What’s the real key to Tampa’s startling turnaround?  Player development? The managerial prowess of Joe Maddon?  Adding key veterans like Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival and Chad Bradford to their talented-but-youthful squad?  Or rather, as the New York Times’ George Vescey points out, The Rays’ willingness to allow paying customers to bring their own snacks to the ballpark. “One reporter recalls not being allowed to bring a sandwich into Tropicana Field under the old ownership,” writes Vescey, forgetting that Vince Naimoli (above) wouldn’t let that same reporter use his private toilet.

In most sports arenas and stadiums in this great land of freedom and opportunity, people can probably slip in a sandwich or unobtrusive snacks. But with inspections at every gate, fans are not allowed to bring anything substantial or drinks of any kind ” and often get the feeling they will be taken under the stands and beaten with rubber hoses if they try.

This is not necessarily about security, either. It is because most team owners believe in the American dream of shaking every last nickel out of the customer. And look how well that ethic is working these days.

fans who were allowed to bring food into the ballpark rather than dropping a $10 bill on the counter for a hot dog and hoping the cashier might hand back a few quarters.

œIt™s tough to feed a family, said club president Matthew Silverman, who grew up in Dallas and used to go the Rangers™ ballpark, one of the few places where food was allowed.

œI would sit in the bleachers with my family and eat fried chicken, Silverman said.

Under this sane policy, fans can actually bring carrots and apples and cereal to the ballpark and not have them wrestled away by gristly guards. I know what you are thinking: œThere™s no healthy eating in baseball, what with the mandatory calories and salt and sugar laced into the junk food sold in the corridors of American arenas.

The beauty part, Silverman said, is that the dome™s vendor has signed off on the bring-your-own policy because, as Silverman explained, if fans eat their bento box of sushi or homemade potato salad, they may feel like buying an ice cream or souvenir later. (Patrons cannot lug goodies to their rented luxury boxes, however. That™s a different deal.)