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Joe Henderson: Maddon is right; build Rays stadium in Tampa

I always suspected Joe Maddon, a smart man, wanted the chance to say out loud that the Tampa Bay Rays new stadium should be built in Tampa.

Well, he got his chance Tuesday when he came to St. Pete as manager of the Chicago Cubs. He didn’t hold back.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Maddon “came out strong for the need for a new stadium, and on the Tampa side.”

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important moving it forward,” he said.

“Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that. People would get upset with me because I said that. But it’s true. Those who argue against it, that’s just a bad argument.

“You need a better facility (than Tropicana Field). You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get to where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.”

This is especially interesting because Maddon has always publicly remained neutral about which side of the Bay would be a better location for the Rays.

It also should be noted that Maddon has a home and business interests in Tampa. Maybe that makes him more likely to favor Tampa as a stadium site, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

He was almost always a goodwill ambassador for the Trop when he managed the Rays. He wouldn’t suffer any complaints about the team’s Dome Sweet Dome, although did tiptoe to the edge one afternoon in early August 2010.

That was the day when the Rays, in the middle of a pennant race, lost a game to Minnesota. A routine pop-up in the ninth by the Twins’ Jason Kubel should have been the third out. Instead, it clanked off a catwalk overhanging the infield, fell into fair territory, and the winning run scored.

“There was a time when it was kind of cute,” Maddon said after that fiasco. “In 2006 and 2007 it was kind of cute when you might win a game or lose a game when the ball hit the roof or rafter or whatever, but it’s not cute today. It’s not cute.”

Hillsborough County has identified a site between downtown Tampa and Ybor City as a potential new home for the Rays. Although St. Petersburg has made overtures to keep the Rays, my guess is the Rays will say they like Tampa better.

Now we know how Maddon feels. He may have hurt some feelings in St. Pete, but he just said out loud what people should already know.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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