much the Tampa Bay Baseball Group sweated, bled and even cried over signed seemingly binding contracts, verbal agreements in principle and a push to the side by baseball to give Florida’s first team to the East Coast and not Tampa Bay.
Sternberg’s words reminded me that he doesn’t owe us anything, that he can collectively entertain offers of relocation or even dismantling this team, but he spoke of the civic ownership of this team. That this region has to show him again why we deserve team, and why he should invest not only time, but large piles of money to keep the Rays in our yard. His speech might have awoken some of that youthful spite and pettiness that comes from wanting something totally for yourself and not share it with a sibling rival. But it is all to clear that like my father,
Sternberg will take it away and neither of us can have it if we persist in this outward display of civic defiance among the Tampa Bay regional community. And for once, I think Manatee, Sarasota and all other points of the compass also know they have to do their part too. It is time for my home region to grow up and accept that a compromise has to be found, or the answer is clear. A community resolve has to be ironed out and confirmed or our regional treasure could be transplanted somewhere else.
That unless the Tampa Bay region can come together as adults and quit this childish game, that this Rays team could be gone forever. Some might say the last part is a extreme right now, but how quickly did our own Tampa Bay Baseball Group descend on the Twins, White Sox, Mariners, Athletics and Giants in our exuberance for a baseball team. Other cities might not have Sternberg on their speed dial, but it might just be a matter of time. Sternberg did not raise his voice or show tones of warning to us, but there was a hint of advising us, of steering us towards a certain direction. The answer is if we will heed this or just take it as an idle threat or commotion.
I once played for a team who’s owner did the same thing and his city did not heed his words. Did not even remotely think the most illogical action would befall their municipality. They kept that stern disillusion right up until the Mayflower moving vans surrounded Municipal Stadium and trucked the entire team from telephones or equipment to Indiana. This is not to say the Rays have anything in common with the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, but it is a precursor to how fast and how hard a team can be ripped from a community that thinks it is superior and almighty, then thrust into the bowels of uncertainty and admonishment within a second.
We may not be Baltimore, but we sure are acting like it right now. I swear during his speech there was a muffed humming going on like a softened vuvuzela of “Kumbaya“ by the trio of Rays President Matt Silverman, VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and Rays Sr. Director of Development and Business Affairs Michael Kalt. Some might say this was a simple firing of a shot before the bow before a ship is raided, boarded then sunk by an invader.
But in reality, it was a much simpler thing. An adult had to punish his two children for not playing nice and sharing the one thing that encompasses both communities. During this weekend’s series against the Florida Marlins, I got a tweet back from FSNMarlins after I informed him we do not play in Tampa. He reminded me that “they are not called the St. Petersburg Rays”.
And it was at that moment it hit me this weekend, that maybe I am a bit too preoccupied by regional definitions and boundaries and not embracing this team as the regional gift it is by Major League Baseball. Maybe I had better open my mind to sharing and hoping the rest of the community does the same…..or one day I will try and embrace this team and come up with only emptiness between my arms.
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