"It was a big letdown. We came out all fired up, and you see that, it's really depressing."
This is what Carl Crawford had to say about returning from a late-August roadtrip with the best record in baseball to a hometown crowd of……..11,968.
The Rays have to be commended for the success they've had as a young franchise in what is by far the most competitive and challenging division in which to play. And yet, if the hometown fans couldn't care less, why would anyone want to play for them?
A lot gets made about the money and how hard it is for small-market teams to hold onto talent when the deep pockets from NY, Boston, and LA come knocking. But there are also places that are widely considered great places to play in large part because of their fan-bases. St. Louis. Chicago. Minnesota. Even Kansas City. By comparison, Tampa Bay is an embarassment. They have arguably the most exciting team in baseball playing for them – lots of young talent, some good personality, fair amount of late-inning drama, and the whole David and Goliath thing going vs. the Yankees and Red Sox, and you know how they show it? By shrugging their shoulders. What is taking their attention - the impending Buccaneers season?
It's not often that athletes will pass up the biggest dollars. When they do, it seems to either be in pursuit of a better chance to win a championship (countless examples) or because they simply love playing where they do (Joe Mauer). The Rays management is giving their players (and by extension, their fans) a strong chance to win a championship, and the fans – to the extent there are any – are doing absolutely nothing to make Tampa Bay a great place to call home for players.
As great players like Pena and Crawford near free agency, one has to ask – why would any player ever consider giving a hometown discount to a place like Tampa Bay? The answer is that as long as vying for a championship in Tampa Bay feels the same as playing meaningless games in August for the Baltimore Orioles, no player ever will.