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Three seasons end

A moment of silence, please, for the passing of three bay area sporting institutions.

By TOM ZUCCO, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 2, 2000


Bubba, Al and Gordon. We lost them all last week, and this place just won't be the same.

Most of us won't notice their absences. They weren't high-profile figures in the community. In fact, one of them (Al Lang) has been dead for years.

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[AP photo]
Bubba Trammell: Now, he's theirs (New York). 
Bubba Trammell was an outfielder/designated hitter of some promise for the Devil Rays who was adored by the fans yet traded to the Mets; Gordon Solie was a retired pro wrestling announcer who passed away at his home in New Port Richey at age 71; and Al Lang Field (the park named for the city's unofficial ambassador of baseball and the father of spring training) is where the Devil Rays' minor league team plays -- for the next month. The team announced last week that this will be the Rays' final season at Al Lang. The last home game is Aug. 28.

The losses of Bubba and Al Lang Field were business decisions. At least that's what the official explanations were. Bubba was worth more as trade bait, and Al Lang Field sat too empty, too often, and was too close to Tropicana Field.

Like that convenient little word "downsizing," it was perfectly logical.

And perfectly sad.

If you've wondered lately what's wrong with professional sports, why it's sometimes hard to feel a strong affinity with the teams and the athletes, this is part of the reason.

In Trammell's case, the fans had a connection with him that was like no other. The Yankees have an identity just by the "NY" on their uniforms. But the Rays don't have the luxury of New York's storied tradition. They need the here and now. And if the guy has a blue-collar work ethic and a name like Bubba, you're looking at an instant attachment.

But it was more than that. Trammell wasn't the best outfielder or the best hitter, and he didn't get paid a ton of money. He was just a show-up-every-day-and-try-your-best kind of guy. Like a lot of us. And because of that, he was someone you wanted to pull for.

What are the people in Section 142 going to do now? Whose name do they yell?

Jose?

Okay, but which one? Canseco or Guillen? Neither one plays very often.

How about Gerald (Williams)? Or Fred (McGriff)? Or Felix (Martinez)?

Felix?

As for Florida Power Park, Home of Al Lang Field (that's its awkwardly official name), there were certain -- what's a polite way to put this? -- denizens of that little stadium who made the place special.

There was a fan named David who would walk down the aisles and welcome everyone to the game. Then he'd yell down to a player -- in an unthreatening way -- that he loved him. Since the stands were mostly deserted, the players always heard him. Most of them knew David and would smile and wave.

Some of the other regulars included the guy who always wore a baseball cap with Goofy ears on it, and the small, serious man who carried a briefcase and kept detailed statistics on the players. Why? Who knows?

Does it matter?

And then there was the Chief. He was an institution. A friendly man who looked to be in his mid-70s, the Chief got his nickname because of the Indian headdress he'd wear to the games. When he wasn't dressed like Sitting Bull, he wore a shirt that proclaimed the health benefits of drinking milk.

I haven't seen the Chief or Goofy hat or any of others at Tropicana Field. Maybe it costs too much. Maybe they're intimidated by the sheer size of the place. Or maybe they just don't think it's right to watch baseball in an air-conditioned dome.

You wonder where those folks are going to go after Aug. 28.

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Solie 
Finally, there was Gordon Solie.

Now here was a rare bird indeed: a pro wrestling purist. He refused to acknowledge the violence, absurdity and obscenity that the WWF and WCW have come to represent. Sure, he knew pro wrestling was just a show, but he also knew there were limits. He knew that kids gobble this stuff up, and that even pro wrestling had to have some sort of standard.

"You can't argue with their success. What they do, they do very well," he said in 1997, referring to the WWF and WCW. "It's just not what I call wrestling."

Some people would say Solie was a relic who didn't change with the times. But I admired him for sticking with his principles, even if it meant calling the action from a card table in some dingy arena with 120 people in the stands.

Gordon Solie, with Mike Graham, before wrestling went Hollywood.

[File photo: 1974]

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You want to think that there will be other Bubbas, Gordons and Als, but it's hard to imagine that.

They were wonderfully familiar parts of our community, and the best part was, they weren't manufactured or planned.

They just sort of happened.

All we can do is hope it happens again.

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