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Too comfy here

When the Red Sox and Yanks visit, the Trop transforms into a home road game - and some Rays are sick of it.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 21, 2007


By MARC TOPKIN Times Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG

The Trop will be rocking tonight, with tens of thousands of impassioned fans clad in their team colors cheering raucously.

And Scott Kazmir doesn't want to hear it.

The ace left-hander takes the familiar mound against Boston to open one of the most significant series ever played there, and he says the Rays sadly won't enjoy a bit of homefield advantage.

Any progress the Rays have made in closing the gap on AL East bullies Boston and New York hasn't extended to the Tropicana Field stands, which continue to have the look and sound of anything but home when the big boys are in town.

"You know it's going to be nothing but a sea of red when the Red Sox are there and then next week nothing but Yankees fans," Kazmir said. "You go out for the first inning and next thing you know they've got one guy on and already that Red Sox chant is going on.

"That stuff really bothers me. It does. We're a major-league team too. It's tough. It seems like okay, we're just renting-the-place type stuff. I don't know. It's just wrong. It really is."

"I think it's ridiculous," teammate B.J. Upton said. "You're supposed to be the home team and the place is sold out, but it's 98 percent the other team's fans. I think you kind of get used to it, but at the same time it gets old."

What veterans such as ex-Ray Aubrey Huff and Carl Crawford eventually learned to accept about life as a Devil Ray is still disturbing to the young and idealistic stars such as Kazmir, Upton and Delmon Young.

Though all understand that turning the Rays into winners can at least address, if not alleviate the problem - and insist they are not that far from doing so - they find it hard to comprehend how they can get so little support at home.

"We're playing in the Trop and it's more like Fenway than anything," Upton said. "We go in and play at home and it's like a road game at home."

The Rays rank last in the majors in attendance - averaging 16,288, and needing a big final week just to match last season's total - which means the crowds are often small if they are not pro-Red Sox (25,847 average) or pro-Yankees (27,757).

That creates something of a marketing conundrum for the Rays, who choose a broad - "Just get them in the building" - approach with hopes of conversion later.

"The only way it's ever going to change," Young said, "is if we start winning."

And then?

"I guarantee you'll have a lot of these guys switch their caps and jerseys and jump on the bandwagon," Kazmir said. "Hopefully it's only a matter of time."

But in the meantime, getting some support at home now could expedite the process.

"You don't understand how much that would get us amped up, get our adrenaline going and make it seem like we've really got a chance," Kazmir said. "You go to Fenway and see how crazy they get in certain situations - they just know the game, they know when the pressure is on the opposing team, and that's huge. It's huge to be able to have that advantage at your home field like that.

"It would put the pressure on them instead of having to hear "Let's go Red Sox" every time they've got a guy on. You might think that doesn't matter at all, but it really just pumps you up if you've got 30,000 fans behind you waiting to see you whip some butt."

Tonight wouldn't be soon enough.

Marc Topkin can be reached attopkin@sptimes.com View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.