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Rays Republic Does Not Have a “Support” Problem

Onion Sports Network

I am getting sick and tired of the National media talking heads trashing our region. Just because your own backyards or city vistas have a sparkling outlook in reference to new jobs and seeing their collective unemployment situation sliding downward, some parts of this great country have not had your “luck”.

Take my home state of Florida where both the Florida Marlin and the Tampa Bay Rays have played in front of more empty orange and blue seats than those filled with fans who buy concessions and cheer.

It is heartbreaking to see it, but there is a valid reason for it, and the media juggernauts do not care to tell the real story. It is too depressing. It is easier to rake and drag this fan base over the coals than look beyond the Trop for an answer.

There is a very valid reason for those empty seats. I can tell you from personal experience that even if the Florida unemployment rate has stayed steady at 10.7 percent the last two months, I am one of those who got pushed off the recovery truck and has seen myself fall farther and farther off the economic grid. I try daily to rid myself of this fiscal flu, and a cure is nowhere in sight. But the media doesn’t want to bring the truth to the ballpark.

The rest of the United States combined is currently sitting at around a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

You ready for a real shocker, the “supposed” economic recovery has not hit this region as many of the usual tourists and travelers have decided to either forgo their yearly adventures, or can’t even attempt such an extravagance. That makes employers cut back, lay-off and reduce their capital outlays and manpower, further pushing the Tampa Bay faithful to their couches instead of to the stadium.

After saying that, maybe it is not such a shocker that the Tampa Bay region is currently sitting farther down the economic ladder than the rest of the country over the Summer. This is the time of the year that this region makes a boatload of its money through hotels, food and even recreational services. But this years the crowds stayed home, the beaches are not empty, but the unemployed Tampa Bay person has a great tan this year.

For July, this area of the state of Florida is mired in a 11.1 percent unemployment whirlpool, and there is no lifeguard or program or project in sight to pull us from the swirling waters. Tampa Bay is going down for the third time and all the National media does is crack harsh jokes or innuendo.

There is no bright and bubbly plan coming out our state capital, and there definitely is no localized effort to help some of us realize our “economical potential” and rise from our financial ashes. I know the rest of this great Nation is also swirling and confused by this fiasco, but why is there no compassion? Why is there no understanding by those in the Press Box or booths who makes a healthy paycheck and stay and travel for FREE.

So the St. Petersburg Times has made sure to push the Rays Republic beneath the water’s surface again and again as they nightly make sure to type a blog post about the Rays attendance figures. They make sure to keep pushing our heads under instead of offering a solution, or being a bit empathetic.

There is a different kind of “support” going on here. It is wrapped around the survival of ourselves and our families, with local disposable incomes at an all time low, attending a baseball game is taking a backseat to rent, food and utilities.

I’m sorry the Rays do not have a caravan of fans flocking into Tropicana Field with dollar bills pouring out of their pockets and an eagerness to spend beyond their means. I am sorry that I myself have only attended a handful of game this season where in the past (2009-10), I attended 161 of their 162 total home games in that time frame. My “support” had to go to living my life and providing a shelter and food for myself.

This season I had to take a huge step back and make a earnest gut check decision. I had to eliminate the Rays from my yearly and weekly budget. Poverty is rough, it makes you decide things you never imagined possible, especially not being able to cheer and see the team you had see grow before your eyes for 13 seasons play their exciting brand of baseball. I think about this decision every day.

There are tons of other people in this same financial boat in 2011 who had to make the same decision or make drastic cutbacks, and it has nothing to do with their support of the team. I think it is a huge farce that this charade has been allowed to go no so long without someone shouting from the Trop’s cupola. This region needs a financial hug, but we are not alone.

So many of the media members sit in their FREE seats, sipping on a courtesy soda and snacks and sometimes forget what the rest of the country is doing with no paychecks and special treatment. Maybe they all should sit down with the masses one night and get the real stories and typical setbacks that fans throughout the Rays Republic have made in 2011.

Some have begun to bring their dinners nightly to the Trop, some have gone from Season Tickets to partial ticket plans, and other have faded away without a clue.

Kid’s are going back to school this Monday, and with it I expect a crowd under 12,000 even though 2 of the MLB’s hottest pitchers right now will hit the Rays mound. Rays send the Tall Texan Jeff Niemann to the hill for the “good guys” and the menacing Justin Verlander for the visiting Detroit Tigers. This match up should bring 24,000 easy into the Trop, but new jeans, school supplies and the first day of school might exhibit a lower than expected Rays crowd. And you can be sure there will be a broadcast comment on the empty seats, especially in Bristol, Conn.

Will this lack of bodies in the seats be due to a lack of support by the Tampa Bay are…No.

Will the crowds ever again fill the Trop screaming at the top of their lungs, seeking a victory….Yes.

The problem is this economic funk that has darkened the skies above Tropicana Field has to drift away, then recovery of the fan base will begin again. I yearn nightly to be in the stands, cheer for the Rays, even talk a little baseball with friends and foes. There is a unity within the Rays stands that sparks of excitement, pride and a hope for change. Problem is, this plight has not even hit it darkest moments yet.

There is nothing wrong with the fan support in Tampa Bay, we just need to again collectively feel adamantly that this financial storm is over and we can again truck out to games. In the end, when things get brighter, the crowds will again flock to Gate’s 1 and 4 to see this team play. The Tampa Bay area is a huge tourist based economy, and with visitors staying home or taking regional vacations instead of visiting the “Mouse”, this area will stay below the economic surface and the Rays attendance will suffer.

It hurts me to the core to nightly hear other MLB broadcast teams, Fox Sports or ESPN media combos speak down about the Rays fan base and this region. Tampa Bay right now is like a prize fighter hit hard in the gut and reeling on the ropes. There is a do or die mentality in this region, a fight that no one can imagine unless you have lived here. Go ahead National media take your best shot, I guarantee we get back up and land a solid uppercut to your jaw…That would keep you from talking smack.

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