The Tampa Bay Rays are on the verge of clinching their second playoff berth in franchise history, and have a good chance of doing so as AL East Champions. With a chance to clinch a spot in the playoffs last night against Baltimore, the Rays were awarded with their fourth lowest turnout of the season, a crowd of just over 10,000 fans. Yeah, that's pretty ugly.
And it certainly didn't go unnoticed by Rays ace and Cy Young candidate David Price, who had this to say via Twitter:
Had a chance to clinch a post season spot tonight with about 10,000 fans in the stands....embarrassing
Price's comments started a bit of hysteria in Twitterville, forcing Price to issue an apology later in the evening.
If I offended anyone I apologize I did not think it was gonna turn into this...
Now, look: I can't sit hit here and tell you I understand exactly why Rays fans don't show up to cheer on their team more. The Rays are one of baseball's most exciting teams to watch, and rising to the top of the AL East is no small feat. I can try to rationalize it in a few ways, such as now that it's clear they're heading to the playoffs, fans would rather save up for the games that matter more. Or I could look at the economy, as many others have suggested.
And I can also understand the frustration that Rays players must feel. The baseball schedule is a marathon, and with the level of achievement the team has reached, I'm sure the players were hoping to have a sold out audience cheering them on as loud as possible if they managed to clinch.
But, please - the last thing that's going to attract fans to show up is complaining about them. The baseball market in Tampa Bay, for better or worse, is the way that it is. We know the ballpark is poorly positioned, and it just isn't an easy place to get to. And it's also evident that despite a World Series appearance two years ago, and heading back to the playoffs this year, that the Rays fan-base is still developing. It's the kids growing up now, watching this team succeed in a David vs. Golliath(s) story that will become the die-hard group that packs the house down the road.
At the end of the day, the fact that the Rays still struggle to get fans to show up to their games shows us that it really isn't just about winning. In order to plunk down the ticket price, deal with the traffic to get to the stadiums, and pay the crazy cost of stadium food, there has to be more of a connection with the team and its players.
The Rays will get there, and their success in recent years will be a huge springboard to creative a die-hard, core fan-base that supports the team for years to come. But no one likes being preached to, and comments like David Price's certainly aren't going to speed up that process.