Today marks the 17th opening day at Tropicana Field, and a sold-out crowd will be on hand as the 2013 American League Wild Card banner is raised above the outfield seats. But as history has shown, the crowds will dwindle after today’s game and give rise to the incessant noise about a new stadium and all of the reasons fans don’t attend.
We think a centrally located stadium in Tampa would help with attendance and revenues, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time. Today, in honor of opening day, we offer 17 reasons why the Tampa Bay Rays are deserving of your support:
17. In terms of payroll, this is David versus Goliath. Year in and year out the Rays’ front office assembles a team that beats higher-priced teams, some of them with individual players who make a quarter or more of what the entire Rays team is paid.
16. You can still buy a ticket to see a major professional sport for less than $20. Considering how talented they are, the Rays are the best bargain in professional sports.
15. They often beat the Yankees and the Red Sox, silencing their spoiled fans.
14. Joe Maddon is the most entertaining manager in baseball and a genuinely good guy who gives back to the community. And though his game management is at times unconventional, he wins.
13. A-Rod has never been a Ray.
12. The team plays hard. Maddon has a pet peeve about running hard to first base that gets to the core of what every fan expects when they spend their hard-earned money to attend a game. No fan should be subjected to highly paid athletes loafing their way through a game.
11. David Price and Evan Longoria are among the most talented players in the league. They are fierce competitors who excel when the stakes are highest. Longoria’s homer in Game 162 in 2011 will endure in baseball lore.
10. The players leave their mark on the box scores, not the police blotter. You don’t hear much about Rays players trashing rented mansions or punching defenseless cab drivers. The team values good character.
9. There isn’t a bad seat at Tropicana Field, and on most nights, as we all know, there is room to stretch out and short lines at the concession stand. Want to move down to a better seat? Depending on your sobriety, the ushers generally look the other way.
8. The team allows fans to bring certain food items into the stadium, saving mom and dad some money.
7. This year’s team may be the best in franchise history. This team has the infield defense and the pitching to deliver great performances on any given night.
6. Despite the dismal attendance, good players want to come to the Tampa Bay area because of Maddon and the way the front office goes about its business.
5. The area is maturing into a baseball market. More and more Rays gear is seen on the streets, TV ratings are strong, the baseball IQ level on sports talk radio is improving, and fans who were children in 1998 have grown up with the team and are beginning to pass that tradition on to another generation. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a bad baseball market.
4. The Rays are a team, not an assortment of overbearing stars. They are aware everyone on the roster must perform to win in the American League East, and they pull for each other’s success.
3. The team has done just about everything it can possibly do to make Tropicana Field as fan friendly as possible. Plus, no rain delays (other than the occasional power outage), and it’s air-conditioned. It’s no classic baseball venue, but it is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game, once you get there.
2. The current ownership ditched the bizarro name Devil Rays, along with the team’s unfortunate green color scheme.
And the No. 1 reason why you should support the Rays ...
They contribute to the Tampa Bay area’s identity in a positive way, bring tourists during the summer doldrums, spread the area’s name on Sports Center and in countless other national broadcasts and publications, and bring the entire region together in a common desire to see them excel.