Florida Baseball and The San Juan Rays
Thursday November 15th, 2012
Alex Mednick (Baseball Writer and Analyst)
Last week Jonathan Hacohen, the founder of MLBReports.com called to my attention that the Tampa Bay Rays are an anomaly. Ultimately, if you look at the way their team is structured and where their talent lays, and the kind of game that Joe Maddon manages the Rays are ultimately a National League team; displaced in the AL East. The Rays greatest strength is their depth of pitching that they can reach into the bowels of an amazing farm system ripe with young talent. But from there on out, they rely on an offense that generates runs due to other inefficiencies.
With B.J. Upton leaving town, and Carlos Pena only a carcass of what he once was, there is ultimately zero power left in their lineup. Their DH for the past two years have been the likes of an aging Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Luke Scott. Ownership is constantly complaining about attendance and looking for bargain free agents like Johnny Damon to bring in at the end of their careers and hopefully attract some Yankees and Red Sox fans to the stadium.
At this point, the Rays power hitters are Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist. They have an amazing nucleus of pitching talent, including David Price who just won the AL Cy Young, and they are mentioning trading almost all of their starting pitchers. This is understandable, as you have to dish out talent to bring back offensive talent that they are in great need of. But I still have major gripes with the way owner Stuart Sternberg has approached the past 4 seasons in St. Petersburg, and I will get into more detail about this in a little while.
Given the events that have occurred on the other coast of Florida this week in the baseball world, I have been giving a lot of thought about baseball in Florida in general. The owner of the Miami Marlins, Jeffrey Loria (the same man who killed baseball in Montreal), has taken Stuart Sternberg’s apathetic state of ownership and made it a relatively trivial air of ownership negligence.
What Loria has done in Miami, to the fans, to the tax payers, and even to the players…can be argued it is criminal. When Loria attracted MLB and the county of Miami-Dade to build a new stadium through public funding, he created the impression that he would inject new life into the team via additional funding. Now the tax payers of Dade County are in the hole for $2.5 billion dollars, and the huge spending spree one year ago, turned into a fire sale 3 days ago. All that is left is municipal debt, a beautiful new stadium, new uniforms…and a bunch of AAA Marlins who as of now just got a promotion. It appears Albert Pujols was very wise when he opted not to sign with the Marlins without a no-trade clause in his contract!
So I have gone from simply considering whether a league swap would be beneficial for the Rays and baseball, to completely reconsidering the health, and the viability, of baseball in Florida. I am a Florida resident, and I have lived here now for 6 years. Like the majority of Florida residents, I come from somewhere else. I come from New Haven, Connecticut…a huge mecca for baseball and home to one of the greatest rivalries in all sports.
Whether we are talking about the I-95 corridor in Florida and northeastern transplants, the I-75 corridor and Midwestern migrants, or south Florida and the enormous Caribbean population…Florida is a melting pot within a melting pot. Chances are, if you live in Florida and care about baseball, you have carried an allegiance to a local team from wherever it is you come from. Going to Tampa Bay Rays or Miami Marlins games is merely a novelty, and a chance to see your favorite professional baseball team come to town…and probably earn a series victory in the process. Additionally, and this is speaking in very generalized terms, if you are a native Floridian and derive pride in being a Tampa Bay or Miami original, you probably don’t care all that much about baseball.
The point I am eluding to is that the Florida Marlins we justified as an expansion team in Miami because of the large influx of wealthy northeasterners to the area. Northeasterners who bleed baseball the same way that southerners love their NCAA football and NASCAR. But the novelty of having the Marlins in town has really proven to be a bust and not very marketable. Spring Training, which is slowly diminishing team by team in the Grapefruit League, is still a popular retreat for frozen northerners every March. But Miami and Tampa Bay really are not appropriate markets for baseball teams…if any city in Florida should have a team, frankly, it should be Orlando…one of the most visited destinations in the world. I say all of this as someone who lived in St. Petersburg for 4 years and absolutely loved the city and culture. My wife is a native Floridian and Rays fan, and I am going to catch a lot of heck from a lot of people. But the truth is out.
Now Miami has a big problem and who knows what kind of legal action will be taken. Obviously, they have a brand new piece of state-of-the-art infrastructure, which is not going away anytime soon. That stadium will be utilized, or the tax payers will riot in the streets. On the other coast we have the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays, who are owned by the uninvolved New York millionaire Stuart Sternberg, have been in detailed discussion now for years about relocating.
Sternberg has been blessed with an amazing GM that has been able to assemble competitive playoff contenders now for 4 years, using only the limited resources ownership handed him. And all the while that this has been happening, Sternberg has been trading away talent as they become too expensive, rather than retaining them and adding those extra pieces that would put them over the edge. And he has complained over and over about how nobody comes to games while subsequently raising ticket prices during a recession. In many way, the Rays have endured much more pain than Marlins fans have. The Marlins have at least won championships. The Rays have been on the edge of their seats for 4 years now, and have been tortured by an owner who just doesn’t care.
I look at the City of Saint Petersburg and applaud their stance on disallowing Sternberg to move the Rays from Saint Petersburg. The Rays have a 25 year contract with the City of Saint Petersburg and Tropicana Field. Saint Petersburg is a true diamond in the rough. It is a city that missed out on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sweepstakes, and a city that has been overlooked many times; but a city that has much to offer still. In any deal that was approved, a very generous profit-sharing program would have to be worked out to benefit Saint Petersburg, and the plan would have to be demonstrably sensible. Without getting too off topic and demonstrating my love for sunny St. Pete, I wanted to say that it is not without a faint heart that I propose the following.
There is momentum building in the movement to make Puerto Rico the USA’s 51st state. Puerto Rico is home to 3.5 million residents, who all have a unique sense of pride and heritage. Furthermore, Puerto Ricans are absolutely nuts for baseball…much unlike the native Floridians who fail in celebrating their hometown teams. The San Juan Rays would be absolutely adored. The Caribbean is such a large part of baseball already, but other than a few MLB training facilities, Major League Baseball really hasn’t jumped into this market.
Frankly, looking at who attends Miami Marlins games down in Miami, it is a majority of Caribbean fans who support the team. Cubans, Haitians, and Dominicans love baseball the way that New Yorkers and St. Louis’ fans adore our national pastime. Baseball in Puerto Rico is absolutely ripe for opportunity and seemingly a natural course to take. Heck, you can even put the San Juan Rays in the NL East to create a natural rival with the Miami Marlins…then switch the hard-hitting Philadelphia Phillies and their huge payroll into the AL East.
Baseball in Puerto Rico will be eaten as fast as it is served. And it will bring a lot of revenue into the game and add a fresh twist. The World Baseball Classic is so much fun every 4 years to see baseball as a truly international game…because it really is. People talk about Football overtaking Baseball as America’s game, but this is ultimately only according to television viewership (exclusively on Sundays) and Las Vegas odds. Baseball is not only America’s game, but much like soccer it is savored worldwide. Whether or not Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state to join the United States of America, baseball belongs in the Caribbean. I would love to see the Toronto Blue Jays play the San Juan Rays.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com ***
Alex Mednick is a Baseball Writer and Analyst with MLB Reports. He has both played and followed the game extensively his entire life. Alex grew up in New Haven, Connecticut—right in the crossroads of Red Sox Nation and The Yankee Empire. Somehow, he dodged the bullet of joining the war between these two teams, and a love affair between the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex formed. Growing up in Connecticut, Alex Mednick idolized Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. When he was 19 he moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida. Here he attended Eckerd College and continued fulfilling his love for baseball. Tropicana Field was 5 minutes from his apartment, and there were 5 spring training camps within an hour drive. Alex graduated from Eckerd in 2010 with a B.S. in International Business and dual minors in Spanish and Management. Most importantly, he met his amazing wife in college, and the two now reside in Stuart, Florida.
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Posted on November 15, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged 51st state, al cy young, al cy young 2012, AL East, albert pujols, alex mednick, alexander ewing mednick, American league, american league east, andrew friedman, b.j. upton, ben zobrist, bj upton, caribbean, cuban, cy young, dade county, david price, dominican, evan longoria, florida, football, haitian, hideki matsui, james shields, jeff loria, jeffrey loria, jeremy hellickson, Joe Maddon, johnny damon, jonathan hacohen, las vegas, Luke Scott, Major League Baseball, matt joyce, matt moore, miami, miami dade, miami marlins, mlb, nascar, national league, national league east, ncaa, new haven, NL east, philadelphia, Philadephia Phillies, phillies, puerto rico, rays, saint petersburg, saint petersburg florida, san juan, san juan rays, st pete, St. Petersburg, st. petersburg florida, Tampa Bay, tampa bay rays, test. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.