Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Devil Rays Are Officially a Mickey Mouse Operation

A few years ago, Bud Selig wanted to broaden the popularity of baseball, so he scheduled the season opener in Japan. The NBA has a growing market in China and may even start their own league in that nation. The National Football League has played a preseason game in Japan, a regular season game in Mexico, and is considering increasing the regular season by one week in order to play more games abroad. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are looking to increase their fan base by playing their upcoming series with the Rangers....at Disney World.

The Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports will be the home stadium for the Devil Rays this week in an effort to expose the people of Orlando to Tampa Bay baseball. The hope is that once residents of Orlando get a sampling of Devil Rays baseball, they will then make the drive from Orlando to Tropicana Field to catch more games. "The Ballpark" is the spring training home to the Atlanta Braves and has a seating capacity of 9,500, plus four luxury sky boxes and two open-air suites. If the Devil Rays manage to sell out these games, they'll actually increase their attendance figures from their last Tuesday-Thursday home series (vs Minnesota: 8,773, 9101, and 8993).

I suppose it's a low risk proposition- there's really nowhere to go but up for the popularity of the D-Rays- but still, regular season games at a Spring Training complex? This feels an awful lot like when the Expos were tired of drawing small crowds so they moved some games out to Puerto Rico. The main difference being that Puerto Rico has an avid baseball culture whereas Orlando is pretty much devoid of culture altogether.

Soon after Montreal started playing games in Puerto Rico, they were relocated to Washington. I think this desperate move signals the beginning of the end for the D-Rays. They have put together an entertaining, albeit struggling, team; and yet the only time they can draw any sort of crowd is when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town. It's time for MLB to reverse the huge mistake they made when they handed Tampa Bay an expansion team. While there are some cities that might be able to support a major league team if the Devil Rays were to relocate (Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Portland, and Oklahoma City come to mind), I think this would be a great opportunity to contract the league back down to 28 teams.

Of course in order to get to 28 teams, it means one other team would also have to go. I think that team would have to be the Kansas City Royals. I'm old enough to remember when the Royals were actually one of the great teams in baseball, with George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Dan Quisenberry, and of course Steve Balboni, so I would be disappointed to see KC out of the league. But it's been twenty years since the Royals were relevant to major league baseball. Meanwhile other small-market Cinderellas like Florida, Minnesota, and most recently Milwaukee have all been able to build competitive teams. The Royals have developed a few star players (Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye/Michael Tucker), but have never been able to hold on to a nucleus long enough to make a run. It's time to put Kansas City fans out of their misery.

On the plus side, you know how anytime someone asks Joe Morgan what he thinks of a team, he responds with, "they need to add another bat?" Well, contracting two teams out of the league and holding a dispersal draft would certainly help in that regard. I'm sure BJ Upton would quickly become a hot commodity. Plus, all of this tanking the Yankees are doing this season would actually have some value as they could draft Scott Kazmir with the #2 spot in the draft. If you ask me, it's a no-brainer- which means that even Bud Selig is qualified to make such a move.

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