Let's play fantasy baseball (stadium)

Published May 10, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Stunning the baseball world in one of the most amazing championship runs in history, the Tampa Bay Rays won the 2009 World Series on Saturday, sending the team's long-suffering fans pouring into the streets across Florida. The governor declared a state holiday.

Sales of Rays merchandise broke records across the nation as millions of admirers pledged new loyalty to the plucky team. The mayor of New York ordered Wall Street brokerages to fly tons of ticker-tape to Florida for a parade.

In related news, frustrated New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fired every single employee of the Yankees organization ...

This is the 10th year of play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In nine previous seasons, the team has finished in last place eight times, and next to last once. You know, the glory year.

It has not been easy for us fans. In some ways it has been more frustrating even than being a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in the old days, when the Bucs wore a sickly orange.

This brings us to the events of the current week. The team's owner, Stuart Sternberg, caused a big stir locally by mentioning to a certain out-of-town newspaper that the "shelf life" of the team's stadium, Tropicana Field, is only another five years.

It is possible that the gentleman did not know that the New York Times circulates in St. Petersburg. He had to spend the next day explaining to the locals that he meant, you know, more than five.

On the other hand, Sternberg's quote brought into the open a topic that has not been mentioned out loud. Even at the mere mention, the mayor rushed to defend the Trop as "a great place for baseball." (It is not a unanimous opinion.)

A new stadium? This requires a great deal of fantasy.

First, we have to fantasize that the (soon-to-be-Devil-less) Rays become not only a winning team, but a wildly popular championship team. Sucker that I am, I actually think they are trying to do this, and right on schedule for a new stadium, too.

Second, we have to fantasize that Sternberg is much more willing than past owners to talk about how much of the burden he will bear. If all this is just to jack up Tampa Bay for a Glazer-style stadium financing (which he swears it isn't), then it's a lost cause.

Third, we have to fantasize that the entire fiscal and political climate of Florida government changes. Right now the Legislature is hostile to sports stadiums and wants major local tax cuts. How can we build a stadium if we're shutting down parks?

Fourth, and at last we get to the fun stuff, we get to fantasize about a location: the existing site, the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront, or - and I say this, knowing that it is St. Petersburg blasphemy - up in the Gateway area for easier access, or even in Hillsborough County.

That is a lot of daydreaming, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Meanwhile I would be happy if the Rays settled down the starting rotation and got some decent middle relief pitching. Now, that's a fantasy.

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