Monday, September 29, 2008

Traveling Through Time, 9/26/83

This week, we travel back in time 25 years to September 26, 1983, to try and warn the people of Pinellas County about the folly of building a stadium in St. Petersburg …

I am from the year 2008 and you should heed what I say. Where I come from, Vice President Bush’s oldest son has been president for the last seven years, gasoline hovers near $4 a gallon, and football no longer comes to mind when someone mentions O.J. Simpson. Ignore my warnings at your own peril!

I would like to take this unique time-traveling opportunity to ask -- or if that is not a strong enough sentiment -- beg you not to build a baseball stadium in St. Petersburg. There’s a misguided belief in your time that by one-upping Tampa, you’ll somehow gain an edge in the quest to land a Major League Baseball franchise. Please think again.

In years to come, teams such as the Rangers, Twins, Mariners, White Sox and Giants will all tease you with the allure of relocating to St. Petersburg as leverage to get new stadiums or favorable leases back in their own cities. You will be told outright by the commissioner and various owners not to build a stadium, but you will ignore their warnings. Fools! The financial consequences will be felt for decades to come by the citizens of your county.

Expansion won’t even come around until 1991, and at that point, Miami and Denver will be the cities to land teams. Denver’s team will play in Mile High Stadium until their state-of-the-art stadium is built. Miami’s team will be forced to play in an unpopular, multi-purpose stadium more suitable for football. Around here, our version will be in St. Pete and it will be called Tropicana Field.

The coming years will see the end of multi-purpose stadiums and a renaissance of “retro stadiums” that incorporate elements of classic ballparks with modern amenities. Your barbaric, traditional domed stadiums are a thing of the past as well. Twenty-five years in the future, stadiums will be built with retractable roofs that can open and close in a matter of minutes. The dome you hope to build will be like Chevy Chase and the VCR: obsolete by the end of the century.

What’s that, you say? This area's hunger for baseball will triumph over any odds? I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it seems the hunger you speak of was highly overrated. It turns out that what this area loves is Spring Training, and that most of the transplants from the Northeast and Midwest will be unwilling to support the local team.

The group trying to attract an expansion franchise to the Tampa Bay area will tout a season-ticket waiting list of over 27,000 people. The majority of games, however, attract only half that number.

Reasons for refusing to attend games are numerous. The drive is too far. The economy stinks. This thing we call global warming. If excuses were wins, this area would be the equivalent of the 1927 Yankees.

The bottom line is that you should never build the stadium where you do. Don’t get me wrong, downtown St. Petersburg will be on the upswing for years and put downtown Tampa to shame. The problem, however, is that the location of the stadium will not be easily accessible to the majority of people in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Sprawl will cause this community to grow in leaps and bounds that should have been predicted in your day. The lack of mass transit in this area, coupled with congested roads, will make the prospect of driving to St. Pete in rush-hour traffic less appealing than a striking air traffic controller to Ronald Reagan. Sorry, too soon?

In the year 2008, all of the excuses will be stripped. We finally will have a winner – a playoff team -- that makes us all proud. This season will be the greatest in team history. Just one year after finishing with the worst record in baseball, our team will be on pace to finish with at least 30 more wins. Still, attendance has lagged during the playoff run and we will be mocked by the rest of America. It has never been more obvious that baseball will never succeed in St. Petersburg, no matter how well the team plays on the field.

It is very possible that the Tampa Bay area can support baseball, given a stadium in a central location accessible to all the people of Polk, Pasco, Manatee, Sarasota, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Because of your decisions, however, the chance of that happening, or of baseball having long-term viability in this market, will dwindle faster than Gary Hart’s presidential prospects. Trust me on that one, you’ll see.

As I bid you farewell, I ask that you do what’s right. Forget about baseball and worry about the more pressing issues of the day. Leave the quest for a Major League franchise to the people of Tampa. They’ll figure it out and probably get it right, too. Oh, and one more thing. In a few months, a boy with a golden arm named Scott Kazmir will be born in Houston, Texas. On behalf of the Tampa Bay area, please send his mother and father our most sincere thanks.

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