|Rays, A’s Need New Homes||| Print ||
Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on January 28, 2011
Two major league franchises are desperate for better homes. The Rays need a new ballpark. The A's may need a new hometown altogether.
The Rays struggled to draw fans (22nd in MLB in attendance) despite low ticket prices (26th in MLB by fan cost index) and a great team (96-66, AL East champions for the second time in three years), that team's case for relocation or a new park is all but made for them.
The mayor of Las Vegas insists his is the destination city, but that seems far-fetched. The city already has a thriving Triple-A team, the Pacific Coast League 51s, an affiliate of the Blue Jays. More importantly, baseball has long had a fairly firm distaste for gambling, and not only by players.
The unwillingness of the powers that were to cater to the sports gambling community throughout the 1980s and 1990s helped the NFL (who have no such scruples) move to the forefront of American sport. More importantly still, the city is not all that big, its economy has sagged badly, and most of its residents are transplants with established provincial allegiances.
San Antonio might be a better fit. The city is home to over 1.4 million people, is not zoned into the official league territory of either current Texas franchise and is growing faster than all but a handful of other urban centers in the country.
Its economy is tied to finance and has improved steadily over the past several months. If the A's moved there and marketed themselves the right way to the large Hispanic population, the rivalry with the Rangers could be fierce and the whole operation could be a huge success.
Portland has long lobbied for a big-league franchise, too, and though it is smaller than San Antonio, it offers its own attractions. Many Oregonians may already count the A's as their AL team, though more are inclined to support Seattle. Still, for the sake of argument, San Antonio is the best option for Oakland right now.
The Rays are best suited to stay in Tampa. They have developed a firm place for themselves within the AL East, so although some gerrymandering could go on -- Cleveland moving into the East while the A's slide into the Central in San Antonio and the Rays move to Portland, for instance -- the team would probably prefer to stay on the Eastern seaboard.
The obvious choice, and something some have longed to see ever since the Dodgers and Giants moved West, could be to relocate the team to New Jersey and recreate the glory days of three teams duking it out for supremacy over New York baseball.
Unfortunately, there is no clear path for something like that to actually take shape: The Yankees would scream bloody murder if the team moved even into northern New Jersey, and New Yorkers already paying for both the Yankees' and the Mets' new ballparks seem unlikely to volunteer more of their money for a third option.
More feasibly, but still problematically, the Rays could try to buy out Minor League franchises in either Charlotte or Indianapolis. Neither of those areas is an ideal fit for the franchise, but Charlotte, at least, could afford to do it: Indianapolis is still digesting its share of the $720-million price tag on the Colts' Lucas Oil Stadium, so the taxpayers there seem unlikely to volunteer more.
In the end, the answer for Tampa Bay is likely much simpler than the one for Oakland: The Rays simply need to stay put. They have no logical exit strategy, their lease on the horrendous Tropicana Field will not come up for another 17 years, and they have been remarkably successful just the way things are in recent years.
With a new ballpark a little closer to the beaten paths of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the team will one day draw just fine in Tampa Bay. Major League Baseball gave the Rays the short end of the stick by allowing the Yankees to build a brand-new Spring Training home in Tampa, but as full-time residents, the team should someday be able to win over the whole fan base.