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One-hand clapping? The Rays crowds are getting even worse

in Sports/The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The upper deck is emptier, if that is possible.

The outfield bleachers are lonelier, if you can believe it.

The scattered voices carry farther, and would you please hold it down?

Oh, my goodness. The lousy attendance you’ve heard so much about at Tropicana Field is getting worse. Any worse, and it will be able to split a box of Cracker Jack.

After three straight years of last-place crowds, would you have thought it possible? The Trop is even more of a ghost town than ever. The echoes of a largely empty park sound worse than they ever have.

And what happens when someone hits a home run ball and no one chases it down?

I know, I know. This is another story about the lousy attendance at Tropicana Field, and a lot of fans would prefer to read something else entirely as they stay away. But it should be pointed out. Already, the Rays have taken over last place in attendance. Does anyone think they will get out?

This weekend, the Yankees were in town. The Yankees! Isn’t that the one team you can count on to spin the turnstiles? When the Rays play the Yankees, a lot of men sound like Joe Pesci and a lot of women sound like Fran Drescher, but they come to the park.

Um, well. not so much. Not anymore.

Did you check out the crowds this weekend? They drew only 15,752 on Friday night, the lowest in the major leagues. They drew 20,824 on Saturday, the lowest in the major leagues. They drew 21,791 on Sunday, the second-lowest in the major league crowds.

Think about that. There were 45 games in the major leagues this weekend, and only one team (Minnesota on Sunday) drew a smaller crowd than Tampa Bay.

Nine stadiums had three-day crowds in excess of 100,000. This one had 58,369. The Friday night crowd was the lowest anywhere in the big leagues.

So what is it?

Has the stadium delays with the St. Petersburg City Council turned toxic? Certainly, people seem tired of a team that acts like it’s in charge and a council that acts like it is.

But if it was just the City Council, wouldn’t past attendance have been better? This would be the fourth straight year that the Rays have finished last in crowds. Who wants to be last in anything for four straight years?

Put it this way: Over the last 16 years, the Rays have finished in the bottom three in attendance 12 times. That’s alarming when you think the team has been fairly decent since 2008.

Is it the team? Well, that’s part of it. Except for Evan Longoria, who is the average fan going to pay to see play? Steven Souza has promise. And Chris Archer. But there aren’t many players you would turn to a buddy and say “Let’s go see him play this weekend.’’

Is it the park? Hey, it does have kind of a warehouse feel. But there are tougher places to drive to in the bigs, and there are tougher places to park. Ever been to Chicago’s Wrigley Field? Boston’s Fenway Park? It isn’t easy.

Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t the City Council meet in the right-field stands sometime over the next week? They can eat a dog, pet a ray pull for Jake McGee to heal. And in between pitches, they can talk about why this area needs to grab onto this team before another town does.

You know how it will work. Stu Sternberg will show up at an exhibition game in Montreal. There is no funny business, he’ll say. He just wanted to see a ballgame. Then a team official will be seen in Charlotte. Or Las Vegas. Or somewhere.

Does the council really want to wait that long? Why not work out the numbers it says it has to see in a deal? Why not present them to Sternberg? Oh, I know he isn’t crazy about talking about a stadium during the season, but aside from eating peanuts, what does he really have to do?

Here’s a gut feeling. If the council allows Sternberg to talk to Tampa — at a price — he might find out that the deal he envisions isn’t on that side of the bay, after all. Is there a great tract of land waiting? Are there enough options for finances to keep Tampa at the table. Or might Sternberg come to believe what some of us already feel. That this side of the Bay might be able to build a bigger stadium, a nicer stadium that would become an attraction.

Just a little friendly advice. Make some progress in these stadium wars.

Otherwise, one of you might be the last guy in the park.

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 garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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