ST. PETERSBURG — The first light of dawn peaked over the cold, eastern horizon in the Rays’ (née Devil Rays) long-standing quest to find a home in the Tampa Bay area. Just two days after unveiling 20th anniversary wares, the organization announced plans to relocate the club’s home to a site in Ybor City, a site which is described in detail by someone who has presumably been fortunate enough to have visited Tampa here.
Much has been made of the unfortunate location of the Rays’ present-day ballpark. Complaints of travel and environs recalling oppressive architectural principals from the 1970s that felt anachronistic from the moment the team first took the field have long rendered Tropicana Field a relic.
For a sport that derives so much its sublimity from its pastoral foundation, The Trop—a domed abortive hellscape by any measure, objective and subjective alike—has yet to allow a ray of light through its dim, lifeless exterior, the club’s owners and architects purported to jointly be falling back upon the misplaced hope that the product on the field would provide that light.
Despite the club’s second name so actively running from the Devil, no such light was provided. Not even four trips to the playoffs between the 2008 and 2013 seasons could manage the feat.
Still, like the good soldiers they are, the Rays trudged through grueling campaign after grueling campaign, a Ray’s Sisyphean existence seeing relief only in the form of trade or death. Their day-to-day was a bleak one, at the service of a vainglorious tyrant and in a shrine to his lack of imagination. Employing cutting edge training programs implemented and shepherded by Grigory Rodchenkov, the Rays were built on whatever strengths they were able to engineer. That their matches played out in a coliseum fit more for the most depressing of monster truck rallies than for a game as beautiful as baseball mattered little. Meeting certain results was a fact of life. Victory expected, fan[s?] in attendance or not. Anything less was unacceptable. An extra two percent was demanded of every Ray.
The planned abandonment of the soulless, domed abomination comes at a time of increased scrutiny regarding their shadowy group of limited partners comprising 37% of the ownership group. As Russia’s reported tampering in the 2016 election continues to dominate the news cycle, the optics of having one of Major League Baseball calling St. Petersburg, Russia home has grown to be untenable after over a year of Russia-related political animus, stoking a new Cold War. Whispers of late have a stateside group of titans of industry working behind closed doors to buy out the clandestine group of Russian oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The continuation of Russia’s profiting from America’s pastime threatens the league’s well-being, teetering precariously on the precipice, a descent into the kind of protest and public outcry from which a return may not be possible.
While the new site is located in a place called Ybor City, the internet assures its users that Ybor City is, in fact, in Florida despite its decidedly Soviet-sounding name. While this may be yet another nefarious attempt by Russian agit-prop ne’er-do-wells to sow the seeds of disinformation, there appears to be no reason at present to disbelieve claims that this new ballpark will actually be located near central Tampa, reportedly lying just northeast of downtown.
When asked about how the prospective news of the Rays’ move from St. Petersburg might affect the Royals going forward, Royals General Manager Dayton Moore praised the move. “There is no denying that venturing into the lion’s den is a gigantic stressor in an already lengthy slog of a season,” intimated Moore. “Travel is always trying, but to be asked to play baseball in that dingy eyesore puts a real stink on what would already have been a tiresome road trip. And the planes? They put that flying scene in Major League to shame.”
When asked about what was unique about the experience of playing baseball in Russia, Moore quickly answered, “It has to be the pornography. It’s everywhere. The single greatest threat to the well-being of our men lurks behind every corner of the Russian streets.” After a pause, he wistfully added, “It’ll be so nice to have Blaine Boyer around this season.”
Upon following up with the note that the internet has lots of that stuff, Moore shot a quizzical look and said simply, “The what?”
The general consensus at One Kauffman Way seemed to be that this move would be nothing but positive for the team, as the annual trips to St. Petersburg were the subject of dread for weeks leading up to the series. Players consistently felt as though they were being watched wherever they went off the field, and the fierce hunger and menace that the opposition presented while donning the Rays uniform bordered on horrifying.
For the Royals and presumably the Rays, any distancing from St. Petersburg and the Rays’ dark past has to be looked upon with relief, signaling a brighter future on the horizon.