The Rays swimming in a dead sea?

Via ESPN:

When 12,446 fans showed up Monday night to see if the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays could clinch their second playoff berth in three years, Evan Longoria decided he’d seen enough empty seats and said something about it.

Longoria, who did not play in the Rays’ 4-0 loss to Baltimore, spoke at length about the team’s chronically low attendance, calling it “disheartening” and “embarrassing.”

 “We’ve been playing great baseball all year. Since I’ve been here in [2006], the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They’ve wanted to watch a contender,” Longoria told reporters. “And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,000 to 20,000 in the building.”

Monday’s announced attendance was a little more than half of the 23,047 the team has averaged at home this season, despite battling neck-and-neck with the New York Yankees for the AL East lead and baseball’s best record for most of the season.

Tropicana Field, the Rays’ much-maligned domed stadium, holds 36,973 for baseball during the regular season.

“In 2008, when we clinched, this place was packed,” Longoria said. “It’s kind of like what else do you have to do to draw fans in this place. It’s actually embarrassing for us.”

Longoria said the attendance has not had any bearing on the team’s on-field effort at home, where the Rays are 48-31 entering Tuesday’s game against the Orioles.

“But we’re talking about a team in a playoff hunt with the opportunity to clinch. You could at least get 30,000 in here to cheer you on to it,” Longoria said.

“It’s a tough situation for us,” he added. “A lot of the visiting teams come in and wonder where are all the fans. It’s actually a little bit embarrassing for us. We’re one game away from clinching a postseason spot. We have enough guys in this room to celebrate with, but we’d love to celebrate it with the fans, too.”

The Rays have a roster full of young, talented players and are polishing off their third straight winning season after starting their existence with a decade of dreadful results. But small crowds at home have been a constant issue, despite the team’s dramatic improvement.

Longoria said he had been thinking about addressing the Rays’ home attendance for a long time.

“I’m not trying to take a low blow at the fans. I’m actually trying to rally the troops and get more people in here,” he said. “I’m not trying to say that we have bad fans or any of that because, believe me, I’ve been here since ’06 and I love the Tampa Bay community. It’s just tough to see, and I felt I was the right guy to say it.” 

The current Rays roster might not be in place for fans to watch next season.

Team owner Stuart Sternberg said last week that no matter what happens, the team will cut payroll during the offseason, meaning pending free agents Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano likely will not return.

Tampa Bay’s current payroll of $71.9 million — a team record, but tens of millions less than the AL East-rival Yankees and Boston Red Sox — is expected to drop to $50 million or less next season.

“No question. Nothing can change that,” Sternberg said of the coming payroll reduction, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless [manager] Joe Maddon hits the lottery and wants to donate it or I hit the lottery.”

…I can feel for Evan here in this situation. Florida is not the best place to be when it comes to attendances in baseball. The Marlins barely have anyone come to the game even when they are playing well and the Rays are having the same problem to. Many can say it’s the economy, but still, if your team is playing well there usually is support to back it up. In this case, there isn’t. I like how Longoria used the words, “It’s actually embarrassing for us.” Cause they used to be embarrassing and now they are promising. I think this will help the Rays get more people in to the next games but I also think you won’t draw attendance when Monday Night Football is on and you are also playing the Baltimore Orioles who are the worst in the AL. Let’s see what the attendance numbers are tomorrow and see if Longoria still will have an impact…

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