2012 Needs to Be the Year of the Stadium
It seems like so long ago. The prospect of a waterfront baseball park down within a simple Home Runs path of Tampa Bay looking towards the St. Petersburg, Florida iconic inverted triangular Pier seemed destined. At that time it seemed the Tampa Bay Rays would begin their 2012 season under a bellowing sail and among the legion of stars that grace the Florida night sky.
I still remember the impromptu hot dog and soda celebration given by the Rays just after the conclusion of their final Spring Training game in Progress Energy Park. Kids were running the bases, parents were basking at the proposed views and changes that would grace this patch of land within the next few years. Expectations were high, and the Rays even made an effort to commemorate the new stadium with a simple gesture in the outfield.
Stenciled in white chalk in the Right-Center field green grass was the proposed placement of the future Home Plate keystone facing towards the Northeast. This symbol showed the promise, the excitement and the hopes of future All-Star games and festivities would center around this iconic parcel of land just to the South of the growing steeples of condos and offices in St. Petersburg.
Funny how we now sit within days of 2012 and since the Rays closed the book on this proposed stadium location, they have been mired still swinging at the plate, not even reaching the first steps towards pursuing another vista in the region. Committees have met and been dissolved providing resolute opinions and suggestions, but still the open lines of communication between the Rays and the community seem muted.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has been more than adamant that Tropicana Field is not adequate, or even fiscally able to uphold this region’s baseball legacy. Only the Rays and the maligned Oakland A’s sit in perpetual motion in regards to new vistas to call home. At the turtle rate the Rays stadium is moving, the A’s will have traveled the road to San Jose and been in their new digs for 5 seasons before the Rays break ground.
But the simple fact the Rays are silent should bother all of us who live in this region. I consider the team a regional asset, a barometer that shows if we are a Major League town, or a sleepy hamlet that is destined forever for tourism not baseball. With the Rays standing firm and silent, the decision by baseball to award a franchise to South Florida first in this state seems to have been a genius move.
I was really looking forward to the former stadium revelation and construction. I would have sneaked upon the grounds and watched as the inner bones and fragments were placed, my emotions would have grown as the stadium took shape and the sail was unveiled to fill from the pre- sunset sea breeze. But all that is moot. All of that excitement, that exhilaration has been boxed up, carted away, possibly forever.
2012 was supposed to be a year of renewal of the passion and love for baseball for this region. The site of Progress Energy Park would have been underneath the infrastructure of the new facility, but the emotions and residual haunts of baseball would have filled the halls. Now soccer is played in this stadium site. The city has invited teams from other countries to train here trying to at least grasp some of that Spring magic again, but the true essence of baseball only seems to aptly survive here from April to October, then it takes a long hibernation.
Back on that afternoon as I stood in the Batter’s Box and stared towards the Northeast I could never imagine in my wildest nightmares this region would fight amongst itself perpetually suspending any attempt of building or imagining a Rays future stadium anywhere in this region. As of now there are no ongoing discussions, no released plans, no small-scale models for us to glance at lovingly. It is like the progression of any kind of baseball facility for the Rays has been erased, systematically eliminated and cast off for now.
I might stroll out into the Progress Energy Park outfield on April before heading to the Trop for Opening Day and stand in that same spot where once sat the make-believe Batter’s Box and point my Louisville Slugger towards the Northeast hoping for a sign, hoping for a revelation.
April 2012 was supposed to be a celebration, a final epiphany of this region to bask in the embrace and afterglow of baseball, a time of celebration of the Ray’s 15th MLB season with a state-of-the-art new digs along a picturesque slice of Tampa Bay. Instead this April Progress Energy Park will be vacant, open to the elements with only one Rays fan in attendance paying homage to the enthusiastic 2012 time-table and the memory of that bellowing sail.