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Joe Henderson: Tampa Bay Times commentary on Rays was off base

If fans don’t attend games, it’s not a shame – it’s a choice.

Amy Hollyfield is the Senior Deputy Editor for News at the Tampa Bay Times. She is smart, engaging, relentless, and respected by her colleagues and by me.

She also is a devoted fan of the Tampa Bay Rays. They finished the home part of their regular-season schedule Wednesday night against the New York Yankees.

As you may have noticed, the Rays are having an exceptional season. They are in a three-way scrum with Oakland and Cleveland for two American League wild-card playoff spots. As you also may know, poor attendance has been a chronic problem for the Rays and a source of much discussion in the Bay area.

In a commentary this week for the Times, she unloaded on the attendance problem. She described walking into Tropicana Field Monday night in the middle of a playoff race and feeling “shame” at the size of the crowd.

The stadium had the feel of the closing days of a record-losing season, rather than the buzz and excitement of one of the most exciting stories in baseball,” she wrote.

“Walking around, it was empty. Bleak. Grim. Announced attendance was 8,779, but looking around, it felt like I could count the fans.”

Shame? Yikes! I don’t know about that.

Granted, the puny crowd size got my attention, which takes some doing. I’m basically numb to Rays’ attendance stories by now. They will again finish with the lowest total attendance in the American League. And that is with a vibrant young team that could win the World Series.

Expressing understandable exasperation as a fan is one thing. But as a journalist with a forum, Hollyfield seemed to imply it’s people’s civic duty to buy tickets and support the Rays.

I do not agree, even though the Tampa Bay area is better because the Rays are here. How much better, though? That is a legitimate topic to discuss.

I love baseball and sincerely believed this would be a good market for the sport. It was a great miscalculation.

My love of baseball doesn’t grant me the right to tell anyone to spend their money or time. If fans, particularly those in Hillsborough County, decide it’s too much hassle to fight the traffic on a weeknight, there is no shame.

It’s called life.

It’s also called location, location, location.

The Tampa Bay Lightning begin a new National Hockey League season soon. They have sold out 201 consecutive games, counting playoffs, at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa.

The arena has a little more than 19,000 seats. It sits in the center of the sprawling Tampa Bay region, unlike Tropicana Field. People can get to the games in a reasonable amount of time. It is everything the Trop is not.

Alas, prospects for a new stadium in Tampa are iffy. Owner Stu Sternberg has flatly stated that he doesn’t believe the will exists in Hillsborough to help the Rays build the kind of stadium they need.

He also put out a take-it-or-leave-it plan for the area to share the Rays with Montreal. That, too, would require a new stadium somewhere, which won’t happen for a half-season tenant.

Sternberg has said it’s either shared with Montreal or nothing.

“(Keeping the Rays) all for their own is not going to be an option going forward,” he said in June when announcing the timeshare.

So, I wonder how many fans read that and decided they wouldn’t invest any more time or money under Sternberg’s terms?

“… have your written them off, as gone, goodbye?” Hollyfield wrote. “That would be a shame.”

Actually, it would be a choice.

Written By

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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