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Friday Five: Worst markets
The Yankees play host to Tampa Bay starting tonight - here's my column on Mariano Rivera from yesterday - while the Mets open a series in Arizona, a coincidence clearly designed by MLB as "New York's tribute to the 1998 expansion teams."
No? No good? As Larry asked Cheryl in this episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?
Those two clubs have something else in common, however: They both make our Friday Five list of worst baseball markets. The toughest places to build a successful franchise. Which is fitting, as many of the franchises occupying these markets have been quite well-run yet haven't permeated their areas in a significant enough way. At least, not yet.
To make it clear, I am not faulting these markets, at least not in my mind, as much as simply analyzing them. My policy is to never, ever criticize people for not spending their money to watch baseball games. Or for anything regarding how they use their funds.
Without further ado...
1. Tampa Bay
Maybe the Rays would have a fighting chance if their stadium stood in Tampa, rather than in St. Petersburg. At Tropicana Field, however, the Rays don't seem to have a chance no matter how impressively they put together a ballclub on pennies relative to the Yankees' and Red Sox's dollars.
You have to appreciate, for those who don't know the area - Sandy step in here - just how inconveniently The Trop is located. Imagine if, say, Citi Field were located in Great Neck, and you had to get through all of that traffic to get there coming from the west. But then in Great Neck and east, there simply wasn't a population with disposable income.
I'm not sure it would work even if the Rays moved to Tampa, and given Florida's economy, there sure isn't any excitement about spending public dollars on a new facility. So the Rays operate in limbo, a great baseball team falling in the forest with only 19,327 people per night there to see it.
The All-Star Game was a success this year, and fans there were surprisingly rowdy, booing everyone in the American League as well as the players on the Diamondbacks' neighbors in the National League West.
So what's the problem? It's the heat, even if it's a dry heat. Too many Phoenix residents skip town for the summer to escape that heat, so it's hard to fill the seats and, viscerally, it's hard for Diamondbacks baseball to really become a way of life. Perhaps consistent October appearances can alter this, but it certainly makes it far more challenging.
Remember how Shea Stadium was a hole, but Mets fans expressed their love for it: "It may be a hole, but it's our hole!"? That kind of thing?
I don't get that same sense with Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. I wasn't there prior to their renovations for the Raiders' return in 1995, but it seems like those renovations really ruined the baseball vibe by closing up the place.
What a shame that there seems like such a viable place for the A's to move, San Jose, but the Giants own the territorial rights. If Bud Selig really intends to retire after next season, and I and everyone else remain skeptical on that front, then he should try to solve this pickle and not hand it off to his successor.
Maybe it's a weather thing here, too, and maybe it's that so many residents are transplants and therefore root for the visiting clubs. Maybe the new ballpark, opening next year, will help.
Maybe, in this instant, the fan base feels burned by the continual building up and tearing down of the franchise.
But whatever it is, the Marlins don't draw - their average of 18,174 fans per game is last in all of baseball - and they don't generate any passion, despite their two World Series titles in their first 18 years.
So in other words, of MLB's last four expansion clubs, only one - Colorado - has been a success.
Like with the Marlins, the team itself deserves some blame here. We've yet to see what could happen if the Nationals actually put up a winning record. And the place certainly did rock when Stephen Strasburg pitched, and Strasburg is on his way back.
For now, though, D.C., which loves its football, makes this list. From my anecdotal evidence, there doesn't seem to be much excitement surrounding the Nats. I welcome our Washington resident JE, who goes to many Nationals games, to present his rebuttal.
-- Have a great day.