By: Matthew Vandenburgh
Major League Baseball’s executive council granted the Tampa Bay Rays permission to look into options for the team to split its home games in future seasons between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal.
Right now the plan is in very early stages, but due to the lack of attendance the team is exploring the idea of beginning the season in Tampa and finishing it in Montreal. The Rays currently have an average attendance of 14,546, the second lowest in MLB. This comes despite a current record of 43-31, second place in a stacked American League East.
The Rays have done almost everything aside of giving away tickets for free in order to boost attendance. A good, young team that has tremendous upside cannot seem to get people to come into the stadium to watch them play. Much of this is likely due to Tropicana Field, a stadium that is consistently rated one of the worst stadiums in baseball.
Tropicana Field is in a poor location, and is considered an eyesore by many stadium professionals. Outside of the residents of St. Petersburg, the stadium is difficult to get to, especially for people north of Tampa such as here in Hernando County. Not many people relish the thought of taking the Howard Frankland Bridge, and the idea of driving on 19 all the way down to the Trop is laughable at times.
The Rays have been trying to get a new stadium for years now, with proposals for one in Ybor recently getting denied. The team’s lease in Tropicana Field lasts through 2027, so for now it seems like the team is stuck there.
All this combines for a bad situation for baseball fans in the Tampa Bay area. It would be one thing to take away a failing franchise that loses often, but the Rays have been one of the best teams in the majors over the last two seasons.
Their curse is being stuck in a division with two behemoths named the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. When third place is often the best a team can do because they get outspent by their two big divisional rivals, it is hard to get into the playoffs. It turns a five team race for a divisional title into a 12 team competition for one playoff spot, constantly increasing the difficulty and lengthening the odds of succeeding.
The one thing that will help a team like the Rays is money. The organization is run well, with a deep farm system that helps bring young and talented players to the majors almost every year. However, if you can’t afford to keep those young players, they become prime major league talents for your rivals. You see fire sales like the one last year. You get teams that lose, and lose big, because they have to bank on everything being perfect for that one title.
Montreal can help provide that money. The city is large enough to support a team. The Expos had decent attendance during their good years, poor management doomed them more than anything else. The city has been hungry for a baseball team almost immediately after the Expos moved to Washington. It would not be surprising to see this experiment, if they do it, turn into more of a permanent move if it is successful.
So if you want to save the Rays and keep the team in Tampa Bay full time, we need to go more often. It is not like we would be watching bad baseball either. We have a great opportunity to watch an extremely talented team play deep into October this season. Let’s not miss out.