Results tagged ‘ St. Petersburg ’

Tampa Fires First Rays Stadium Volley

 

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Boom!

First savoy concerning the Tampa Bay Rays future home has now been ceremonially sent over the city of  St. Petersburg’s bow.

No warning shot, no cautionary parlay, just plain old pirate warfare at its finest.

The cannon ball pierced the daytime sky and cut to the chase the St. Pete rivals wants and desires for the Rays franchise. Sure this first volley was not a direct hit by the larger metropolitan city who seems to have money to burn, and a populous eager to fill the seat of a still invisible stadium somewhere among their vast and ever expanding city limits.

download (1)It is the first move by our rival city to steal yet another sports franchise from St. Petersburg. I know some of you who have not lived here all your life might not know the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Arena Football’s Tampa Bay Storm used to play under the tiled roof of Tropicana Field known back then as “the Thunderdome”.

Sure those two teams might have envisioned their stay in the Trop. as “layovers”, but Tampa has never really gotten over the fact St. Petersburg, before John C Williams and Peter Demens bought their tracts of land and laid their tracks was part of Hillsborough County.

In fact, before Demens won his bet to name the city after his own birthplace, St. Petersburg, Russia, this little oasis bordered by water on 3-sides was called Hillsboro Point.  Sometimes I truly feel the reason for such hostility among the residents of these two cities is such a childish case of peninsula envy.

imagesSo the Hillsborough County Commission (HCC) voted on Weds to let the region’s top sports management icon, the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) to act as their proxy in initiating a up front assault on poaching the Tampa Bay Rays from the clutches of St. Petersburg.

Come on, that is right in line with the thought processes of a quasi-pirate city to evoke a cannon fodder attack, send in the mercenaries from the riggings and let them take the pure frontal attack and counter measures themselves without the Hillsborough County Commission getting any blood or grime on their Sunday best.

And in a way it is smart. The TSA is a regional sports heavy hitter who has the monetary coffers to rebuff financial penalties that could be imposed by the city of St. Pete as well as a slew of Barbary lawyer types who have fought this type of battle before within the scope of sports relocation and providing adequate advance piles of legal paper that would choke even the most enthusiastic St. Pete counter attack.

download (2)Since TSA is only acting as an agent of the HCC, they are not a city trying to poach or do a classic snatch and grab of the Rays, they are a proxy agent of St. Petersburg’s neighbor to the west trying to entice and entertain the Rays voluntarily packing their suitcases and making a move knowing they have a legal ammo and financial booty in their treasure chests to stave off a St. Petersburg cloak and dagger move of their own.

With one of the Rays biggest early supporters, former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster now job-less and bobbing in the briny Tampa Bay deep, his Mayoral predecessor, Rick Kriseman has recently approached the Rays to sit and institute a mutual parlay of sorts and with that, the H C C and  Tampa saw their chance to evoke their will and appoint the T S A as their own envoy to parlay on their behalf in regards to a future Rays home in their vista, not in the haven of St. Petersburg.

download (3)The H C C also on Weds. Appointed a small group to scout out stadium locations, seek out viable ways of funding such a venture as well as possibly begin working out some sort of agreement between the Rays and the HCC and Tampa.

Believe me the Tampa group has the population, corporate numbers as well as the financial ingenuity to evoke the Rays gaze from the St. Petersburg or Pinellas  County possible stadium sites. On their side also was the well-known opinions of Major League Baseball that the region would never be host to World Baseball Classic contests or a potential All-Star game as long as the area’s only baseball vista was Tropicana Field.

Within the volley over St. Petersburg’s bow was this comment by H C C Commissioner Ken Hagan: ” I’am cautiously optimistic that the time is very near. The message that we want to send today to Major League Baseball and the Rays is that Hillsborough County is ready, and we’re ready to hit the ground running when that time comes and I am hopefully it is imminent.”

images (1)It is going to be interesting to see what St. Petersburg, or for that matter, the St. Pete. City Attorney and City Council decide in a counter attack to this sly but well executed verbal volley by their regional rivals.

Will St. Pete send a legal counter, a frontal attack showing Tampa and Hillsborough will have to raise their funds via a tax hike or possibly legal referendums, to fight back that any region wanting this team will not only have to pay the Rays lease amounts through 2027, but will pay mightily if they want to steal this gem from the clutches of St. Pete’s hand.

And do not think for a moment the Rays fans in Sarasota, Manatee, Pasco and the rest of Pinellas County are not watching this battle with some concern. If the team went East, some of most of these fans would not be Season Ticket holders as their commute would double in some cases and their Rays ventures might be limited to weekend packs or limited visits.

images (2)This battle is not only about St. Pete versus Tampa, this whole region and the scattered Rays fan base all have to be both worried and happy someone has finally thought to beginning the discussion again for a Rays future home and that the first volleys have been fired.

Believe me, this is going to get really nasty and downright costly to one party before it is all sign, sealed and delivered.

May be best city win (as long as it’s St. Pete/Pinellas County).

Rays New Decal Shows Tampa Skyline, Not St. Petersburg..Oops!

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Everyone who knows me knows I’m proud of the city of my birth. Been boasting and thumping my chest about this hamlet that catches the Gulf breezes at night, and seems to celebrate Hurricanes instead of fear them. I’m one of those people who get a bit irritated and spit vinegar when the National Media forgets that the home of the Tampa Bay Rays is St. Petersburg, Florida and not Tampa, which is 16-20-odd miles to the NorthEast of Tropicana Field.

TamponBut I also understand that this region has always labeled their sports team as “Tampa Bay”, and many of them started or make their home across the Howard Franklin bridge in that 3rd largest city in the state of Florida. Sure I’m unhappy and down right spiteful towards people who have not gotten the memo that this team is situated in a borough that has been separated by government rule by the Tampians for over 100 years and we are considered their redheaded step-children at times.

So what do you think was my reaction when I opened a MLB Opening Day display for one of my Wal-Mart store deep in the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida and my gaze came upon the same decal centered in the photo at the beginning of this post. At first I thought it was a great decal until I begin to take a closer look and noticed it was not the St. Petersburg, Florida waterfront skyline I was looking at, but the Tampa skyline just a bit South of the Platt Street Bridge.

BSWas this a virtual mistake by either the graphic gurus at Major League Baseball home office in New York City, or maybe someone within the Rays fold accidentally put their John Hancock and approval on this photo to be used as the showcase skyline for this Rays decal. Either way, it will be a collector’s item since it is a mistake, or at least it is in my mind.

Sure it could be a subliminal visual message from someone hidden behind the MLB cloak as to where the Rays need to call home, but for now it is just a major cluster-boo boo and one I’m going to have nestled away in my Rays collection as another example of the haphazard way that most people outside of Tampa Bay still sees St. Petersburg as a town with those green benches, a Salvador Dali museum and a stadium that looks more like a tilted ball cap than a long-term homestead.

VinoyI’m sorry if I’m locale sensitive to the plight of this side of Tampa Bay always getting the short end of the stick when announcers and even ballplayers can not fathom with any intellect the city that they are staying in during their series with the Rays. Heck, ever since 1998 the only hotel to even house any MLB team that visited Tropicana Field has been the Renaissance Vinoy right on the waterfront of St. Petersburg with a firm view of the real Tampa Bay just outside their hotel or bus window.

I mean would any other MLB fan sit lightly on their fingers if someone called the vista that is their team’s home incorrect in the media or over the radio waves. I would severely doubt anyone would get the location of any other ballpark in the major leagues wrong for the pure fact that journalism is based on the simple fact of accuracy, accuracy, and an additional dose of accuracy. Would a Atlanta Braves fan be upset if someone voiced a suburb of the city as their stadium’s locale instead of Fulton County?

san_jose_athletics_2Would the Oakland A’s faithful be a bit harsh and up in someone’s face if an announcer already had them in San Jose or even mistake them for the cross bay Giants? Most would think I’m being a bit oversensitive right now, but if you look at the third photo on the bottom of the first photo in this post you will see a daylight shot of the Tampa skyline that matches up perfectly almost to the building of the Rays decal that was included in the Opening Day pallet.

Sure there are more than a few whispers and thoughts that the Rays could move their entire organization somewhere over the Howard Franklin within the next 5-10 years, but with not even a simple dialog currently being communicated, a future home possibly in Tampa is just words in the wind at this moment.

253750_10151395672823429_1707979118_nI do not expect too many people within the Rays organization to take heed or even investigate this for themselves, but as someone who supports this team, and as one of those fans who do reside in the hometown that encircles the Trop., I would hope someone would at least acknowledge the error even if it was a possible subliminal message to the rest of the Nation. Guess 100 years of Spring baseball in this region doesn’t get you respect, and it definitely doesn’t get any glimmer of accuracy.

Time for Foster to Release his Death Grip

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I think it is time. We have hit that moment where either we have to throw the Carolina blue curtain back and expose that some within the castle of Major League Baseball have given their ceremonial “thumbs down” on this once vacation and getaway vista for any viable baseball long-term existence. And within their recent comments to that effect, MLB and their top honcho Bud Selig have fired yet another cannon blast over the Tampa Bay communities bow and if we again stick our heads in the sand and hope the situation will evolve without comment, we could see this team take their balls and bats and move away leaving a huge void again in our sports lives.

doomsdayThere are groups within this community outside the Rays own fortress walls who have whispered and made subordinate plans and survival methods for this franchise to stay rooted in the Tampa Bay area, but there is also someone within the political arena who needs to take off his Bermuda shorts and pull on his “big boy” pants before this team packs their bags and beats a hasty retreat to a community that awaits them with open arms and checkbooks. If Tampa Bay had their own “Doomsday clock” we would have heard a distinct loud click of the minute hand as it moved one more moment towards our impending reality that too many moments have been wasted and only a clear and concise plan will move the hand further away from that final movement towards the end.

And it is not all St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster’s arms crossed and bullying action that have eroded MLB’s mindset to baseball surviving their low attendance numbers and minimal show of season long support by the fans or the local Tampa Bay community. Sure Foster and his threat of spanking anyone and everyone with lawsuits and punitive punishments has put any plans of a Rays stadium outside the kingdom of Foster’s own chalk drawn lines a political and financial nightmare, but maybe it is time to remind Foster of the fact most St. Petersburg voters have him firmly in their crosshairs as the main reason for the blockage of any real talks going on within the sunshine instead of behind the cloaked curtain with our brethren beyond the Howard Franklin.

tampa bay estuReality is there are plans out their for the revival of baseball on either side of that big divide we call the estuary Tampa Bay, but Foster’s firm stand and opposing legal thumb has kept any vocal talk of any progresses or recesses to the press releases or behind doors to keep the bay of lawyers barking within the city limits of St. Petersburg as Tampa and Hillsborough county make their own revival plans.

Maybe it is time Foster give a 2 or 3-week reprisal to let the Rays talk to whoever wants to listen or work with them in a stadium development and realistic plan to keep baseball in this cluster of cities that eagerly want an end to this drama and again rejoice in the sound of bat upon ball in that small cluster of 180 days that is the MLB season. St. Petersburg has already lost their Spring Training iconic focus with no team training here for some time, and no team looking to this community since the Mayor seems to be pushing the wrong buttons within the MLB hierarchy and no reprisal on the horizon.

Foster has to know there is a plan being whispered on the other side of the waters of Tampa Bay in the city that has the expansive land masses that can afford a stadium revival as his city lays surrounded by water on 3 sides and has limited space and populous to grow a sound foundation. This is hard for me to write because I am a proud St. Petersburg native who was birthed just a super human throw from Tropicana Field and have a firm and honest love for this community, but the reality is afoot that maybe the true answer to keeping the Rays and MLB in this region might be located across to our city rival, Tampa. Sure I wanted the stadium on the waterfront when it was announced in 2008, but a small segment of this city’s population put the same fear in the Rays as Foster is now employing and the Rays have remained silent until recently.

c4s_sternberg040111_168947cSure the Rays are now talking with both the Pinellas and Hillsborough County Commissions on their wants and needs, but is it too late and this is the beginning of the end because of Foster still keeping his thumb firmly on the Rays coattails to keep them on his city and not exploring any other vista for fear of them liking another vista instead of his fine hamlet. I know it is not lost on Foster that even if a Tampa plan unfolded, his city would get a nice chunk of change possibly helping his own city budget concerns and then leaving him with the demolition of the old tilted cap that is Tropicana Field, but also with a huge bit of acreage for further development and taxable income to the city.

It is time for Foster to pull his hands back and let the Rays talk among the community, explore beyond the confirms of the St. Petersburg city limits and at least see what offers and plans have been circumvented in blacked rooms and boardrooms possibly to find a plan that would not only keep baseball in this community for a long, long time, but also reap financial rewards and increased fan base that would make MLB eyes look further West to the Oakland A’s and San Jose debacle and leave the Tampa Bay area knowing progress is only a sunrise away.

thCAT487XNThe Rays talking with the two county commissions is firm starting point to an open discussion and possible back-and-forth motion of ideas and proposals that could escalate into a real and concise future home for the Rays that would make them economically sound as well as increase their fan base foothold within this community. Foster’s actions to me remind me of the old political “Good old boys” firm hand and an iron fist mentality that reined in this region in the 50’s and 60’s.

New ideas, plans and excitement will keep the Rays in this community and Foster holding the team tightly to his ideals and wants only makes them want to escape that grasp and explore even more. Foster has a right to want to protect his town’s revenues and most visible tenant, but his strong hand notions have not worked in recent years and maybe it is time to take another path, let the Rays venture eastbound and look at their options and explore the horizons that have been blanketed from them for so long. Foster knows if he wants a second term in office the Rays could be his linchpin to defeat or victory.

etc_friedman_072208_31476cMaybe the best thing Foster can do for St. Petersburg right now is release his grip a but and let the Rays do their due diligence. Who knows, maybe the team will see the Pinellas county ideas are not unfounded and possibly stay within the city limits. But the other reality is that Foster’s firm grip on the team’s stadium discussion could become even more constrictive in the near future and in effect choke the life out of the Rays stadium situation. Yep, it is time for the “big boy” pants to come out and we give viable options to the Rays before they decide that distant pastures have more appeal….outside of Tampa Bay.  

Sternberg Speaks Honestly on the Rays Tampa Bay Future

 

 

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It was the Tampa Bay Rays stadium conversation and whiplash response most members of the Rays Republic knew was just peeking above the horizon. The Tampa Bay community as a whole had hoped such a cold water splash in our faces would have a more postmarked expiration date.

Somehow we all knew that the ever present sunshine attitude that surrounds our typical Florida Spring day would suddenly be darkened by an omnipotent comment cloud that would overshadow the usual optimistic banter whenever the Rays future stadium plans have been mentioned.

Just as suddenly the veil of silence has been removed from the Rays stadium debacle, and a few of the comments from Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg paint a more daunting image of an hourglass whose ribbons of sand are constantly spiraling to and end instead of a more optimistic conclusion.

Recently Sternberg told reporter Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times:

“It seems clearer to me by the day that we’re going to be the last man standing (Oakland A’s stadium talks are in a more advanced stage of discussions),” Sternberg said. “And everything I know, and talking to these guys, baseball is just not going to stand for it anymore. And they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though. So it’s up to us, to everybody, to figure out how to get it right. …


Stu2008.jpg“We’ve come so far with this, with all the people who are interested and watching. I do believe we’ve grabbed into (them) a little bit, and to say it’s a good thing, it’s fun, it’s good for your kids, it’s a nice sport. … And that’s my real concern, that we won’t get to finish the job that I know we were right there to do.”

For the first time I can remember since Sternberg took over the Rays reigns, it seems like a hint of pessimism has crept into his tone when discussing the Rays future home. For the first time, Sternberg has bluntly envisioned both sides of the Tampa Bay region losing out if some sort of constructive movement is not made in the near future.

A good first step might be St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster allowing the Rays a little latitude to venture into other Tampa Bay locales without the threat of harsh legal actions or local repercussions by the Rays landlords possibly letting the process systematically eliminate some of these cost deficient locations from contention.

But that would be a huge leap of good faith by the City of St. Petersburg who has so much to lose not only in possibly losing their biggest tenant, but seeing a reversal in some of the recent positive financial surges in the city’s economically sensitive downtown core. Losing the team would turn downtown St. Petersburg basically into a ghost town again after 9 pm.

No matter how you try and twist, convolute or even manipulate Sternberg’s words, the message is loud and clear now. Major League Baseball with all its omnipotent power hover and circle above the whole stadium process like a lurking Florida vulture has the upper hand.

No longer is this only about St. Petersburg or even Tampa, it is about the future existence of our own Major League team in a town with rich MLB roots, but a transient populous that still has not fully embraced the Rays as “their team”. Even with the recent return of Spring baseball to Progress Energy Field (Al Lang) , the vibe concerning St. Petersburg is beginning to fade a bit more towards black than sunshine.


Stu2010.jpgI am not the only one to notice Sternberg’s particular word usage or possible hidden messages in his statements. Rays Index, another Rays top blog spot also noticed this one particular sentence that might heed this Tampa Bay region to having a few “burning the midnight oil” political strategy sessions. In a perfect world, both sides of the Tampa Bay region would meet in the same clandestine room.

Hidden within the midst of Sternberg’s comments is the small phrasing, “they’ll find a place for me. They won’t find a place here though.”

Immediately you see the unveiled reminder that the upper echelon of Major League Baseball loves the energy and past work Sternberg has done in rebuilding the Rays franchise from the ground up again, and might have some hidden agenda for his future.

The losers here will not be Sternberg, but it could be this region forever cast as a land of Spring baseball only again if the Rays do get harvested like an orange and taken somewhere else.

Contraction with a MLB/MLBPA labor negotiation in the near future is not an viable option, but if this region keeps their minds and mouthes closed for too much longer, it might be too late to salvage the fruit on the vine.


LockTrop.jpgI think the month of April will not only be the beginning of baseball again being played in St. Petersburg, but the beginning of the sands beginning an accelerated pace through the Rays hourglass. Sternberg has been more than vocally adamant that he is not the only person who might view this whole Rays stadium process as being stagnant for too long now.

Something has to be decided soon before the sands from the hourglass become quicksand that devour and destroy that forward progress of baseball in this region over that last 14 seasons.

 

The Tampa Bay community needs to make the first step soon, the first lunge into diluting this dark cloud and again bringing the warmth of the sunlight firmly back into view……or the cloud will overtake the region and when it finally begins to dissipate, the Rays may be gone…forever.

 

 

 

Maybe it is Not all About the Attendance?

 

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It is kind of funny that the city of St. Petersburg, Florida is complaining about a $ 1.25 million dollar 2010 deficit after providing Rays fans with an envelope of protection, direction and the general upkeep needed for the Tampa Bay Rays remain tenants at Tropicana Field. Could the city have finally realized what the Rays have been complaining about and be asking for their own dose of empathy right now.

I extremely doubt it. It might just be the increasing stress of the city to still keep trying to fork out a $ 6 million dollar annual bond payment for the Trop boosted by an unknown cost deficit that seems to balloons the debt to a higher threshold this year. Then again, the city might not have provided themselves any revenue influx protection for itself heading into this economic downturn that has engulfed the region as a whole.

Suddenly the city of St. Petersburg staff was awoken by the Trop’s operational costs skyrocketing upward even as the Rays revenues did not drop into the red. But the city’s outlined contractual agreements providing police assistance pre and post-game has elevated along with another source that could not have been estimated or foreseen back in 1995 when the first agreement was signed by then Rays Team President Vince Namoli and the city of St. Petersburg.

Could the city’s officials premature optimistic thinking back in 1995 prior to their initial stadium agreement with the Rays that the team would/could draw up to 3 million fans a season been a forecast for the present financial disaster besetting the city? Current St. Petersburg Mayor David Foster was right in the center of the action back in 1995, and was one of the city staff members beaming at the potential windfall of seeing 3 million fans attend baseball games, and an additional figure up to 300,000 of fans traveling through this great city for concerts, football and non-baseball events each year.

The reality today is that only a handful of concerts or events take place between the last Rays game of the season and the beginning of Spring Training within Tropicana Field..

If this 1995 scenario had actually worked out, the city would have received an estimated $ 4000,000 windfall ( with 3 million fans ) during the Rays first full season in 1998. Back in 1995, there was the enthusiastic promise and monetary pledges of 32,000 local citizens showing their early support for the Major League Baseball squad. And the excitement piggybacked on the optimistic forecast that the Rays also could bring in 3 million plus fans like their MLB brethren the Florida Marlins did during their first MLB season. Supporting Major League Baseball looked like a sure fire bet for both communities in Florida at that time.

The scenario then began change drastically for the city when the recession began to take hold of this Tampa Bay community just as the Rays began to establish a winning tradition. With their new found winning ways, the city banked on the fact that the Rays would eventually transform from a break even or losing investment to a slightly profitable arrangement for the city. But they did not play into the mix a huge increase in day-to-day costs of providing the services and insurance needs of supporting the hometown Rays.

With deeper budget cuts and fiscal downscaling still on the horizon, the city knows that the Rays and City of St. Petersburg contractual agreement in regards to Tropicana Field is the one program that can not take a budgetary hit, or it could turn further sour for the city. There is no way anyone could have even envisioned this a fiscal fiasco 15 odd years ago in connection with the Rays playing in the city. Optimism reigned supreme in 1995 and even with a hint of impending darkness, the light at the end of the tunnel shown bright like the Rays post-2007 logo.

Could this once sleepy town known more for it’s green benches and Spring baseball downtown have bitten off more than it could chew? Could the sound of the fife and drum calling for everyone to get behind this team back in 1995 blindsided the city to leave some of its municipal common sense at the doorstep. Could another factor not even a pending issue in 1995 provide the lubrication for the eventual fiscal slide by the city towards this deficit. Did the rippling effects of the September 11th terrorist attacks filter down to play a part in the city’s troubles today?

According to a St. Petersburg Times article, the city of St. Petersburg paid about $ 160,000 a year in property insurance premiums back during the early years of the Rays playing at Tropicana Field. After those horrendous attacks on September 11th, the city’s insurance premiums instantly quadrupled to around $ 760,000 annually. Add in a few devastating Hurricanes that destroyed and pummeled communities around and near Tampa Bay and the city of St. Petersburg’s property insurance premium suddenly ballooned to around $ 2.2 million. Even with a slight reprieve in 2010 of the premiums scaling back to $ 1.7 million , the fiscal damage had already been done.

There was a thought briefly that the Rays partnership offshoot of the forming of the Sunburst Entertainment group within Tropicana Field might help bring in additional concerts and events to Tropicana Field and boost the probable revenue stream a bit for the city. But those events have not yet materialized and combined with the Rays management selling their shares of a regional United Football League (Orlando) franchise, it appears the St. Petersburg Bowl held during mid-December will be the only substantial non-baseball event to be held at Tropicana Field besides the yearly trade shows before the Spring.

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Escalating insurance costs are still the main culprit in the city not being able to turn the Rays revenue plan into a positive offering in the city’s coffers. Low attendance figures at Rays 2010 games only plays a minor role. Still the city of St. Petersburg and the Rays need to find a viable solution towards a profitable management scheme to bring events besides baseball constantly flowing into Tropicana Field between the Rays last scheduled game and their future opening day date.

The city of St. Petersburg currently nets only .66 cents for every ticket scanned at Tropicana Field. In 1998, the Rays first season, the city took in only a $33,000 windfall even after 2.5 million fans graced the Trop’s seating areas. Much less than the estimated revenues forecasted in 1995, but still a profit. Even with 1.9 Rays fans attending games in 2010, the city only garnered $ 984,000 dollars in revenues from ticket sales. Quickly the dome’s property insurance premiums ate the figure up providing no financial relief for the city.

Back in 1995 the local St. Petersburg vibe was alive with the Tampa Bay Storm winning Arena Football League Championships, and the Tampa Bay Lightning making their first postseason NHL appearance at Tropicana Field when 28,103 fans tucked into the domed stadium for a playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Since then the concerts have disappeared from Tropicana Field accept during the Rays Saturday Night Concert Series, and the Lightning and Storm vacated the Trop for a new arena built on the channel in Tampa.

With the Rays ownership constantly looking eastbound to the other side of the bay for a possible stadium site, it is due time for the city of St. Petersburg to become increasingly proactive to not only insure, but assure that the Rays can play their baseball within the city limits of St. Petersburg for a long, long time. But that side of the bay is also crying municipal deficits that might hinder stadium discussions right now.

Either the Trop has to become a more feasibly functioning business asset or the loss column will only grow bigger for the city of St. Petersburg. Something has to give in this fiscal tug of war. Hopefully it will not end up with the city finding itself sprawled out on the ground with the Rays taking their balls and bats and leaving for another home. But sooner more than later, something has to give.

Riding the Rays Rollercoast with no Seat Belts

 
 
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Man, we are only two whole games into the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays 13th Major League Baseball season and I am already extremely tired from the massive rollercoaster journey we have taken just in the last two days. And believe me, I do not mind the twists, drops and even the unsuspecting high steeping emotional climbs, but I am still a bit wary of that stomach shifting towards the Adam’s Apple intense drop that takes not only your breathe away, but does something to your overall mode of team confidence and inner soul that can not be repaired by just a few spotty wins.

 
And already there are those dark D-Rays souls who have warned the “pumped-up” people like me about the possible side effects of believing in the hype before there is a foundation to support it. And believe me here, there is no “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey in my I-Pod music mix. But then again I am reminded in the back of my mind that these same dark dwelling remnants of D-Rays people have not attended a single Rays Spring Training game since the Rays left St. Petersburg for Port Charlotte, Florida in March 2008, and they are still stuck in the muck and mire of their season-ending Rays emotions pertaining to the 2009 season.
 

Maybe I am getting myself in a serious state of heart break and toeing the edge of the jagged path on the high cliff to a possible let down of massive enthusiasm proportions, but then again, maybe I am going to do what I feel is the right thing for myself and this team and throw my caution to the wind and hope the monkey on the loose doesn’t throw a steaming pile of poo at me from the Rightfield foul pole during the game.
 

But if you have been amongst the tidal waves of emotions surrounding Tropicana Field the last two night and really felt that pulse of energy cascading throughout the stadium with even the 15,000+ on Wednesday night, then you know that something special is happening in front of us again. And maybe since St. Petersburg is the “Lightning Capital of the World”, it is about to strike hard for a second time in 2010. And maybe Rays fans like me are all riding that huge wave of off season pent-up emotions right now, but that is what fans do, they act and react and counter move to the ebb and flow of the rhythm of the game hoping that the last big wave of the night will produce that moment you remember for a long, long time and provide you with that rush of adrenaline we all seek as we drive home with smiles from ear-to-ear .
 

And that is what is happening right now. From Tuesday nights bottom of the ninth inning extravaganza when the longest tenured Ray, Carl Crawford provided the 90th Walk-off moment in Rays history, to the thunderous crack from the bat of Rays legend-in-the-making Evan Longoria, the last two nights have been sprinkled with classic Rays moments where a huge cloud of magical pixie dust has fallen from the rafters of Tropicana Field and coated all of us with amazement and wonder.
 

 
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If you would have told me the Rays would win a game in Walk-off fashion in either of these nights, I could have believed you. But if you would have told me Longoria would make his first two blasts of the year pale in epic proportions by going into the TBT Deck/Beach/ way-the-heck-up-there, I might have taken that bet and thought it was a sucker bet by you. But more amazing was the shot last night into Section 149, which had a plastic poster hanging at the top of that same section of Tropicana field asking Longoria to hit it here with a massive Bulls-Eye of red and white.

 

Two games into the 2010 season and we already have a few moments that will be talked about even after the All-Star break, and maybe in the 2010 off season. Seriously here, I could imagine Carl Crawford lacing a ball for a 2-run double to produce a Walk-off win way before a blast 473 feet that just missing the Second slot on the Rays All-Time Home Run Distance list by a tiny foot compared to the Centerfield blast of Jonny Gomes that bounced like a golf ball on the roof of the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. But the amazing fact might still be that Longoria has 4 RBI on his only 3 hits this season, and all three of them have been for extra bases.
 
 
But what might be more amazing about the last few nights is the show of support this crowd has shown this Rays team especially after a bad invisible swinging strike call by Home Plate Umpire Kerwin Danley, who never even asked Third Base Umpire Dana DeMuth for a ruling on the invisible phantom swing by Crawford that brought out the Trop. boo-bird for the rest of the game. I have always thought that when the true meaning of baseball and the intelligence level of our area fans ever matured, this Rays “Pit” environment would be a huge vocal point towards pushing the momentum into the Rays favor in extreme moments.
 

 
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I was extremely proud of the 15,000+ who were screaming and yelling for an appeal to the Third Base Umpire, and their fats reaction to booing and questioning the call immediately instead of looking around for an exclamation from someone wearing headphone listening to the game on the Rays Radio network in the stands. I actually had a nice photo of Crawford at that moment and he was hunched down in his stance and could not have even thrown out a half-hazard swing to fend off the ball if it was a true strike. But the pure fact this crowd has matured as a whole and gathered the mustard to question and show immediate recourse towards Danley reminds me a lot of the baseball savvy crowds you see in other MLB stadiums that have been around for over 100 years.

 

But I am also aware and poised to remember that these same Orioles have beaten us into the ground before when our guard has been down a bit, or the confidence level made a few Rays fan’s heads rise an inch or two and not remember that a streaky Baltimore Second Baseman Brian Roberts can change the entire game all by himself with his legs and bat. But maybe his bad start to the season is our reward right now. To be 2-0, and maybe blossom to 3-0 before the Evil Empire valet parks their Deathstar at the Vinoy for the upcoming weekend series, it might be a nice emotional and confident momentary foundation before we partake in the renewed rivalry for the first time in 2010.
 

And some people have already brought out that attendance trump card after just two Rays games, but they also forget that these mid-week games have always been the Achilles’ Heel of this Rays clubs attendance marks as far back as 1998. They are a work-in-progress, and with 15,000+ in the stands last night, that is a nice bump up from the last time the Orioles were in the Trop from September 29-October 1,2009 when an average of just over 10,492 fans packed the Trop for the season ending series of these same two teams.
 

 
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5,000 extra bodies in the seats might not seem like much to those viewing the empty blue seats in other locales. But those same 5,000+ extra Rays bodies have also been sporting more of the home team’s Columbia Blue or Rays Blue this season and that in its own small way might show the Tampa Bay community trickling in little by little to see if the Rays can renew that spirit and drive that possessed this region in 2008. And I guess I can revel in the fact that the “greatest game played on dirt” is living up to that moniker in the first two fun-filled energy-draining contests of 2010.

But you ain’t seen nothing yet as the New York Yankees will be unpacking their equipment in the Rays Visitor’s Clubhouse soon enough, then the first true test of 2010 is full on………Game on people….Game On!

 

 

Sorry Fox Sports, but we Play in St. Petersburg!

 

Sometimes I do not understand the ignorance or the sheer arrogance of a National Media Giant like Fox Sports who sit there and throw pile after pile of mistakes at this Tampa Bay region and we still take it like a punch drunk fighter. We all expect and rely on our National broadcaster partners to honestly tell all of us what we need to know, or items to ponder and reason with in regards to the multitude of sports issues or events.

Sure, I am just like the rest of the Nation sometimes just oblivious to the real truth as I listen or visualize the trivial elements they are feeding to our eyes and ears as pure adulterated cold-hard facts to begin the formulation of my own mindset in correspondence with their telling of the tale of events or a one-sided profile on a player or his off-the-field actions.

 

But I personally take great personal pride in this city of my birth of St. Petersburg, Florida , and find it to be an incredible civic insult and a social injustice when the Fox Sports clowns can not after 15 years of Tampa Bay Rays team existence, still can not get the Rays stadium’s locale correct on a television teaser promotion to showcase their upcoming Fox Saturday MLB Baseball slate. And this is not the first time that Fox has made this same city error either during a broadcast, or in an promotional advertisement.

But you would have thought the Fox Sports producers, directors and higher management echelon might have learned their mistakes during the last few times they made this same city error. And why hasn’t St. Petersburg new Mayor Bill Foster not publicly chastised the National Fox media circus again for this breach of accuracy, or even voiced his opinion locally to his constituents? This is not the same Foster I elected to office this past year.

 

I am pretty sure if the same Fox Network bigwigs made the same errors in saying that the Los Angeles Dodgers play in Burbank, California or the New York Yankees are now playing in Lower Manhattan, the vocal firestorm, not only on the Internet would be incredible and magnificent to behold, but corrections would be made in haste. There would be multiple ESPN or competitor network broadcasts showing the insensitive nature of the Fox Sports media giant to forget their code of “getting it right the first time” at the door and throw their journalistic integrity right out with the bathwater.

And such a mistake would be certainly met with a hefty post event price in future advertising by that community for their obvious civic ignorance. But why do we always let it fly here in Tampa Bay?

 
TBO.com

Have we finally become that sleepy cowtown where the numerous green benches outweigh the patrons downtown, or are not the same proud community our parents envisioned when they moved here from their Northern homes. Have we as a community been beaten down so many times by the National hand of the media with the same inaccurate city persona that it is now becoming commonplace, and we feel utterly helpless to fight for our own civic dignity?

Why is it that we always somehow look at it with the heated voices and disgust it deserves, but the rant and raves are somehow subdued compared to what might happen in other MLB cities. Maybe it is time for us to finally get totally heated and ********** and send countless emails or phone messages to the Fox Broadcasting Headquarters in New York City to amplify the civic support our Tampa Bay community.

And it should not matter if we live in Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Brandon, Holiday or even Tampa. This is a National disgrace focused at this area, not just a simple local humiliation. And this last inaccurate National promotional Fox Sports spot has finally broke this blogger’s back to a point that I am physically angry and will be on a personal mission over the next few days to sending endless streams of online email comments, and burning through hundreds of my personal cell phone minutes documenting my civic disgust to the Fox executives.

 

I would rather have that 30 second promo pulled totally from the air with its inaccurate city locale mentioned than have the rest of the country see the errors of the Fox baboons one more time and have the entire MLB Baseball community laughing that even after the Rays recent successes, that Fox Sports can not even get their town correct. I have more respect for the monkey that has been loose for over a year within Tampa Bay than the same Fox media monkeys who produced that MLB promo piece, or the editors that okayed that falsehood for airing in the first place.

I am not calling for a mass firing, staff re-alignment or even a visual tongue-lashing of the Fox Sports people responsible for this Fox broadcast promo error. I just want it fixed, and there is still time for that to be done effectively, and maybe an apology on your FoxSports.com website to our entire community for your blatant error.

 

But to be honest, National media members have been making that same Tampa/St. Petersburg locale blunder for years, but it is 2010, and the cycle of Tampa Bay locale arrogance and ignorance needs to finally come to an end. And how ignorant is it that less than a season and a half ago these same Fox Sports executive producers and directors spent their days and nights in St. Petersburg, Florida as the Rays were taking on the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.

They did not get the city wrong during most of the 2008 series of Fox Sports telecasts, but maybe we just are just a ” out of sight, out of mind” kind of city, and with our exclusion from the 2009 Playoffs, St. Petersburg has slipped back into the dark Fox Sports abyss.

 

The National Hockey League announcing teams never got it wrong when the Tampa Bay Lightning played their brand of hockey in this same dome, which was then known as the Thunderdome. The Arena Football League announcers never got the city locale, or the stadium name wrong either. Then came the biggest National media showcase when St. Petersburg, Florida hosted the NCAA Final Four, which took place under the tiled Teflon dome of Tropicana Field, and the tourney’s broadcasting teams were perfect 100 percent of the time in their city locale descriptions.

So some might say this is a fluke by Fox, but I beg to differ here. They have made countless mistakes in the city locale in the past telecasts or web podcasts, and I am sick of it.

 

It just gets old when you sit here and have to argue and rants and rave at least once a year and the Fox Sports crews still can not fathom the difference between the two cities. Maybe it is time for us as a whole in the Tampa Bay community to let the National media giants know that it is over! That the Tampa Bay region is not comprised of sleepy towns spotted with backwater communities, but that this community will fight with the best of them for what is right and accurate.

 
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Maybe it is finally time for the entire Tampa Bay community to come together and stop separating at the hip with our upcoming stadium site concerns or ramblings and focus for a moment to demand that the National media eggheads get the Tampa Bay city locale right as a show of civic respect for this great region of Florida.

 

One of the biggest problems I have with today’s journalists, and especially some of the Sports higher echelon of writers , is their admittance that accuracy has gone by the wayside in regards to the media’s reporting because of the social media channels. This is total horse hockey pucks excuse, and we should not tolerate less than accuracy from theses media members.

If you or I wrote a prefab false blog posting, or attacked a player, team or organization without proof and facts, the National media would devour us like hungry jackals and pronounce us as “fakes”, and rally around their circle of journalistic integrity. But so many times the National set of writers have gotten a free pass from the web community without the masses asking for revisions or retractions or even apologies.

 

Mistakes happen. We all know this and it is accepted as a part of our every day lives, but the ignorance of still playing those same Fox Sports MLB promo spots with misinformation is insane and irresponsible journalism. I understand that post production it would be expensive to re-edit the commercial promos, but the voice-over would be quick and easy to perform. It is not like the entire promo segment has to be re-shot or reconfigured, only the voice segment. You can bet there are Yankee fans just chuckling at the fact that Fox can not even get the stadium’s location right, which shows why we can not get respect or a level of stability with the inconsistent level of true fandom in this community.
 

We do not need the outside National media also dumping on us like a Waste Management truck throwing more and more garbage on the inaccurate pile. So here is what I am going to be doing for the next couple of days. And people within the Tampa Bay community can either join in, or just stay with the status quo and take their constant beating of irregularities in reporting towards our fair community.
 

First, you can contact the higher level Fox Sports Communicaitons department executives at Fox Sports:
 
Lou D’Ermilio Sr V P Communications, Fox Sports
( ldermillio@foxsports.com

Dan Bell V P Communication, Fox Sports
( dbell@foxsports.com

Ileana Pena Director, Communications, Fox Sports
( ipena@foxsports.com )
 

Or maybe it is more your style to call the Fox Broadcasting main number of their offices located at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City at (212) 556-2400 over the next several days, and ask for one of the above names and voice you concerns either personally or in a voicemail that the Fox Sports “St. Petersburg” errors should be corrected on the National airwaves by Fox Sports. Sometimes the grass roots attacks have to be made to focus the larger picture.

I know some people will just see this as a Tampa Bay regional concern, and why should you get involved. The reality is that it sometimes takes a simple ripple to begin a tidal or rogue wave to make change. By nipping this in the bud today and showing that the general public is aware of their Fox Sports mistakes, maybe change can become of it.

 

The stadium located in St. Petersburg, Florida at 16th Street and 1st Avenue South celebrating its 20th year in 2010 and having been a host of a Final Four, a National Hockey League Playoff game, Arena Football Championship and a World Series. Each of those events have world wide appeal and fan viewers. It is also the only stadium in this country to ever host each of those events in its history.

I personally feel a great civic pride and honor to have lived and grown up in this community and I just feel it is time that Fox and the rest of the media conglomerate remember we are proud of the St. Petersburg community, and even being a community with Tampa Bay. But more importantly, St. Petersburg is proud to be the current Home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

St. Pete Election could decide Rays Future

 


SPTimes.com

On this National election Day, there are citizens all around the country voting to retain or replace local politicians in their city governments. Some are voting for Council members,  minor and major elected city officials and maybe even for the high office of Mayor. But in St. Petersburg, Florida, the vote for your mayor candidate might send a clear and concise message to the Tampa Bay Rays on what the teams future might be in the city or somewhere else.

Both of the cities Mayor candidates have been loud and proud in their support or bashing of the Rays proposal to construct a new retractable roof stadium within the city limits. And it is a decision that has alienated some community leaders from their citizens,or even renewed a hope of a change in government. The voting decision today by the city populus might be a clear indicator of if the Rays dream of a new stadium is going to be a folly or a future shing star in the Tampa Bay area.

Also at stake is the timing of any future plans at all.  Consider if the city does join forces with the Rays and campaign for a new stadium as soon as 2012. If the city and the team tries to fund it and build it too quickly, without total support, you will see the city sacrifice city taxes and proposed revenues by looking at it in tunnel vision. But there is a far worst scenario that might come from waiting too long to make a initial decison on the project and watch the moving vans stroll up to the Trop and wave goodbye to baseball in Tampa Bay for good.

The A Better Community (ABC) group, which has been commissioned to research all the nooks and crannies of the Tampa Bay area for the right location and situation for the proposed stadium has not even made a final conclusion in the stadium process. And that might be a intelligent political move for them to wait and see what kind of political obstacles might fall in their way before revealing their final reccomendations to the public. 

But you can bet the group is closely watching the St. Pete election with a keen eye on what might happen or needs to happen in the next few years concerning the stadium  issue. And the candidate have laid it all out in black and white to the public on this issue, and there has been no pandering to either side. But their firm words are just that right now until they are elected to the office and will have to comment again on the issue.


Jame Borchuck/ SPTimes

You have one candidate Kathleen Ford, who has been a huge voice that the Rays are committed by contract to staying at Tropicana Field until 2027, and is not about to give them any freedom or deviations from their present deal in the near future. Ford has campaigned hard on the issues of the city’s economy and putting more police officiers on the street and decreasing taxes than thinking about baseball right now. And that might be the platform that makes her viable to the citizens of the city. 

But Ford also knows that the city of St. Petersburg has a trump card in this stadium deal, and she is holding it close to her vest right now. If the Rays cry poverty, then the city could instruct the team to open their  teams financial books, and MLB and baseball in general has been hesistant in the past to let outsiders see such things as revenue sharing and other inner workings of their system.

And Ford might use the possibility of financial damages as her remedy to the situation. The current contract between the Rays and the city stipulates that all bond monies (currently about $ 80 million) must be paid off.   And in this point alone,Ford might have the power of the judicial system in her court. So, could Ford become a major stadium hinderence to the Rays if she is elected or just a road block?

Then you have the other candidate, Bill Foster who has flip floped at least once on the issue, but  that concerned the building of the stadium on the St. Petersburg waterfront, and not the proposed sites on the outer stretches of the city’s limits. Foster realistically sees both sides of the equation now,and has vowed to work with the Rays organization to get the right decision for both the citizens of his town and the Rays in this issue.


SPTimes.com

Foster is the candidate who truly envisions the concrete hitting the soil as early as 2016 when the financing of the current bonds surrounding the Tropicana Field lease are set to expire.  And he is also throwing the idea out of maybe even expanding the concept to include a convention center on the property picked to make it more attractive to city residents and voters if a referendum is needed to get the funding. But does he have the charm and finesse needed to get them reinstituted and the Rays on the way to fulfilling the dream?

And both candidates have been adamant about a court battle if the Rays try and take the team away before 2027, but we all know that professional teams can win court battles and even iron clad lawsuits by twisting the system with monetary solutions,or by just winning outright in their case. And that is one of the strong armed tactics we could expect if Ford is elected to the office. Foster might use it as a directional tool, but not as a strong point to twist the issue ot negotiations with the Rays.

Depending on where your personal logic lies, the Rays will be making decisions behind their closed doors that are not privy to the Florida Sunshine Laws to either boost or defend their current plans to acquire the head nod of city officials about a stadium. And the Rays are not going to immediately head for the hills and be on speed dial with Portland,San Antonio, Las Vegas or even Charlotte if the wrong person is elected, or shows a strong will even to speak about the issue. But you know they have a back-up plan. This is a business, not just a baseball sports franchise, and a wise man always has a secondary solution up their sleeves.

But this is going to be a critical decision by the citizens of St. Petersburg on how their baseball future will be visualized. The region has emerged as a Major League city, if the city government balks at the building or any considerations of a stadium, the city could lose. And if that happens,will the citizens of St. Petersburg, Florida want to again become a Minor League city? 


SPTimes.com

Could
the decision making by the next St. Pete mayor, either Foster or Ford be the deciding factor in if the Rays are doing a ribbon cutting or preparing for a court battle in the future? After they are elected we might get a good indicator of their thoughts when the ABC releases their recommendations on the stadium parameters such as location and structure. The first order uttered on this issue by the new Mayor might send the clear message to baseball lovers in the community.

So the issue of baseball might be considered front and center in this election, but it has a huge dose of hard core realization attached to both  Mayor candidates. One has been vocal about playing hardball and tying the team up to their total commitments. The other has been wise enough to consider alternatives and will keep an open mind into the baseball situation until all the cards are presented to him and the St. Petersburg City Council. 

When the Waterfront  proposed stadium plans were pulled back off the table by the Rays earlier this year it was seen as a victory by some small political groups (POWW) around the community. They saw the pulling of the proposed plans as a major coup at the time. But who is to say that it was not STRIKE ONE by the St. Petersburg politicans, and the Rays will ultimately be the ones who determine when the community strikes out,or hits one out of the park and into the bay. 
 

St. Petersburg and the MLB Go Waaaay Back

 

                           

 

 It gets to me sometimes how people tend to wrap the “Tampa ” label on the city by the Bay more and more on national baseball broadcasts, ESPN Sportscenter and during post-game interviews. The St. Petersburg area is the 4th largest cities in the state,and would be a far bigger city if it was not for that body of water on three sides of it.

 

 But the media has a love affair and always get wrapped up in the  sheets and covers of  St. Pete’s brotherly city over the water  just east of them.  It is not easy to understand sometimes since this city has had a long love affair with baseball since even before the 1900’s. And to add to it all, the Minor League  Baseball office is located in our fair city in front of Progress Energy Fields box offices right down by the waterfront.

 

The City of St. Petersburg, Florida has always had the moniker of being a town where older people go to die. It has been affectionately called, ” Town of the Newlyweds and Nearly Deads” for as long as I have been alive. It is a town known throughout the world for the endless green benches, sunshine almost 360 days a year, and a bridge span that collapsed onto a tanker in the late 70’s.  But did you know that it was the last stop for President John F Kennedy before he left for Dallas, Texas?

 

The game’s Sunshine State history reaches back to amateur ballclubs of the 1870s. In 1888, major league clubs began putting down Florida roots when the Washington Nationals came to the Jacksonville area for spring training. St. Petersburg welcomed owner Branch Rickey and the St. Louis Browns in 1914, and new transportation routes in the 1920s drew still more springtime teams–many lured to St. Pete by businessman and former mayor, Al Lang.

 

 

Baseball has been in the  seasonal lifeblood of the region for over 100 years. And  with so many clubs using this area for Spring Training, it is about expected that residual energy and phantom sightings and events would blanket the area with a paranormal presence. I have heard all kinds of stories growing up about the early days of baseball in Florida. Sightings among the mist at ballparks and strangers sitting in the empty dugouts that vanish when you walk up to them. Mystery and baseball sometimes go hand in hand with each other. 

 

Stories of ballplayers’ like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig staying in local downtown hotels, like the Ponce De Leon and Don Ce Sar Resort.  And also unthinkable stories of events that today would cause an uproar, like how local innkeepers and restaurant owners would not let former Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson  and some other  african-american players eat or sleep with the rest of the team’s players due to beliefs that would be considered horrific today. In the 1940’s, racism was a social problem in the south, and ghostly reminders rear their heads at old haunts like Mirror Lake or  beyond the top of  “Thrill Hill” off 3rd Street South near Bayboro Harbor. 

 

 

                                 

 

I have heard rumors and enuendos about deep sea boat trips deep into the Gulf of Mexico to follow game fish like the Marlin and players missing baseball games because of losing track of time out on the high seas.   I actually saw a photo of Ruth and Gehrig deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida in of all places, the Diamond Club at Safeco Field. Take the stadium tour, you will see that, and an awesome photo of Babe Ruth as a Red Sox pitcher.  Also the stories ans urban legends of the elaborate shindigs and parties attended by some of baseball’s elite players in places like the old Hermitage Hotel, or the Detroit Hotel’s courtyard, which is now the Jannis Landing concert venue. 

 

With all that wild actitivites and the bold and brass characters of old-time baseball, you would think some of that would still be here, coasting within our eyesight. There are reminders everywhere in the city of baseball’s past here.  Little did I know how much of the past still is present in St. Petersburg until I made a pilgrimage to my local bookstore. I  went on a baseball book hunt to one of the classic bookstore, Haslems to try and find some old editions or volumes written about baseball.

 

Now I know I could have gone to Barnes and Noble, or any other cookie-cutter store with their coffee shops and muffins, but I wanted to have a literary expedition into the past. I do not know what it is about an old bookstore that makes you feel, well nostalgic. Maybe it is the smell of the aging pages and binders glue, or maybe the accumulation of dust and mildew on some collections, but you can always find somethnig to peak your interest.

 

If you have never heard about Haslems’ ,it is a huge collection and mish-mosh of books discarded and obtained from people and sources all over the world and  every book known to man seems to flow to them.  I came away with a few great books about our national pastime. They had a huge selection of autobiographies and collections of stories concerning baseball. I have to check out this book, ” The 30-Year Old Rookie” the next time I am in there. 

 

One of the book I chose was, Haunted Baseball, by Mickey Bradley and Dan Gordon. To start with, the authors are Boston Red Sox and New York fans, which puts them in good company with the bandwagon fans the Rays attract 64 games a year ( minus the 17 against the AL East foes ) tends to attract  at once to the Trop. this year. The book is a  fantastic collection of events depicting the ghosts, practical celestrial games, and unexplained phenoms concerning baseball and some oif the hotel, motels and Holiday Inns around the league and the minors. 

 

And to my delight, within the inside pages is a unique  insight and local history of apparitions, events and local  urban legends that only back up  old stories and  unwitnessed events I was told as a child. I have enjoyed reading this book. The authors have done alot of research with players, coaches and experts in the field of the unsual and the unknown.  From the first chapter based on events in St. Petersburg, and it peaked my interest to revisit and explore these places again and again.

 

 

 

The first chapter is dedicated to a St. Petersburg park that sits less than a few miles from Tropicana Field, the Rays current home.  I used to run around  this park as a child and fish in it’s lake and read under, and climb the huge banyan trees. The park has always had a eerie feeling to me,like someone was watching you from a distance, and I did not know why. Cresent Lake Park is also the site of Huggins-Stengel Field, which was  one of the Spring Training sites for the old Yankees, Mets, Cardinals Orioles, and the young years of the Tampa Bay  D-Rays..

 

Huggins-Stengel field located in the Southeastern corner of the park near the huge silver colored watertower that has served as a landmark since the 1920’s.  My grandfather used to live on 13th Avenue North between 5th and 6th Streets, less than a city block from the field. He used to take hours telling me about the legends both concerning the field and the playerd who called it home for many years. One of the wildest adventures into the bizzare world of the paranormal concerns former Yankee greats’ Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle .

 

 It is said that the spirit of the “Bambino” loved the Florida sunshine and the city so much that his spirit is still here,  Some say that occsionally a figure is seen sitting in the dugout at twilight wearing a Yankee jersey on the third base side of  Huggins-Stengel Field and can still be witnessed on occasions usually before the weather turns cold in Florida. Mikey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio patroled centerfield at the complex, and legend has it that the day after they died a brown spot turned up in the exact spots both of them used to play on the field.

 

Ruth also was playing in the outfield once and a bull gator decided to sun himself in deep centerfield and chased the “Bambino” from the field . Ruth also used to hit monster shots down the vine-covered leftfield area and kids used to clamor for the balls. Some say a lone figure is sometimes seen out there in the early morning mist just standing in centerfield as if waiting for a ball to be hit his direction. Most take this apparition to be Ruth, who loved playing at this quaint location better than the Yankees old facility in New Orleans. Truth be told, the Yankees moved the spring training site to St. Petersburg to keep Ruth from Bourbon Street and the late night life of New Orleans.

 

The old clubhouse is the scene of several unsual and unexplained happenings. It was like a second home to alot of the Yankee stars who spent plenty of late hours there before heading to the team hotel in town. After the D-Rays moved all their operation to the Ray Namoli complex in the Jungle area of town, the team turned the location over to the City of St. Petersburg, who converted the old clubhouse to an office space currently occupied by the St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation team TASCO.

 

 

 

At Huggins-Stengel Field, some also say the ghost of Casey Stengel is said to have been seen and felt in the old clubhouse. Two plaques in front of a building are dedicated to Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel and that it was the New York Mets spring clubhouse for more than 20 years are all that distinguishes it from the dozens of other baseball fields in the city. There are 3 ex-MLB training sites in the city that are still standing. Besides Huggins-Stengel, there is the Busch Complex ( St. Louis Cardinals ) off 62nd Avenue Northeast, and the Namoli complex ( Mets, Orioles, Cards, Rays ) next to the Walter Fuller Community center in the Jungle Prade area of St. Petersburg. 

 

Legend has it Ruth gave up shagging flies on the first day of spring training in 1925 because an alligator emerged from Crescent Lake to sunbath in the outfield. Ruth is said to be one of the few players to put a ball into the lake about 500 feet from home plate in right field. Among the others: Mets slugger Dave Kingman.

 

It is a series of wild tales of ghostly sightings and unexplained sounds and smells concerning the vast history that has graced this cement block building. The old Yankees clubhouse, built in the 1930s, was torn down and replaced by the current one in the early 1960s. Lockers from the original clubhouse were moved to the new one, and one of the wood stalls greets visitors in the entrance to the building now used for offices for a teenagers program, TASCO.

 

One of the wildest  and most interesting tales concerns a thick cigar odor that is strong in the AM when the TASCO workers come in the morning, and the strange and odd happening after dark in the building. It is said that former Yankee manager Miller Huggins was a huge cigar smoker and would often light up in the clubhouse or the surrounding areas. But the lone figure in the dugout near nightfall has more of a place in the local lore. Some say it is the shadows that play against the overgrowth in leftfield that give the dugout its errie glow and shadows right before sunset.

 

I used to deliver Pepsi product to TASCO as a Special Events Coordinator, and I always had an uneasy feeling in that building. If I knew about these events, I would have loved to stay the night or visit there at night. The park is patrolled by local police looking for  illegal activities, not ghosts during the night. The St. Petersburg Police Department has never had to respond to a burglar call or break-in at the complex, and the motion alarms have never been set off by the nightly escapades.   

 

 

The third chapter of the book features the  World famous Vinoy hotel where countless stories have victimized visiting teams, and newly promoted Rays players staying in the resort for Rays games.  The hotel was vacant for  over 20 years and fell into  major disrepair before the site was cleaned up and restored to it’s current state. It has been a long time since the hotel was a vacant shell on the waterfront, but true natives know how much the hotel transformed the Straub Park and Vinoy area back to respectability and extreme comfort for local visitors’.

 

The book goes into detail about the haunting and shenaigans of the spectres’ in the old wing of the hotel. I know of one death in the hotel from when it was an abandoned shell. It is of a homeless guy who fell into the water-filled elevator shaft and drowned because there was no one there to hear him scream for help, or rescue him. Legend has it that sometimes the walls of the elevators produce a banging sound and the elevator shakes like someone trying to get in from below or above the unit.

 

I have also stayed in this hotel  a few times on the 5th floor of the old wing and have not had a truly restful night  sleep . One time it was due to weird scratching noises outside my 6th floor window. I took it as a dove or bird trying to find a niche for the night. Never thought about a ghostly apparition or spectre causing the chaos. I also know of doors and windows that have been locked, then appear open to the outer halls during the night while people have been asleep inside of the rooms. The main ballroom has been said to have nightly ghost parties where voices and footsteps are regular occurrances to unsuspecting staff members.

 

It has a Rays’ twist in the form of a ghostly haunting involving Jon Switzer when he first got promoted up to the big club. You have to read the account to believe it. It is a tale you would not believe unless you read it. Other players and coaches have had events happen to them in this spirited hotel.  There is even one player from the Cleveland Indians who will not sleep in the hotel due to a bad night sleeping or the feelings he gest from the old haunt.

 

the paranormal is present so much that it was profiled  in an ESPN story involving the Cincinnati Reds reliever Scott Williamson. He says he was held down in his bed by an unforseen force in the night and in later research, it was noted that the former landowner of the Vinoy site before the hotel was built was also named Williamson.

 

As you can see, some residents of the past might have come back to St. Petersburg to check back into the hotel to rediscover  their glory days or even revisit the best times of their lives. The city has always had a southern charm and relaxing feel to it, but the bumps in the night have gotten a new meaning after reading that book. I recommend that anyone who enjoys tales of paranormal or unforetold strange happenings  should check out this book.  The authors’ also have a  blog page here on MLBlogs.com where they leave blogs entries from time to time. Here is the page if you are interested in either the book, or their blogs: http://hauntedbaseball.mlblogs.com .

 

Well, got to go run by  old Cresent Lake on my  morning jog, maybe I will see the figure in the mist, or an old bull gator that could to be the re-incarnation of Babe Ruth on the lake bank behind the centerfield wall……………wish me luck, I love the unexplained.

 

 

It’s A Regional Thing

 

I have been upset during the following year that the Tampa Bay Rays have rised to  such heights in the Major League Baseball world, and the world still see Tampa Bay as a single city. It can get a bit unnerving to always have to defend the City of St. Petersburg as the town where the Rays plays, but the Tampa Bay community is it’s resident home.

All of the major sports team who have graced this region have used the regional name. None have been pinpointed to be named the Tampa Bucs, or Tampa Lightning. The old North American Soccer League Champs were called the Tampa Bay Rowdies, not the Tampa Rowdies.  The Rowdies were also the first professional team in our area to use the regional name on a championship trophy when they won the NASL’s title in their 2nd season.

 

     

 

The Lightning is a great example of why using the Tampa Bay motif has worked well for a team. They first began play at the Florida State Fairgrounds, then moved to the Thunderdome (Tropicana Field) before moving to their current home, the St. Petersburg Times Forum in Tampa.  If the team had kept the name based on their location city only, it would have had to change at least 3 times to designate a correct locale.

The Rays went on board with the respect for the region and decided to use the region as their entire demographic for baseball. Just becuase this area is a “hot bed” for Spring Training baseball, before the team was awarded, it was only a Class A destination for ballplayers on their way up the minor league scale.

The Tampa Bay region all have a personality of their own. Tampa Bay  is considered the second largest hispanic community in the state of Florida, and it’s pride is revealed bautifully in Ybor City. The region has a bridge system that is considered a masterpeice on the world’s stage in the Skyway Bridge. Communities like Sarasota, with the Ringling Museum, and Clearwater where the Philadelphia Philles hold their Spring Training all add to the melting pot of the region.

 

                                   

 

For newspapers, radio and television to constantly pull the region down by calling them the “Tampa Rays”, or that we play in “Tampa” is an insult to everything we have tried to complish with all these other sports. Is it because these other teams are actually located in Tampa and if they mess up, it is still within the guidelines of a locale and not a geographic nightmare.

The Rays and the City of St. Petersburg have a huge  rolling backdrop showing the team plays in St. Petersburg. The team has it well defined in the 2008 Media Guide and also in the promotional materials given out to fans during the years. The tickets  do not have the city stated on the, but is that the next step to getting that respectability from the country.

Or can the City of St. Petersburg keep taking this hits by the media by not correcting themselves or obtaining the first credo of journalism..Accuracy.  Is the action oif a few going to effect the works of many. You bet they do. The 3 second sound byte by Tim McCraver or Joe Buck can destroy an entire year of  city promotion or community identity becuase they did not convey the correct town name.

 

 

If the media can tell you that the New England Patriots play in Foxboro, Mass., why can they not tell you that we play in St. Petersburg. It is not all about “little brother”, St Petersburg feeling totally inferior, it is about the civic pride I know I have for my town. Have you ever heard the Detroit Lions referred to as the Pontiac , Michigan Lions when they played there. No, but you knew the city they played in and also had the respect to call it correctly.

Maybe Matt Silverman needs to make up a secondary letter to the media. This time to instill a $ 1 dollar penalty anytime the city is not correctly identified on any kind of mideia from 2009 on. I think he could easily pay a few salaries with the money derived from that venture. Local DJ’s can’t even still get the name right, or will not even call them just the Rays.

People forget that before a few years ago, the largest crowd to ever watch a NHL playoff game was in the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Thunderdome was their home for many years, and I saw that contest against the Phildelphia Flyers.  The commentators of that game on television got the locale correct, and that was over 15 years ago.

But during the MLB playoffs, the announcers selected to broadcast the post season on TBS and Fox could not be counted on to correctly name the community they were staying in for the series.  Why is it that the world can not remember a simple name like St. Petersburg. Do we need to move to our sisiter city in Russia to get total recognition? 

 Nyet, we do not have to travel half the world to get respect. We just have to pound it into the media subconscious. But you would think a winning season and an incredible push to the World Series would tranform the city’s name onto the tips of their tongues.

I even have a friend, Jeff, who is also on the Rays Fan Wall of Fame with me who is a dynamic supporter of this team. He is known as the “sign guy” by many at the Trop., and he mentioned to me he thought of making up T-shirts during the years stating that fact we are the Tampa Bay Rays ” and not the “Tampa Rays”.

We have had personalities like Kool and the Gang, and M  C HAmmer make those mistakes during concerts this year and you heard the crowd correct them immediately. But as Jeff  was going to put on his T-shirts, “It’s a Regional Thing” either you get it, or you are clueless……….Which one are you? 

 

 

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