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Gary Shelton: Who will win in the Rays-St. Pete stalemate?

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

One side has a lease.

The other side says that’s grand … as long as you want to make a paper airplane.

So who is winning?

One side has crowds that don’t show up.

The other side has a team that finished in fourth place last year.

So who is really ahead?

It’s another year, another squabble, and around St. Petersburg, the common response is that people just want to see baseball. They seem weary of hearing how empty the stands are. They seem tired of seeing the politicians hide behind a lease that gets weaker by the season. They seem worn out by the Rays’ insistence that that team be able to bargain shop for stadiums.

It’s baseball season. Will everyone please just shut up?

Feel better? Look, everyone talks about the stadium wars, because to do anything else is to risk standing silent until baseball departs Tampa Bay. It’s one thing to have a team that isn’t going anywhere in the standings. It’s another to have a team that isn’t going anywhere with the moving vans.

So who’s ahead? The answer: Nobody. The Rays are no closer to getting a stadium, not on this side of the bay or that one or, for that matter, north of the border. St. Petersburg harrumphs a lot, and then talks about the lease a lot, but it isn’t any closer to preserving the sport long term for Tampa Bay.

And so they argue. How soon could the Rays leave? How much should St. Pete get? Where might a new stadium go? What is French for “Rays’’? How hard are the politicians fighting for a team that no one seems to want? Might the grounds of Tropicana Field really be the best home for the Rays of the future? And if so, is that merely asking for trouble?

The problem here is that both sides seem to think they’re right and the other side are knuckle-draggers who just don’t get it. The St. Pete politicians don’t want to consider that a lot of leases have been broken over the years, which leaves their communities with cash but no sport. The Rays seem to think that meaningful dialogue has run its course. The commissioner seems to think it’s a good time to bring up Canada, the current version of St. Petersburg.

There is no bigger issue in Tampa Bay sports; not Jameis Winston and not the upcoming Lightning playoffs. Nothing.

For now, nothing is happening. A vote has been postponed that would have allowed the Rays to look around in return for a higher payout on its lease. Once again, we are at a stalemate. Once again, fans would rather hear Take Me Out to the Ballgame instead of the news reports that say there is nothing to report.

So how does this go? Eventually, you figure the council and the Rays will find a price that both sides can live with. Eventually, the chatter from Montreal will fade, and the Rays will scout out several Tampa sites for their stadium, and we’ll run out of photo ops with the Rays officials in, say, Charlotte. There are a lot of chapters left in this book.

For now, the Rays seem to imagine their team on the other side of the bay.

But would Tampa be a cure-all? How much would attendance really climb in Tampa? Are we to believe that so many fans live in Tampa that they would pack a new stadium, yet those same fans won’t cross a bridge to see a game?

Then there is the land, which doesn’t seem to be as plentiful as when this squabble began. Is there really a perfect spot in Tampa?

Or, when it’s said and done, might the Rays just decide that, hey, there is tax money available in St. Pete. Might the team stay west of Howard Frankland after all?

Imagine the possibilities. The Rays might as well start arguing over their next lease early. They’ve had enough practice.

You know, the one at Trop II. The one that runs out in 2057.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit [email protected]

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