Keeping Score

Pitcher to Fans: You’re a Disgrace

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REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The front office of the Tampa Bay Rays may want to follow the example of the U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin, and tell their players to stop tweeting.

After the Rays, on the verge of clinching a post-season berth for the second time in three years, lost 4-0 to the Baltimore Orioles Monday, Rays pitcher David Price unloaded on the Tampa-St. Pete citizenry. He tweeted: “Had a chance to clinch a post season spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands….embarrassing.”

Price later sort of apologized. Only 12,446 fans showed up to the game Monday night, the team’s fourth smallest crowd of the season. Tampa fans don’t know how good they’ve had it. Brainy executives have built the low-budget Rays into one of the best teams in baseball. Even though the team spends only $72.3 in player payroll, 19th in the majors and barely a third of what the Yankees spend, the Rays trail the Yanks by a 1/2 game in the AL East. They are a legit World Series threat.

Yet, attendance has lagged. The Rays are averaging just 22,913 fans per game (their home park, Tropicana Field, holds about 37,000), good for 22nd in the majors. The only time the place really livens up is when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town, and transplanted Northeasterners skip the sun for a pretzel at the park.

But if you look a little closer at Tampa’s situation, you can’t really blame fans for skipping Rays games. First off, Tropicana Field is as charming as a warehouse. Nothing says “beautiful day for a game in the Florida sunshine” like an indoor, stale-aired, domed cavern off I-275. And according to a recent ESPN investigation on food conditions in ballparks, every one of Tropicana Field’s 47 food and drink outlets incurred a critical violation, which included food residue in a cooler, toxic chemicals stored near food prep areas, and “slime” in the ice machines. Ew.

Further, the recession has hit Tampa-St. Pete with a particular flourish. The area ranks among the top 10 in such depressing categories as the rise in unemployment, increase in foreclosures and drop in housing prices since the recession began. Plus, from its era of peak productivity before the recession to the beginning of this year, Tampa Bay’s economic output is down 3.3 percent, the 13th worst performance among 100 major metros.

Tampa Bayers have more important things to spend their money on than baseball. Mr. Price, we admire your passion. But perhaps its best to shut up and pitch.