I’ve noted this summer that the Washington Nationals have the lowest television and radio ratings of any team in Major League Baseball, and some have attributed that to the Nationals’ admittedly abysmal record this season.
But, apparently, there’s more to it than just a teams record, because the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, this season’s surprise story of the American League East, aren’t drawing the fans either:
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The lack of noise still annoys Cliff Floyd.
Sure, Floyd heard the cowbells clanging in support of the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 26 against the Toronto Blue Jays. He also recalled a peculiar sound, an extra echo that bounced strangely around Tropicana Field because most of the seats were empty.
Coming off two victories in three games against the White Sox in Chicago, the Rays expected near-capacity crowds to welcome them home to their 36,048-seat stadium.
Instead, only 13,478 fans showed up to witness a 6-2 loss, a turnout that again questioned the passion of fans whose team has transposed its record from the worst in the major leagues (66-96 last season) to the best (84-52).
“It was shocking,” said Floyd, a veteran designated hitter. “All you can do is ask, and we’ve asked. But it is what it is. This city has been asking for a winner for a long time. If they come out and support us, we will love it a ton. Hopefully, when we make the playoffs, they’ll all come out. To have that 26th man would help us out tremendously.”
Indeed, the Rays’ turnaround from A.L. East doormats to World Series contenders can be considered an even greater accomplishment given their lousy home attendance figures.
The Rays rank 26th among 30 major league teams with an average crowd of 21,459, ahead of only the Oakland Athletics, the Kansas City Royals, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Florida Marlins. And despite what might seem to be a home-field disadvantage, Tampa Bay owns a major-league-best 52-20 record at Tropicana Field.
When the turnstiles spin, though, the Rays win. They are 17-1 when attendance has topped 30,000 this season.
Still, yet again Tuesday night, the Rays endured boisterous cheers from an opposing team’s fans during the Yankees’ 7-2 victory. Attendance was announced at 21,629, and when Alex Rodriguez belted an eighth inning solo home run, about a third of the fans stood and cheered.
If winning doesn’t bring the fans into the stands, what will ?