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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2002
Baseball passions are alive in Florida, but emotions aren't what the Rays or Marlins want to hear.
Having apologized for being editorially overzealous on major-league propensities, my computer was enriched by 117 e-mail reactions from readers, few whispering substantial hope for the state's future in the game.
Hear your neighbors . . .
Marty Roth (Brooksville) suggests, "Baseball as you and I, Hubert, along with many others, knew it is now gone. You need not apologize or blame fans for nonsupport but must understand the game has changed because of greed."
Alan Shaffer (St. Petersburg) says, "Baseball was a good idea for the area. Players, not owners, are to blame for ills and declining interest. Most of us working stiffs cannot afford to go. When I have expendable income, my son and I go scuba diving."
Jenny Parsons (Palm Harbor) sees it as "a social problem. Baseball is not the Tampa Bay thing to do. I ask friends about going to a game, the noses immediately turn up and we usually opt to drive to the beach to enjoy a sunset and seafood dinners. My kids talk football, soccer and X-Games. Baseball isn't even on their charts. That seems to make the sport's future quite deadly."
Bryan Wilcox (Tampa) thinks the Rays' problems "have nothing to do with the dome or its location." Tropicana Field's role was frequently debated by my cyber respondents. The more vociferous critics were almost universal in telling me they seldom if ever go to games.
Kenneth D. Tennis (Hudson) offers, "It's location more than anything. I have the time and money (but) do not go. I do not intend to expose myself, wife, kids and grandkids to solicitation for drugs, prostitution, carjacking, mugging, strong-armed robbery or even shooting."
Nat Pieper says the "blame lies solely with Major League Baseball. The Trop is not a bad place (but) present-day baseball doesn't merit our interest or respect. With an untruthful troll (Bud Selig) as commissioner, steroid-enhanced boors as players cheapening statistics and long-term records (plus) a local owner forced upon us by MLB, it is not what you and I envisioned."
Greg Hawkins (Tampa) remembers "the way baseball jerked the St. Pete area around for years. I remember the White Sox rip-off, the Mariners, the Giants and the hypocrisy of the MLB commissioner. To blame long-suffering fans is unjust."
Phil Kolocotronis (Odessa) has a different twist, messaging that he "couldn't agree more regarding Tampa Bay's collective lack of interest for baseball. I moved nine years ago from St. Louis, where baseball is ingrained into every soul at an early age. Cardinals have a huge following, even in offseasons. A fever similar to that of the Bucs here. Bring up the Rays and you get mostly blank, indifferent looks."
Kenny Costas (Clearwater) says: "My new home area has much to offer, but we definitely are not of a big-league mentality. Listen to the weak, amateurish radio talk shows. Hear people at your office. Tampa Bay does get fired up for the Bucs but, on the whole, we're light years shy of the knowledge, spirit and attitude of true big-time markets like Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York and my old hometown of Philly."
Mark Walker (St. Petersburg) recalls "being sold on baseball. Just like you, Hubert, I was convinced after spring sellouts for the Mets, Cardinals and Orioles that Tampa Bay was not only ready but would be among the leaders in major-league attendance. I now think the real reason is that people just don't care. Kids give me the constant answer, 'Baseball is boring.'
"At the Trop, well, I've heard louder libraries. Half the people weren't paying attention to the game. What a shame. When baseball leaves our area, it's not coming back."
Adam Yalowich (Tampa) has significant experience with Rays and Marlins territories. "As one who lived in South Florida 1988-99 and Tampa since, I would've sworn Florida would have gone better for baseball.
"South Florida is a front-running, bandwagon crowd; decline was inevitable. Many factors contribute to the Rays' malaise. It seems problems are insurmountable."
Christine DeBussy (Bradenton Beach) is "tired of all the excuses, including complaints about the Trop, shortfalls by the Rays, the current financial climate or the cost of attending ballgames. If a locale truly craves a sports franchise, it finds a way to support it.
"Right now, people want baseball in San Francisco, St. Louis, Atlanta, Boston and a few other areas, so citizens find the money, make the effort and do a lot of talking about the sport. They really care. Florida baseball franchises have nothing close to that. I hate that.
"But there's no way to change it unless the masses become positively moved. Only movement I sense around here is to go out for a cheap meal and then take a nap."
Whatever happened . . .
-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail email@example.com or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.