St. Petersburg Is Still A Cowtown

COMMENTARY


ST. PETERSBURG — I last attended a Yankees-Rays game two years ago. In fact, last season was the first season in four years I had not attended all nine games at Tropicana Field the teams played.
So I was curious to see just how things might have changed since the Yankees did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and the Rays won the American League championship in 2008.
As I got to the parking lots surrounding the dome, I immediately saw the biggest change. Parking for Rays games is no longer free. New owner Stu Sternberg, in an effort to attract more fans to “The Trop,” had allowed fans to park for free and bring some of their food and drinks into the stadium.
But now that the Rays have tasted victory, they have decided that in these tough economic times it is best to not only charge people for parking and no longer allow outside food in drink into the stadium, it is best to gouge them for it too.
Around the stadium, lots were up charging $15 and $20 for parking. I did see one lot who actually had the pre-free parking price of $10 on their lot. I opted to drive off onto a side street (17th Street) and park in a neighborhood for free.
Sorry, Mr. Sternberg, you already charge premium prices for Yankees and Red Sox tickets, I am not going to stuff your wallet with $20 for parking too. Go find another sucker.
***********
The Rays have always been noted for having some of the rudest security people in baseball. Their head of security decided to flex his muscle on me four years ago and it was an real experience.
I was attending a Rays-Marlins game and I had decent seats behind the third base dugout. I was wearing a T-shirt my son had given to me for Father’s Day. It was a Yankees T-shirt referring to the curse the Red Sox “broke” in 2004 by winning their first championship since 1918.
On the front it read “I guess there never was a curse.” On the back it read “They just sucked for 86 years.”
The security “czar” came over to me and told me I had two choices: Take the shirt off and reverse it or leave. I, of course, was stunned. Free speech being what it and all, I thought in America we were better than this.
But he was quite serious. I immediately sought to contact the public relations staff that I knew very well. I talked to the person I had purchased the tickets from and tried to get in touch with his boss and get this matter resolved.
A few years earlier I had purchased tickets to a Rays-Yankees game with a parking pass for the game. However, when I arrived at the game the police had closed the lots BEFORE THEY WERE FULL and disregarded the fact I had the pass. I did not make it into the stadium until the FIFTH INNING because of where I had to park and how far I had to walk from there.
The PR director of the Rays was very apologetic later for my plight and offered me a refund on the $10 pass and tickets to another Rays game (excluding the Yankees and Red Sox, of course). I gladly accepted and was satisfied the Rays cared.
So I had hoped that I could get the same help from him in this situation. But I was told No. 1 that he was not on site and No. 2 that the public relations group was being warned not to intercede on my behalf by this same very obnoxious security czar.
I even asked the czar if he could show me in any of the printed materials outside the stadium or the ticket itself that warned that “inappropriate” T-shirts could mean ejection from the stadium. He looked and me and said no.
So I left without seeing a pitch. I have told this story to many people and they are shocked something like this could happen. But apparently, the Rays security staff is serious. They now have it marked outside on their walls.
Just for fun I wore the same shirt to Tuesday’s game. Nobody said a word to me.
Hmmm!
**********
Now the rudeness had spread to the vendors at Tropicana Field.
I was sitting in Section 125 three rows back from the field. Great seats. There was a food table in front of me allowing me to place my pizza on it and a cup holder for my Pepsi. I even had room to put my baseball scorebook and a Yankees calendar on it. (I keep score of every Yankee game live or on TV and the calendar I brought to get autographs. I just missed A-Rod but did get Alfredo Aceves to sign it.)
But in the second inning a heavyset vendor peddling cotton candy went barreling through the table in front of me with a huge yellow bag around his hip. He not only hit the Pepsi in the cup holder with the bag but he pulled it completely out of the holder, spraying the Pepsi and the ice all over the table and my calendar.
He knew he had done it because he actually stopped for a half-second to look. He then continued on his way to hawk his wares. No apology, no nothing.
Rude does even begin to describe it.
**********
For years Yankee fans have come to “The Trop” in droves. After all, the Yankees have a spring training home in Tampa and the Steinbrenner family base the operations there. They have a Single-A team that plays in the Florida State League. Phil Hughes pitched there. Robby Cano played there too.
So given the Rays ineptitude for many years, Yankee fans have come to root for their team. They do not come to boo the Rays. They are there to cheer the Yankees.
This irritates Rays fans. It has irritated them for so long that they decided to do something about it. The front office has encouraged fans to bring cowbells to the games. This was done for two reasons: (1) It gives the club’s fans an identity, albeit, the image of St. Petersburg as a cowtown and a orphan sister to Tampa has pretty much stuck. And (2) It gives 10,000 Rays fans a good fighting chance to drown out 20,000 Yankees or Red Sox fans.
That was in good evidence Tuesday night. But I notice that the PA system starts the cowbell cadence for the fans who may not be smart enough to know when to start the clanging. This even though they have a “Cowbell Etiquette” primer broadcast on the big screen before the game.
I don’t ever remember seeing the Yankees needing a clown mascot like Raymond, a so-called “host” like the Rays have to rev up the crowd as he runs around the stadium like a madman or someone to tell the Yankees fans when to cheer.
I also heard lots of Rays fans yelling “balk” when CC Sabathia faked a throw to second and when he properly stepped off the mound with a runner at first. This group of fans may be the most baseball illiterate group I have ever witnessed.
**********
Another “big treat” of the drive to St. Petersburg is listening to the local sport radio channel, 620-AM WDAE, the so-called Sports Animal. Their drive time host is the so-called “Big Dog,” Steve Duemig.
I guess if you are the Sports Animal you better make sure you have a Big Dog. I think having a Big Goat or a Big Anteater may not make much sense. But, if this Big Dog was measured for his insight into baseball, he would be a pretty big chihuahua.
A caller who had attended the Yankees-Rays game the night before called Duemig on Tuesday afternoon. He was a Rays fan and had been for some time. But he called a bit troubled by the booing Rays fans
did that night before of Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon. 
He said he clearly understood why Rays fans would boo Alex Rodriguez but could not understand why they would boo two people who were good guys who actually had homes in the area and had done  charitable things in the community.
Duemig immediately got his dander up, which is dangerous with any chihuahua.
“Why shouldn’t Rays fans boo the Yankees best players?,” he asks.
Later, as the poor caller was relegated to dreaded “silence” button, Duemig then said it was disrespectful for the Yankees fans to do the “Let’s Go Yankees” cheer in Tropicana Field. 
Excuse me!
What disrespect are the Yankees showing? Their fans are there to see them. They are there not to boo the Rays, not to denigrate the Rays or any way or even wish ill of the Rays. But somehow doing a Yankees cheer is disrespectful.
I have a message for Mr. Chihuahua: I invite all your fellow Rays fans to come to Yankee Stadium and do the “Let’s Go Rays” from now until the cows come home with cowbells clanging. I will guarantee that no Yankees fan will take it as disrespectful in the least.
Of course, when you have 200 Rays fans among 54,000 people it is kind of hard to hear them.
Which is probably why Mr. Duemig, the Big Chihuahua, is so worked up he is due to for distemper shot at the vet. The fact that so many Yankees fans show up in St. Petersburg bothers him. The fact they make so much noise and drown out Rays fans bothers him. So the only way to get back is to denigrate the Yankees, their players and fans.
I know of no effort on the Yankees radio hosts part to denigrate St. Petersburg or the Rays on the air. You won’t either. Because it just is not on their radar. The Yankees have 39 AL championships and 26 world championships. The Rays have one AL championship.
On anyone sliding scale, the scale is a bit one-sided.
Far be from me to be disrespectful for handing the Rays my earned dollars for tickets, parking, overpriced food that vendors knock over. I am sorry I spent all that money if you find it disrespectful that I root for the visiting team.
Pardon me now. I need to find my pooper scooper for Steve. Here Steve! Here boy! Arf! Arf!

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