With a baseball lineage that includes the hallowed tenures of Greg Vaughan, Jose Canseco and Wade Boggs, a historic ballpark like Tropicana Field, not to mention a former ownership group obsessed with private toilets, how can the good people of Tampa/St. Pete manage to avoid Devil Rays games? More to the point, writes the St. Petersburg Times’ Marc Topkin, playing to a throng of Yankees or Red Sox rooters is “disturbing to the young and idealistic stars such as Scott Kazmir (above), B.J. Upton and Delmon Young.”
“You know it’s going to be nothing but a sea of red when the Red Sox are there and then next week nothing but Yankees fans,” Kazmir said. “You go out for the first inning and next thing you know they’ve got one guy on and already that Red Sox chant is going on.
“That stuff really bothers me. It does. We’re a major-league team too. It’s tough. It seems like okay, we’re just renting-the-place type stuff. I don’t know. It’s just wrong. It really is.”
“I think it’s ridiculous,” teammate B.J. Upton said. “You’re supposed to be the home team and the place is sold out, but it’s 98 percent the other team’s fans. I think you kind of get used to it, but at the same time it gets old.”
“We’re playing in the Trop and it’s more like Fenway than anything,” Upton said. “We go in and play at home and it’s like a road game at home.”
The Rays rank last in the majors in attendance – averaging 16,288, and needing a big final week just to match last season’s total – which means the crowds are often small if they are not pro-Red Sox (25,847 average) or pro-Yankees (27,757).
That creates something of a marketing conundrum for the Rays, who choose a broad – “Just get them in the building” – approach with hopes of conversion later.
“The only way it’s ever going to change,” Young said, “is if we start winning.”
“I guarantee you’ll have a lot of these guys switch their caps and jerseys and jump on the bandwagon,” Kazmir said. “Hopefully it’s only a matter of time.”
Kazmir (5 IP, 2 earned runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, 9 K’s) took the loss in Tampa’s 8-1 defeat at the hands of Boston last night, a game attended by a robust crowd of 27,369. Josh Beckett’s 6 innings of 1-run, 4 hit ball was good enough to make him the first Red Sox hurler to win 20 games since Curt Schilling’s 21-6 campaign 3 years ago. More amazingly, however, Eric Gagne managed to protect a 7 run lead in the 9th inning, thus increasing Boston’s AL East margin over the Yankees (losers in 14 innings to Toronto) to 2 1/2 games.