They don’t play baseball on the beach. And for good reason. It is incredibly tough to run on the beach. And ground balls don’t roll very well in the sand.
But beaches in Florida are quite popular. Outside of the prolific House of the Mouse, I’d guess beaches are the number one tourist destination in Florida. People come from all over the world to the beaches of Florida, and specifically to our local beaches such as Clearwater Beach, St. Pete Beach, and Siesta Key.
Beaches are interesting places. They have to be well-kept, lest you have litter on your landscape. They predominantly have to be kid-friendly, as you don’t want creepers and hoodlums ruining the experience. And beaches need good press, as local areas want to see their beaches listed at the top of any possible category, from most beautiful to best sand to most beautiful bodies. Being a top beach brings a sense of pride, good reputation, and most importantly, it brings visitors and money.
But beaches have an Achilles heel. No matterhow well-kept, no matter how popular, and no matter how great the sunset, hardly any one goes to the beach when it rains.
Baseball in Tampa Bay and Florida in general reminds me a lot of the beach.
For whatever reason, Floridians only swarm to baseball games when the conditions are perfect. As a matter of fact, that may be the case with all sporting events. We are not ones to go to a stadium where the home team might lose just as much as we avoid a rainy beach. It doesn’t matter if it is the Rays, the Marlins, the Magic, the Bucs, the Lightning, or the Heat, when teams start losing fans avoid them like the plague.
I think the reason is because Floridians don’t like losers. Florida is supposed to be a place for happiness, a place where people to go to retire, to forget about their worries, to be optimistic, and shed those things that don’t bring joy.
At least for the foreseeable future, Florida will never be a place where people flock to places that have been around for generations. They won’t pile into the rickety bleachers of an old stadium a la Chicagoans in Wrigley Field. They won’t gather en mass to a place that needs repairs to see losers just to say they were there.
And why should they?
As I said a few months ago, we live in a society of upgrades. Places in Florida should be new, exciting, and bright. Why commit to love an old stadium when they know there is a new one on the horizon? We like our culture to be exciting. As Kurt Cobain said, “Here we are now, entertain us”. If our sports teams don’t give us the exciting “newness”, perhaps we will find it elsewhere. Perhaps there is a new roller coaster or giraffe at Busch Gardens or maybe a new adorable baby penguin at the Florida Aquarium.
And that is the dilemma the Rays find themselves in right now.
They are just not interesting enough to spark the interest of the masses.
The Rays are a good team, no doubt about it. To argue differently is foolish. They have some of the best young talent in the American League, if not in all of baseball. They have Cy Young candidates, MVP candidates, exciting rookies, heartfelt stories, gutsy role players, and enough sabermetric Keebler elves to start a local chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda (I kid!).
But the Rays aren’t exciting enough to win over the hearts, minds, and dollars of the people of Tampa Bay. I think the general assumption is that people know how the story of 2011 will end. The Rays will win 85-88 games, probably trade a veteran, play a handful of rookies, win some close ones, and lose some heartbreakers. Overall, the Rays will be, in the words of former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green, what we thought they were.
Unfortunately, the Rays have also had to battle public perception beyond the quality of their main product. And that hurts. As they maintain a stable, if not glorious product on the field, the things beyond the control of the players continue to outshout the buzz the organization is trying to build.
For all those who choose to talk about the Rays, let me spell this out as clearly as possible:
We are tired of hearing complaints about our stadium.
We are tired of hearing about how we are in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox.
We are tired of hearing about how the Rays would be better off in another location.
But yet these topics bubble to the top when there is nothing else to talk about. These are the clichés hack sportswriters and shallow national analysts lean on and what they discuss when the team is on track for a 3rd place finish, floors above the Blue Jays and Orioles, but not quite in the penthouse with the Yankees and Red Sox.
And this is all we see. Again and again and again.
It is bad enough our culture waits for perfect by instinct. But when all we get are reports of how much rain falls on our sand, how many cans and bottles litter our land, or how people are not packed in hand over hand, it’s tough to know when to take a chance and go back to the beach.
Then again, I’m weird. Sometimes, even though it might be cloudy, even though there might not be anyone nearby, and even though there might be a can of Budweiser or a Big Mac box on a nearby dune, there are fewer things I enjoy more than a day spent sitting by the water, sipping a Corona or a margarita, listening to waves crash into the shore.
Who’s with me?