Will new name, new look make a difference for Rays?

11/09/07 Mitch E. Perry
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In the last 24 hours, Tampa Bay’s long suffering baseball franchise has re-branded itself by unveiling new uniforms and a new name: the Tampa Bay Rays. But whether it will turn around the record of the worst team in baseball remains to be seen.

Today in downtown Tampa, the Rays held their second public unveiling of their new uniforms with a lunchtime event, featuring players signing autographs, a free hot dog lunch and the display of the new jerseys.

In the short 10 year history of the club, the Rays have finished in last place in the American League East every year save one – in 2004, when they finished 4th in the five-team division. Their winning percentage in this time is below .400, and they have also been among the worst teams in attendance in that time.

Hopes were raised when Wall Street investor Stuart Sternberg purchased the team from Vince Naimoli nearly three years ago – but the Rays currently possess the lowest payroll in the game, at just $24 million dollars. That’s $6 million less than the second lowest payroll, the Florida Marlins, at $30 million dollars.

Scott from North Tampa is a serious fan, owning season tickets to spring training games at Al Lang Field in St. Pete. But he says Sternberg needs to put more money into the team.

Kevin Harris said today’s event was about perception.

Concerned about the dilution of talent, six years ago, Major League owners voted 28-2 to eliminate two teams from the game. Those teams were never disclosed, but in Thursday’s New York Times, columnist Murray Chass wrote that nothing has changed his opinion from that time – that “there is simply no justification for their continued existence.”

Fan Kevin Harris says the team if the team deserves such criticism, it’s because the club has had absentee ownership.

Dave Wills has been doing the Rays radio play-by-play since 2005. He admits his job would be easier if the team were actually winning. Wills says he believes Rays ownership will begin investing in the team.

But for many fans, just having major league baseball in the tampa bay area is still enough of a novelty that they remain patient things will turn around. They invoke the area’s signature sports franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an example of years of failure before success was achieved.

It’s only 93 more days before pitchers and catchers report to training camp, the last that will be conducted in St. Pete. In 2009, the Rays will move their Spring Training home to Port Charlotte.

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