- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays today will begin a three-game homestand against the Texas Rangers, but won’t be playing at Tropicana Field. The team instead has moved the games to Disney’s baseball complex at Kissimmee, about a stone’s throw from the Magic Kingdom. The team, which is currently last in baseball in attendance, is trying to position itself as a more regional team, by luring fans from all over the western and central portions of Florida.

The Devil Rays routinely draw crowds of less than 15,000 to Tropicana Field, and may have trouble filling the Disney field, which seats only 13,000 with expanded bleachers. But I guess you have to give credit to team owner Stu Sternberg and president Matt Silverman for trying to do something to inject some life into the cheerless franchise. They’ve been doing some fan-friendly things, like offering free parking at Tropicana Field and installing a 10,000 gallon tank with live stingrays at the stadium. And there is serious talk about changing the team’s color scheme and dropping the word “Devil” from the team’s name.

But all of this comes across as a little bit depressing, I must say.

The Devil Rays have a mountain of things working against them. Tropicana Field is unattractive and unpopular, but it’s too new to be replaced by an open-air, baseball-only facility. St. Petersburg is a nice area, but there’s a lot of competition for entertainment, and the demographics lean heavy toward senior citizens, many of whom migrated from other cites. (You’ll find as many retired Yankee fans as Devil Ray fans in Tampa Bay.) On top of all this, the Devil Rays play in the brutal American League East, making winning seasons and playoff appearances a tall order. There is probably more competitive balance in baseball than ever before, but the gap between the Devil Rays and teams like the Yankees and Red Sox is still glaring.

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