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Rays of Baseball Hope

Posted: Jul 07, 2008

We’ve reached the midpoint of the baseball season, and there seems to be a high level of optimism for the teams in our Swampland footprint. The story of the year in MLB has to be the surging Tampa Bay Rays. The franchise that has been more of a laughingstock than a contender for the last decade is now sparking a national debate on who is the best team in baseball. The Marlins are playing great ball as they try to chase down the Phillies in the NL East, and the Texas Rangers are above .500 because of the best offense in the game. The Braves have been ravaged by injuries, but they are still the model franchise in our area. Only the Houston Astros in our region have performed below expectations during the first half of the baseball season.

While things look positive on the field, the key to long-term success for the Florida teams will lie in their stadium deals. New or renovated parks have been opened in Atlanta, Houston, and Arlington over the last decade plus, but it has been more of a struggle in the Sunshine State. The Rays’ quest for a new stadium has been especially difficult as the decision over the location (Tampa vs. St. Petersburg), type (Dome vs. Open Air), and financing have stalled this ambitious project. The franchise had hoped to put their new stadium up for vote this winter, but this week brought the decision that the team will no longer seek a November referendum on their proposed waterfront ballpark. This situation needs to be settled if the Rays hope to capture their fan base long-term like the team is doing on the field this season. As one columnist points out, the Waterfront Park idea seems great, but a retractable roof would be a necessity in any new project.

Rendering of proposed/tabled new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark

The Marlins have had quite a rollercoaster ride during their MLB existence. They have won two World Series, but have seen the talent on those teams leave for richer and more stable squads. They were even in the middle of contraction rumors a few years ago, but they are playing quality ball once again as they sit in 2nd place in the ‘large market’ NL East. Unlike the Rays, the future ‘Miami’ Marlins have their new downtown stadium project approved for a 2011 opening, although a lawsuit is being filed over the financing.

Hopefully, the project will continue to move forward so the fans in South Florida can see their favorite players stay in Miami past the first five years of their career.

Rendering of new "Miami" Marlins ballpark

With new stadiums and the revenues that coincide, these franchises can then turn their attention to the drafting and development of young talent. Both the Rays and Marlins have built solid foundations in this way and have stayed away from over-priced veterans. With lower-cost talent and a desirable Stadium, any franchise can succeed in the modern baseball climate. Heck, the Rays have picked first in the Draft the last two years, and now sit on top of the baseball standings. I guess anything is possible.

- Patrick Snow

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