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Courtship with Orlando ongoing

After enjoying just about everything during their three-day stay at Disney, Devil Rays officials are assessing how best to let things develop.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 20, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Long-distance relationships can be tough to manage. After enjoying just about everything during their three-day stay at Disney, Devil Rays officials are assessing how best to let things develop.

Make daily contact, with an ad campaign? Focus on weekend get-togethers? Start planning for an annual visit?

"This was our flag in the ground, " Rays president Matt Silverman said. "In order to keep it, we have to continue to make an effort to court Orlando."

More than the 26, 917 fans they attracted and the heavy Central Florida media coverage they got last week, it's what they see in the future that will determine how successful the three-day infomercial really was - and whether they'll do it again.

"I'm eager to see how the TV ratings will follow from these games and how much traffic we get across I-4 to Tropicana Field later this summer, " Silverman said.

They'll review ticket-sale data only about 10 percent was walkup and fan polling to determine who attended and why, and determine if the benefit outweighed the expenses and hassles.

At the least, they should play more spring games in Central Florida (they hadn't been to Disney since 2004). But if they can find a similar spot in next year's schedule - a midweek series against an unattractive opponent when the weather is still fair - they might as well go back. Make it an annual pass.

ROCCO RUMBLINGS: As the Web wizards pile on Rocco Baldelli after his latest injury - ESPN.com fantasy expert Eric Karabell named him "most brittle, " another site calls him "Bubble Boy" - it seems to be lost how extremely frustrating this is for Baldelli, too.

It also will be expensive. Baldelli makes only $750, 000 in salary this season but had the opportunity to earn $4-million more based on plate appearances - $1.75-million in incentives (starting at 200 appearances; he has 150), and a $2.25-million increase in his 2008 salary (from $2.25-million to $4.5-million) if he made 600 appearances (which now is very unlikely).

CHIPPY COMMENTS: At least in complaining about how unfair it is for his Braves to be paired annually with the Red Sox and the Mets with the Yankees, Chipper Jones acknowledged that it sounded like he was saying the Marlins had it easy in playing the Rays: "This is no disrespect to the rest of the teams in the American League East because Tampa is up and coming, and in two or three years, Tampa might be the class of the American League East and the Florida Marlins are going to have to deal with it."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: In ranking 50 players "to build your team around" starting "from scratch, " Baseball Prospectus/SI.com's Nate Silver includes Scott Kazmir (No. 33), Delmon Young (42) and B.J. Upton (No. 50) but, somehow, not Carl Crawford, who merits only honorable mention, as did prospect Evan Longoria. Overall, Albert Pujols was No. 1. ... A Josh Hamilton book is in the works; don't be surprised if there's eventually a movie, too. ... According to message board postings on the team Web site (devilrays.com), a "Joe Must Go" demonstration is planned for the June 2 game by a group of at least 50 fans unhappy with manager Joe Maddon's work. ... Not sure what else the folks at the Web site www.onemoredying quail.blogspot.com do, but they did determine that Upton, at 6 feet 3, is the tallest starting second baseman in the majors. ... San Antonio Express-News columnist David King claims the Rays "eventually" will explore a move to the Texas city. ... The analog clock added above the main Trop videoboard is a nice touch.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.