I like to see Nationals win, and I like to see the Nationals’ rivals (Phillies, Braves) lose.
When the other 27 teams are playing, I’m usually just an impartial observer. A baseball fan.
In that spirit, I usually root for the sport. What does that mean? I like to see the sport thrive. As obnoxious as Pittsburgh fans can be, I’m thrilled to see the resurgence of Pirates. Pittsburgh is a great baseball town (with a great stadium), and it’s bad for baseball when the Pirates put together 20 consecutive seasons of losing baseball while the best stadium in baseball sits empty.
Similarly, it’s bad for baseball when the same teams make the playoffs every year. The Yankees extended dominance dating back to 1998 helped marginalize baseball as a sport. As the Yankees and Red Sox annually battled for the AL East, formerly great baseball towns like Baltimore and Toronto sat stagnant. Not only did “small market” fans lose interest in the sport (as reflected in stadium attendance numbers), the national media’s obsession with the Yankees, and a few other teams, narrowed the public’s focus to the sport’s detriment. For example, who are the most famous baseball players in the general public’s consciousness? Sadly in 2013, it’s probably still Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, two aging largely irrelevant former-stars.
So, I ask: is it good for baseball that the Red Sox beat the Rays?
Boston is a great baseball town playing in a historic landmark of a stadium. Moreover, their resurgence following the Boston Marathon is a great story. But the Red Sox have had their moment. They have won two World Series in the past ten years, making the playoffs nine times in the past 16 tries. Boston has seen only one losing season since 1997. Boston baseball fans have been truly blessed, despite their own insistence they are a “tortured” fanbase.
But Tampa fans have been blessed too with four playoff appearances since 2008. With stars like Evan Longoria and David Price, the Rays are probably the most exciting team in baseball. Their steady infusion of young talent and crafty roster management should make any fanbase jealous. But sadly, the Rays had the lowest attendance in baseball this season, averaging fewer than 19 thousand fans a game. Even with a consistently good and exciting product on the field, the fans simply will not show up.
The situation in Tampa Bay is a mess. Tampa is a sprawling economically depressed market. More importantly, the team plays in the worst stadium in the league. Most importantly, the stadium is geographically isolated in St. Petersburg. Studies have shown that Tropicana Field has the fewest amount of people living within 30 minutes of the stadium among all 30 MLB parks.
In short, it’s hard to imagine any brand of baseball succeeding in Tampa Bay. The only thing more depressing than a losing team playing in an empty stadium is a winning team playing in an empty stadium.
If the situation were different, a baseball fan would be rooting for a Tampa Bay World Series title to jump start the fan base. But since even that would be unlikely to turn Tampa into a baseball town, maybe we should root for the alternative.
Boston is moving on to the next round. And that’s probably a good thing.