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.
Going into this weekend 4-game series between the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, I decided to take a little look under the municipality covers of both locales and see if there is any similarities that would provide a common thread to mend these two communities together. My reasoning is simple here, both are not the largest cities within their regional boundaries, but yet they both currently support a Major League Baseball American League franchise within their own unique city limits.
With something like this in common, you know there has to be more than a few links and similarities that might have gone unnoticed to most people outside these two cities. Let first step into the cities themselves and provide a few interesting facts, then we will end with the two teams common bonds within the scope of Major League Baseball.
*** Both cities lie on the western most shorelines of their separate natural harbors or estuaries. St. Petersburg is located on the western edge of the Tampa Bay estuary, while Oakland is situated within the larger San Francisco Bay estuary.
*** Both cities are relatively close in size with Oakland encompassing 56.1 square miles of land, and St. Petersburg having 59.6 square miles of land.
*** Both cities were incorporated within 25 years of each other with Oakland being established on May 4,1852, and St. Petersburg being incorporated on Leap Day February 29,1876.
*** Both municipalities got their prominent starts thanks to the growing railroad industry with St. Petersburg being a main railroad terminus thanks to one of the city’s founders Russian railroad tycoon Peter Demens, and Oakland owes its debt to the Central Pacific Railroad.
St Pete Trolley Line
Both had little known trolley systems with Oakland’s system expanding into the modern day Key System while St. Petersburg’s trolley system, which ran from its most western point at Park Street down St Pete’s main road, Central Avenue to the eastern ending point at the end of the Million Dollar Pier.
*** Both cities boast a special place in aviation history as St. Petersburg was the site of the first known commercial airlines (1914) flight. Oakland was the starting point of Amelia Earhart’ s final flight on her World-wide flight plan. She had envisioned landing again in Oakland to conclude her journey.
*** Both cities primary newspapers started within 10 years of each other. The Oakland Tribune started in 1874, while the St. Petersburg Time started it first printing in 1884.
*** In both cities, local Major League Baseball support groups have been critical and instrumental in changes for the MLB’s team future homes. In Oakland, “Let’s Go Oakland” (Keep the A’s) has been a grassroots civic group trying to keep the team in Oakland. They even have a face book page to advertise their plight. While in St. Petersburg, POWW (Protect Our Wallets and Waterfront ) has been instrumental in blocking the formulation of plans for the Rays 2008 vision of a waterfront ballpark on the site of the team’s former Spring Training stadium.
*** Both Oakland and St. Petersburg are currently fighting to keep their MLB team’s within their city limits, with Oakland currently losing their battle to have team leaders consider a future home in O-town. St. Petersburg officials and Rays personnel will discuss more details following the 2010 Rays season as to their future plans.
*** Both have cities on the eastern coast of their estuaries fighting for recognition in the MLB team’s fight for a new state-of-the-art stadium. Oakland has the east shore communities of Freemont and San Jose fighting for the Athletics, while St. Petersburg has Tampa wanting the Rays to relocate in the downtown region of the city.
*** Both communities had team employees who went onto brilliant careers after serving as batboys for the teams. Tampa Bay had Jesse Litsch, who served as a Devil Rays batboy and worked as a team intern transform his baseball talents into becoming a member of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. In Oakland, A’s owner Charlie Finley hired a local dancer, Stanley Burrell as his team’s batboy and also gave him an honorary title of Executive Vice President. Most of use know him by his stage name M C Hammer. Also interesting, both were locally born natives of the region’s where the teams are located.
***Oakland has long been known as the home of the “Moneyball” system of baseball talent evaluation set up by Athletics GM Billy Beane. Tampa Bay is home to the risk management style of players evaluation made famous by new MLB hotshot Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. Both are considered baseball wunderkinds for their new provocative ways of evaluating their farm system’s talent.
*** Both team’s primarily use their farm system to restock their MLB 25-man rosters with limited outside Free Agent signing. Free Agents are brought in to fill holes, not institute major roles within the team’s core, which keeps both team’s payrolls within some of the smallest payrolls in the Major Leagues.
***Oakland closed their Third Deck seating areas to fans in 2006, including the famous “Mount Davis” sections built by Oakland Raider’s owner Al Davis to push his NFL football capacity to over 60,000. This effectively lower the A’s potential sellout capacity to 34,077, the smallest current MLB stadium capacity. Tampa Bay covered up a higher section of their Upper Deck or 300 sections with blue tarps to lower their usual game attendance to 36,048 ( not counting Standing Room Only tickets). During the Playoffs, the Rays can remove the tarps and increase their stadium overall attendance to over 41,810 seats.
*** According to their 2010 Opening Day payrolls, the Tampa Bay Rays are ranked 25th ($ 63,313,035) and the Oakland Athletics are ranked 26th ($ 62,310,00 ) respectfully in Major League Baseball.
*** Both teams are also ranked in the lower third in attendance with Tampa Bay currently ranked 22nd and Oakland holding onto the 28th spot within the MLB’s 30 teams. Surprisingly, the Rays hold the bottom spot at number 30 in 2010 road attendance with a 22,780 road attendance average, while Oakland sits at the 20th spot with an average of 29,416 fans in the stands at away games.
As you can see these two communities definitely have a few things in common beside their future fighting and wrangling about their stadium situations. But what is amazing that even with this uneven playing field in front of them, both teams are above the .500 mark in 2010. One team (Tampa Bay) has a chance to secure their second AL title, while the Oakland will just have to be happy to play the spoiler role in 2010.
But both teams have one of the best baseball talent evaluators in their front offices, and one of the best stocked farm systems with young talent to keep their payrolls under control for many years. Maybe one day, both these communities could become “Sister Cities”, or would that just feel too darn weird?
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