For almost two decades, the holiday light fest at Straub Park celebrated baseball as well as the season with a display showing Santa Claus playing baseball.
But last year, baseball Santa was sent to the dugout. And he’s not back this year. It appears that, at least for the future, Santa has been benched.
City officials say baseball Santa’s disappearance has no hidden message about the future of the Rays in St. Pete.
“Oh, no, no, for heaven’s sake, it’s Christmas,” St. Petersburg recreation supervisor Polly Brannon said. “I’m a huge baseball fan myself. There was no hidden message.”
Baseball Santa’s absence, she said, has everything to do with novelty. And a bit to do with his price tag.
Baseball Santa had first been put on display around the time the Rays moved to St. Pete. That was 1998. Over the years, Brannon said, the novelty wore off. Eventgoers got tired of the same old displays.
That meant baseball Santa and other displays, such as bells and a bear in a box, were also mothballed to make way for new displays like a filigree tree, toy soldiers and a new Santa sleigh. Baseball Santa was also a large display, she said, and carried a price tag to match. City officials thought they could get more displays for the same price and, in that way, expand the light show.
And the city was right, Brannon said. No one complained that baseball Santa had disappeared. Instead, festival goers were happy to see new displays. That doomed baseball Santa to permanent benching.
“He didn’t come back because we got compliments on changing (the displays),” Brannon said.