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Dear Tommy Pham: The Rays have a fanbase!

Take some time to get to know us and you won’t be disappointed

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays
Looks like a few fans showed up for this game
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Yesterday Tommy Pham told MLB radio that he misses playing in front of enthusiastic Cardinals fans, shining some familiar light on the Rays stadium location problem.

To hear the truth told plainly can hurt. To hear it from your team’s best hitter?

I think I speak for many Rays fans when I say: “Ouch.”

Many of us have fallen hard for Tommy; apparently that relationship has been pretty one-sided so far.

If you dive into the assorted Twitter responses you’ll find fans from around the country agreeing that the Rays have no fans, alongside local fans pushing back against Pham’s apparent disrespect. I get it. When our own players are feeding a critical narrative about us, I do have a sense of “et tu, Tommy?”

But I am trying to see it differently.

The outspoken Pham isn’t trying to insult us, the fans. Although the sound clip above doesn’t include it, no doubt he was responding to the interviewer’s specific question; he didn’t go looking to make this point. All this interview suggests to me is that Pham, who came to the Rays mid-season, just hasn’t gotten to know us yet.

So for Pham, as well as other newcomers like Charlie Morton and Mike Zunino, let me make the following clear: The Rays have fans. We are real, and we are spectacular.

Attendance vs Fan Base

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Tampa Bay Rays Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It’s true, Rays attendance has lagged and some days the team plays in front of many empty seats. I’m too tired of the topic to rehash the “why don’t fans come to Tropicana Field” debate. But I do want to say that low attendance is not the same as “having no fanbase”.

Even second last in league attendance means that 1,154,973 tickets were sold. Over one million people! A weekday crowd of 10,000 is considered a sign that the Rays lack popularity, but having 10,000 people show up for a random Monday night game in July is still noteworthy.

And let’s be clear: low attendance doesn’t mean there aren’t people, a lot of people, who are as passionate about their team as are the passionate fans of teams that fill their stadiums. I think part of the reason “Rays have no fanbase” is hurtful even to those of us who concede that attendance could be better is that it seems to suggest that we are somehow failing to measure up as baseball fans. Tommy, Charlie, please note: the passionate fans are there; we are buying your shirseys and staying up late to watch west coast games and naming our kids Carl Evan Mallex Wander to show our devotion.

The Rays also continue to have decent TV ratings relative to the size of the market, where the most recent Forbes analysis shows the Rays in the middle of the baseball pack.

In 2018, Rays games were the top prime time draw among area cable TV viewers, and third most watched prime time TV overall.

With a household share of 2.45, the Rays broadcasts were bigger in their market than those of such teams as the LA Dodgers and the New York Mets – although of course that represents a smaller number of households than in bigger cities, but even still: Tommy, please know that fans across the region are watching.

And the fan base is growing

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays began in 1998, and the children who were introduced to baseball with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are just now starting to have children of their own. The Cardinals have generations of fandom, the Rays are comparatively young.

And as for their literal popularity, I have no idea whether there are decent ways to measure team merchandise sales (even if the team were to make their sales figures public, which they won’t, they are not the only place to buy Rays stuff), so I will revert to the old “my lying eyes” metric to say: in the fourteen years I’ve lived here there has been a significant uptick in Rays representation around the area.

It is now very common to see people out and about in Rays hats and shirts, something that could not be said 12 years ago. Walk around the area, Tommy, and you’ll see the folks in Rays caps. They are your fans! Say hello!

Some of us are such obsessive fans that we want to shout it from the rooftops – or at least do the digital equivalent, which is blog about the team.

In addition to our humble crew at DRB, you can follow Rays Colored Glasses, or read about prospects at Wander Rays or read Rays-centric analysis at The Process Report. There are also a bunch of people who comprise “Rays Twitter” ranging from astute students of the game to the usual crew of whiners — in other words, Rays Twitter is pretty much like the Twitterverse of any other team.

Speaking from personal experience, I have entire friendships that revolve around shared affinity for the Rays. I can recall attending a professional workshop on September 29, 2011 surrounded by bleary-eyed people who had stayed up to watch the famed Game 162. I earned new respect from colleagues when I was able to produce my ticket, which was still in my purse along with a mustard-soiled napkin.

Tommy, I’m sorry we haven’t figured out how to get more of our fans to the park. There will be days you play in front of a lot of empty seats. There will be days when the Red Sox fans will seem to be everywhere.

Ignore them. They are merely New England transplants who lack the energy and imagination to get with a new hometown team.

Your actual Rays fans are out there. We’re not the elite; we don’t have celebrities sitting in the expensive seats; we aren’t blinded by brand or pedigree.

But we appreciate good baseball, we appreciate you, and we are excited for 2019.