Sport Change is going to attempt to broach a sometimes controversial topic: relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays–also known as “Ray-location.”
This isn’t a new topic. In any talk of relocation in Major League Baseball, the Rays always find themselves in the spotlight. Let me start by saying that I truly admire and like the Rays. They’ve been playing scrappy baseball for the last few years and any team that keeps the Yankees and Red Sox in check is a likable team in my book. However, in a Sport Change post a few weeks back, MLB teams were assessed as potential relocators. The Rays emerged as the only team that seemed fit to discuss.
There are several reasons for this, and I’ll attempt to tackle a few:
-Lack of history and tradition. Other than money, history and tradition are perhaps the most powerful forces in baseball. Even though they barely sell more tickets than the Rays, the Indians are not open for discussions of relocation. They’ve been around for a long, long time. Since Nap LaJoie was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The Rays, on the other hand, have…uh….Wade Boggs played for them a little.
-A short but weird history. The Rays have been somewhat doomed from the get-go. Why was it a good idea to stick another expansion team in Florida just a few years after the Marlins claimed the whole state for their own? Tampa is a large city, but the stadium was set up in the second-tier burg of St. Pete. They had rainbow colors and a nickname that offended many bible-belters: the Devil Rays. They did a great job of rebranding and reinventing themselves in the aughts, and have enjoyed admirable success on the field through sheer scrappyness, cleverness, and resilience. Staying competitive in the AL East is something to celebrate, but unfortunately…
-They don’t sell many tickets. What more can the Rays do? They’ve become one of the most interesting and entertaining teams in baseball, yet still draw meager numbers–hovering around 20,000 per game. That’s currently dead last among the 30 teams in the Majors. This is a problem that performance on the field cannot solve. It’s bigger than that. Many will say that if the Rays played in a nicer stadium than Tropicana Field and were in Tampa, that the day would be saved. But…
-That’s putting lipstick on a pig. If the Rays got a new stadium, I highly doubt that would save the day. By most accounts, the Trop is a poorly-located dump. But I think I can speak for a lot of sports fans when I say that I would rather sit in a pit and watch my teams win than luxuriate in a state-of-the-art stadium; reclining in a Lay-Z-Boy to watch a team embarrass themselves on the JumboTron. Just ask Marlins fans. The Marlins went all-in with a new stadium, new uniforms, new coach, new players…they pulled out all the stops to try to be superficially successful. It didn’t work this year and now they just look like clowns. Expensive clowns who draw only 18th best in the bigs.
Not only are the Rays a competitive team, they are one of the most interesting and entertaining clubs in the Majors. Based on the play of the club, the Rays should be drawing fans in the top ten, and they’ve done all they can with what payroll they have. Unfortunately, the Tampa Bay area hasn’t responded accordingly. If they won the Pennant, would the seats in the Trop fill up? Sadly, it’s no guarantee and even a new stadium would convince few that the Rays should stay. The main problem is…
-Florida sucks when it comes to sports. If the Marlins and Dolphins get their heads out of the water and get fans excited again, that’s great. Florida should have representation in all major sports. But with more then one team from the state per sport, you’re pushing it. Just ask the Jaguars. Or the Howardless Magic. Even the successful Tampa Bay Bucs franchise struggles to prove it’s legitimacy. The economy has tanked, and Florida has been hit hard. The party’s over. Time to move on.
But where to move?
Ah, that satisfied feeling that comes from knowing the groundwork is already in place. Sport Change recently did a thorough assessment of ready-to-relocate-to cities and markets for the big three major sports. From that study, we came up with a top ten list of best places for a team to move to. I’ll give you a minute to read that post.
Before we get into those, I would like to debunk a few stray theories.
1. I do not see another international team. Not even Vancouver. There hasn’t been much talk of Mexico City, so I don’t see why that would be on our horizon. It makes common sense, but it probably won’t happen. Just like Cuba. I would love to see a franchise in Cuba, and I enjoyed Charles P. Pierce’s recent piece about Cuban baseball for Grantland. But no, it won’t happen. A Sport Change commenter also suggested San Juan, Puerto Rico. That’s not technically international, and it could conceivably happen. But I doubt it will.
2. There will not be another team in the greater New York area. A team in Brooklyn would be terrific, but you can bet the Yankees and especially the Mets would freak out over this. A New Jersey team would see a similar freakout, only the Phillies would also get into the mix. The Orioles pitched a flying fit when the Expos moved to Washington, and they might protest a New Jersey team as well. Connecticut has been mentioned by some, but the Yanks and Red Sox would forge an unholy alliance to repress the very idea. Welcome to money-ball, Hartford.
3. Sacramento does not deserve a pro baseball team. For starters, they can’t seem to hold on to their NBA team. For seconds, they are competing against San Francisco and Oakland. The A’s might move to Sac-town, but the Rays will not. For thirds, I think this is just a Kevin Johnson “think big” pipe dream. The AAA RiverCats do well for AAA, but by all accounts the newly built Raley field could not be converted into a pro park without tearing up the streets something fierce. Don’t think big, Sacramento, think realistic.
In Sport Changes’ previous post, the top ten candidates of MLB relocation sites were listed. I’m just going to use the the top five.
Here we go. The Rays relocating to:
1. Indiana Rays. Basking in the the Super Bowl afterglow, Indy decides that it needs a baseball team to complement the Colts, Pacers, and Hoosiers. Indy ponied up for the Colts’ new stadium, so they aren’t afraid to spend. Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis has a capacity of 14,000 and is adjacent to Lucas Oil stadium and the Pacers’ arena. Baseball America and Sports Illustrated named Victory Field the best ballpark in America, and the AAA tenants (the Indianapolis Indians) do very well. I’m not sure about parking, but if more seat were added, this sounds like a reasonable idea. As far the brand goes, I think Indiana Rays has a nice ring to it. Obviously the sting ray would be replaced by an ear of corn or something, but the sun shine element could be emphasized. Maybe yellow or brown uniforms.
2. Louisville Rays. This is a long shot, considering the lack of a pro precedent. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a pro club in the land of the Slugger? The AAA Bats draw an average of 9,000 fans per game. That’s already about half of Tampa’s total, and the Bats are in the minors. Slugger Field seats about 13,000 already and Louisville is a larger city than most people seem to realize. The combined statistical area houses over 1,450,000 souls–about as much as Milwaukee, Memphis, and Oklahoma City. I’d love to see it. Brand wise, it would be cool if they co-opted the Bats name and kept the furry, flying mammal as a mascot. I see red as a color, but maybe that’s just because I still associate Louisville with the Redbirds.
3. Portland (G)rays. Portland is always brought up in these conversations, so this is due diligence. Unless they were holding out for a pro stadium, Portlandians sent a strong message when they let the AAA Beavers leave town. But who knows? If they get the Rays, I think they should change the name to the Grays. I like color names like Reds, Browns, and Blues, and the mascot could switch from a devil ray to a gray whale. Also, the sun rays don’t shine much in Portland. It’s often gray, just like Portland’s prospects for a pro team.
4. Oklahoma City Rays. With the success of the Thunder, you can bet that there are Clay Bennett types salivating over the Rays. It’s a reasonable proposition, and OKC would probably work better than St. Pete. Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the RedHawks has seats north of 13,000. I could see it. I don’t like Rays for an OKC nickname, but can’t think of a better one off the top of my head. If you’ve got suggestions, post them in the comments. Maybe the Tornadoes?
5. Utah Rays. If Utah kept the Jazz moniker, I’m going to keep it here. But can SLC support a pro ball team? Probably, but they would likely be middling in attendance and payroll. The AAA Bees have a nice big stadium (15,500 seats!) and I could see folks coming out to see the Utah Rays. At least in moderate numbers.
So there we have it. Sport Change’s take on Ray-location. Share your thoughts in the comments.