1. “Hi hon, can we talk?
Remember we had gone to a party and there was a French divorcee (we’ll call her Fifi) there? And you thought she was flirting with me? And I denied it and said I hadn’t even noticed her?
Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Fifi and I are now an item. In fact, I’m going to be living with her half the year.
But you see this is actually a good thing! Because I’ll be honest I didn’t think our marriage was going well.
Your teacher’s salary doesn’t cut it. Our house is dated, and you weren’t willing to consider moving. Your friends are a little boring, too, if I am being totally candid.
I would just divorce you, but I think getting to live with Fifi for half the year just might make it possible for me to remain with you part time.
2. There will be plenty of time to see whether the Rays’ idea that pairing up two regions that couldn’t support a team will bring baseball to both. But here is a sticking point for me. Their assumption seems to be that the issue is finding people who want to watch baseball and bringing them baseball.
But the relationship between hometown teams and their communities is more complicated than that. Our sports teams become, for fans, more than just another one of many entertainment options. Other forms of entertainment are less rooted. They demand less of us. That’s why symphonies and repertoire theaters, for example, can have two homes that allow them to play before different audiences. Their patrons just want to hear convincing renditions of Brahms Symphony Number 2. But we don’t go to games simply to see good baseball in the way we go to the Straz Center to see a good play. We go to root for a team to which we feel a connection.
That connection lies in the organic ties between that team and its region. Teams are often given names that connect to their cities — Steelers, Brewers, Astros. They become part of a city’s branding and identity. A team’s play, its fans behavior, all tell us about and are shaped by their cities.
This has significance to the connection felt by fans, but also has significance to how elected officials value the importance of a team. If officials in say Hillsborough County or Tampa are going to use taxpayer dollars to help build a stadium, it’s not just because they value its economic impact in hosting 40 or 81 games a year. It’s because they value the importance of being a “major league city,” value the potential for a team to create a positive image outside the region and a feeling of connection and community within it.
If the Rays follow through on their plan to share the team with “Fifi,” do Tampa Bay communities still get enough intangible benefits from playing host to justify whatever the Rays are likely to ask even for a scaled down stadium? It’s not just about losing 40 home games, it means losing a real sense of being the home town of this team.
The fact that our region had a team all our own and is in essence losing it would make it even less likely that we’ll see political support for a Rays stadium. Neither political leaders nor taxpayers are going to be feeling generous is the wake of being jilted.
Putting tax dollars into a Rays stadium was a hard sell when the team planned to stay fully in Tampa Bay. It’s hard to imagine that elected officials or the fans who are their voters are going to support any contribution to a stadium that will be used for just the few months in which we have “custody” of the team.
Perhaps Rays ownership has the deep pockets to build a smaller, cheaper, open air stadium — that will also host the Rowdies — without public funds, in which case they merely need to make their peace with the St . Pete city lawyers and then they can do what they want. But if they are assuming that the public will pay for half of a stadium used for half the season so that they can canoodle with Fifi from mid-June on, they are likely to be disappointed.
3. I was born in Brooklyn and grew up hearing from my mother and my Papa Willie about the devastation of losing the Dodgers to Los Angeles. The year 1957 was treated in our family much as noteworthy years of great catastrophes (earthquakes, wars) are treated in other households. So my strong reaction to this news may be shaped by the tug of ancestral memory. No doubt in the coming weeks I’ll have more ability to treat this analytically, to figure out if this plan is really an innovative way to bring baseball to two eager but flawed markets, or just an effort to gaslight Tampa Bay residents while the team is on its way out the door.
4. It is really a shame that this conversation could not have been held off until the offseason, which has generally been Rays practice, I love this team. It’s exciting and competitive. My worst problem just a few days ago was Tyler Glasnow’s rehab setback. Now I’m wondering what’s the appropriate amount of emotion that should be invested in these players and this team. Do I care about draft picks I probably won’t get to see play? Do I care about building a legacy with a team that has that only wants my part-time support?