You can learn a lot by reading baseball box scores. Take Monday night, for instance.
The Tampa Bay Rays drew a crowd of 25,024 to Tropicana Field to watch them beat the New York Yankees. That's about 9,000 below capacity, but still pretty good for a Monday night and well over their average home attendance this season.
This was one of 15 games played on this night in Major League Baseball, and the gathering at the Trop was one of the largest in either league. Only three games drew more.
First-place Cincinnati, coming off a weekend sweep of St. Louis, drew just 16,981 to watch the Reds beat the Chicago Cubs. Atlanta attracted 17,416 to Turner Field against the Houston Astros. A good Detroit Tigers team got 20,444 to watch a game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Even the Yankees' big-city brothers, the Mets, pulled only 23,731 into Citi Field to watch a game against the Florida Marlins.
It was a lively, entertaining evening in downtown St. Petersburg.
It has also been an anomaly this season.
The Tampa Tribune reported Monday attendance was down 29 percent from last year for the Rays' first 19 home games. Curiously, TV ratings – so strong in recent years – are off 34 percent on Sun Sports.
After Monday's game, the Rays' average for 23 home games is 17,625 – better than only the Cleveland Indians, Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates.
I think that will change as the year goes on and the Rays continue to play well, but no one is pretending this isn't a problem, one sure to add to the ongoing debate about Tropicana Field.
You know where I stand on that one. I think the Trop is a misplaced joke of a stadium that needs to be replaced as quickly as possible with one in the center of the market.
St. Pete mayor Bill Foster disagrees and says the Rays have two options: stay at the Trop until their lease expires in 2027 or negotiate for a new ball yard within the city limits. The Rays say that's no good. They want to explore the entire area, which is a nice way of saying, "And we're pretty darned sure our explorations will uncover a site in Tampa that will be much better."
So there you go.
That makes it kind of awkward for other places in the area to get seriously involved in the stadium game, since Foster has threatened to sue anyone (read: Tampa) making overtures to the Rays. The posturing has led to an impasse that shows no sign of thawing.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been cautious on the subject, but he waded in a little deeper the other day. He told WDAE (620 AM) sports host Dan Sileo that Tampa would be "all in" on a stadium if the Rays are freed to look at sites outside of Pinellas County. Buckhorn stressed that the Rays are a regional asset, a concept that, in my opinion, seems to have escaped Foster.
I caught up with Buckhorn later that day at a downtown pep rally for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The mayor expanded on his comments a little, starting with the hard-line stance by his St. Pete counterpart.
"(Foster) is going to do what he has to do, and I understand that. They've got a contract, and they're going to have to work out the details of that contract," Buckhorn said.
"If there is a divorce, I'm sure won't be cheap. At that point, then we'll be in a position to do something. Until then, it's between the Rays and Mayor Foster."
Careful as that statement is, it's still considerably bolder than most politicians outside of St. Petersburg have been willing to say. Buckhorn's predecessor, Pam Iorio, would basically throw up her hands as if to say "it's St. Pete's problem" whenever the subject was brought up.
Buckhorn is taking a larger view.
"I'm not going to interfere in that contractual relationship, but if the Rays and St. Petersburg decide to part ways, then as a region we need to decide if the Rays are an asset we want to keep, and I think they are," he said.
"Then secondarily, what's the best location? I happen to think downtown Tampa is the best location."
Some of those preparations he mentioned might well be under way – without official backing, of course.
"I know there are number of sites that could accommodate a facility of that size. I know the private landowners are all scurrying around looking. The city, and me as the mayor, have not gotten involved yet, but I know there's land available out there," Buckhorn said.
"I think it's all being done outside of government. I think it's natural. Any time there's a major project out there looming like that, private sector is going to get itself in gear and be ready when it comes."
We've been hearing scuttlebutt about such things for a while now, but nothing concrete. Given the economy and the Trop lease, that makes sense. For instance, Buckhorn smiled when I mentioned that the first real question would be how to pay for a project sure to cost around $700 million.
"The first answer would be, I don't know," he said. "But I do think it deserves our best effort, if indeed we're presented with that opportunity."
This is where we came in.
Stadium debates are always messy, especially in this financial climate. Any club that thinks it can get a stadium built with general tax revenues is dreaming and should catch a ride on the reality train as quickly as possible.
Financial documents leaked last summer to Deadspin showed the Rays received about $39 million in revenue sharing (mostly from the Yankees) in 2007 and about $35 million in 2008, the year they went to the World Series. The documents show the Rays invested a lot of that back into the club and would have lost money without the infusion of cash.
But I'd suggest that part of the answer to stadium financing may come from that same revenue-sharing pot. Mandating that a hefty percentage of that money go toward building a stadium may cause the Rays to recoil, but much of that lost revenue could be recovered by the cash streams in their new home.
Maybe one day they could even be weaned off revenue sharing.
That's a debate for another day, though. It's one worth having. And who knows? Put the Rays in the right location, and maybe one day it actually won't be surprising when they draw a decent crowd.