The Tampa Bay Rays have won 90 or more games four straight seasons and, yet, this is the fourth straight year they have ranked last or next-to-last in home attendance among Major League Baseball teams.
That raises the question — which I thought up on my own, meaning I should pay myself $1.25 — what the heck is everybody doing in Tampa on steamy summer evenings if they’re not going to Rays games?
In defense of Tampa-area residents, I haven’t taken in a regular season baseball game from start to finish since Jose Canseco was pre-performance enhancing drugs.
(Watching a baseball game on TV is like standing in front of your Kenmore oven waiting for the timer to count down on the turkey it’s roasting. Sometimes I’ll click away from a game and go graze onto a “Seinfeld” rerun for five minutes or so, and when I come back to baseball, they’re still on the same at-bat.)
The Tampa numbers are bleak: The Rays are the only MLB team to average fewer than 20,000 fans a game for each of the past four years. Cleveland has been under 20,000 a game three straight seasons, but the Indians usually are 68-94, plus everyone there is just waiting for LeBron James to come back before venturing out again.
Almost 3 million people live in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area; the Rays actually play in St. Petersburg. If just one of 100 is in a Rays mood, you’d get 30,000 fans at every game at Tropicana Field.
A few years back, Tampa was rated by Forbes magazine as the fifth-best outdoor city in America in which to live, so maybe, just maybe, the good folks down there have better things to do than sit indoors at Tropicana Field drinking $6.75 beer and applying bug spray to their arms and legs for when they have to walk back to their cars.
(Note: There are mosquitoes in Florida the size of wombats.)
So, what might you venture to do in Tampa before even considering going to a Rays game? Plenty:
1. Applebee’s: One app, two entrees for $20.
2. Spit off the top of the Sulphur Springs Water Tower.
3. Make your own apricot chutney.
4. Hang out on your front stoop quietly until you feel compelled to utilize the Sunshine State’s fabulous Stand Your Ground statute.
5. Go to Whole Foods, and for the cost of a Rays upper-box ticket, buy a one-pound wedge of Humboldt Fog cheese.
6. Put a message in a bottle into Tampa Bay, then drive down to see if it makes it to the Florida Keys.
7. Just watch the Rays on TV from home; better view than Tropicana Field, nicer bathrooms.
Incidentally — and, perhaps, not coincidentally — the Dodgers lead MLB in home attendance during a season that most of their fans cannot watch them on TV. The Dodgers are now exclusively on Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet LA, and the good people at TWC are in a dispute with other cable and satellite carriers on distribution fees; thus, most Los Angeles homes are shut out from Dodgers TV. So, freeway warriors that we are, Dodger faithful are piling into our single-passenger cars for the 21 / 2- hour drive to Dodger Stadium.
(By the way, in L.A., fans arrive in the third inning and leave in the seventh; it’s sort of like going to a museum during off-hours to avoid the crowds. And it allows you to listen to Vin Scully describe any late-game heroics.)
If I were the Rays, I’d bring in Gallagher — who grew up in Tampa — to smash watermelons during the seventh-inning stretch. Can you say “SRO”?
But the next time I’m on the west central coast of Florida, I’ll probably opt for a Tampa Bay Storm (Arena Football League) game — you’re in and out in less than three hours and then still have time to get to Applebee’s.
Q. I see the Scripps National Spelling Bee had co-champions — uh, did Bud Selig declare it a tie? (Laz Buda; Toronto)
A. After 21 rounds, the authorities decided they’d gone long enough. What, was this a player safety issue? Those are 13- and 14-year-old kids, young, strong student-athletes; they could’ve gone another hour, no? Let ’em spell!
Q. So suddenly Rory McIlroy is taking marital advice from The Slouch? (David Moss; Albany, N.Y.)
A. I simply told him that a broken engagement is like a bogey while a broken marriage is like a triple bogey; the kid’s a good listener.
Q. Who in their right mind would pay $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers? (Mo Sheinberg; Tempe, Ariz.)
A. Someone with more than $2 billion in their bank account.
Q. If the Kardashians played poker, how many times would they ask for a seat change? (Lester Petersen; Thurmont, Md.)
A. The Kardashians do play no-limit hold ’em — they use their boyfriends and husbands as collateral.
Q. Under the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ proposed rules to make American Indian tribal recognition easier, do you believe the Redskins will become a tribe so Daniel Snyder can build casinos in Loudoun County and Richmond? (Jack O’Brien; Fairfax)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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