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Devil Rays fan cries foul over 'Tampa'

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published September 21, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - The final straw came from the New York Times.

Over breakfast last week, City Council member Bill Foster read a story about the inability of the New York Yankees to best the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Over and over, the article placed the baseball team in Tampa instead of St. Petersburg.

Foster nearly spit out his coffee.

"I'd had enough," he said. "It happens all the time, from sportswriters, from athletes and from regular people. I just don't think we should take it anymore."

He immediately began scribbling. When he finished, Foster had written a resolution asking the Rays to consider changing the team name to include St. Petersburg.

So far, he has received enthusiastic support from frustrated Pinellas County residents who feel slighted by the "Tampa" in Tampa Bay. But Foster may be fighting a losing battle.

The city has no legal way to compel the team to add St. Petersburg. And team officials don't seem to embrace the idea of a name change.

"Our organization represents a very broad region of Florida and we maintain that our name should reflect this," the Rays said in a prepared statement.

Other City Council members hesitated over the idea of a resolution and asked for a compromise: Why not call a meeting with the Rays and discuss ways to promote its home base?

Foster agreed, although he doesn't see any harm in asking for a name change.

"All I want to do is ask nicely," Foster said. "Every time someone gets it wrong, we're losing a marketing opportunity . . . I don't think there's any downside for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays."

Foster said the team would have options. It could become the St. Petersburg Devil Rays or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at St. Petersburg.

Mayor Rick Baker, typically sensitive about Tampa's stealing the limelight, said he'll leave any naming decisions to the Rays.

"No matter what," Baker said, "I'll always be a Rays supporter."

According to the Rays' contract with the city, the team has the right to pick its own name, said City Attorney John Wolfe. That means the city can't compel a name change until the contract expires, which isn't for more than 20 years, Wolfe said.

David J. Auker, the Rays' senior vice president of business relations, said the Tampa Bay moniker illustrates the team's regional appeal.

"When the franchise was being awarded the two other sports teams, they were also Tampa Bay, so it seemed logical at the time," Auker said. "We were joining a market that already had two pro teams named Tampa Bay."

Don Shea, president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, said he's more concerned about the Devil Rays' record than the name stitched on the jerseys.

"We just need to stack up some more wins," Shea said. "Then people will have no problem finding their way to the stadium."

Staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Carrie Johnson can be reached at 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 21, 2005, 00:24:18]


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