Lack of baseball is one of the least of Houston’s worries this week. But thanks to historically bad weather, the Houston Astros three-game home-set with the Texas Rangers had to be moved out of town. The curious thing though is not that MLB decided to move games that Astros fans would have needed boats to attend, but that the games have been shifted to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
So why, with half the ball yards in the bigs available to host two Texas teams, has MLB chosen the Trop, the consensus worst ball-yard in the bigs? A consensus at least among people who chatter, on the air and on the page, about these things. Rays ownership, like that of most major league sports franchises, has been beating the drum for years for local taxpayers to build them a new ball yard, complete with all the pricey bells and whistles new tax-paid stadiums across the fruited plain are supplied with. (Sports franchise owners will spare no expense as long as taxpayers are picking up the tab.) One of their arguments has been what a foul and poorly-located place the Trop is.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was in town last week and took the occasion to lecture the locals on how they need to hurry up and provide the Rays and their out-of-town owners with a new and fancy yard to play in. Local sports journalists and opportunistic politicians have fallen into line and are singing from the hymn book provided by Rays ownership and the suits at MLB. In local media coverage, the question asked is not should taxpayers really be buying millionaire team owners new stadiums in which to display the talents of their millionaire players at usurious ticket prices, but where should the new Rays stadium be. No one in newsrooms or commission chambers seems to question the highly dubious assumption that the Rays finish last in Major League attendance every year because they have a crappy ball-yard, and that baseball-hungry fans will flock to a new and shiny one. (We need look only as far as Miami to see where taxpayers were skinned for a new ball yard for the Marlins but all those promised new ticket-buyers did not show up.)
Actually, the enclosed Trop is a comfortable place to watch a ball game. I’ve been to dozens of games there since the Tampa Bay Devil Rays set up shop in 1998. Compared to ball yards I’ve haunted in the Northeast, the Trop is easy to get to and is surrounded by lots of inexpensive and safe parking. The story out of MLB and Rays ownership has been quite different. But this story is contradicted by the choice to move the Astros/Rangers series, and perhaps even the Astros/Mets series, to the Trop. The suits at MLB are tipping their hand that maybe the Top isn’t so awful after all. I wonder if anyone in the local media will notice.
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