Editor’s Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will examine one hot-button baseball topic each day in December. On Sunday, he tabbed Josh Hamilton as the game’s best all-around player.
There is no denying that the American League East is the best division in baseball, and perhaps in all of sports, from a relative standpoint.
Winning seasons and championships aside, the AL East can also brag about several superlatives when it comes to the stadiums in which its teams play. There are the giants of the game playing in Boston and New York in front of packed houses on a nightly basis. Toronto has the financial and media backing of an entire country while playing in the Rogers Centre monstrosity that is not going anywhere anytime soon. And while they are mired in a rather embarrassing run of losing seasons, the once-proud Baltimore Orioles reside in perhaps the best stadium in all of baseball, Camden Yards.
Then there’s the Tampa Bay Rays, an easy answer to the question, which team has the biggest need for a new stadium?
Behind as solid a young core as any you will find in the game today and a cerebral manager who has the backing of a sharp front office, the Rays have won the division two of the last three years. They possess as potent a farm system as there is in existence, an indication of success still to come. But until they find a place to play that feels a bit more welcoming than a motor parts factory and perhaps incorporates the lovely nights in the Tampa Bay area, the Rays will remain the black sheep of the bunch.
The team’s fight for a new home has not come without drama, although the latest news does not bode well for the club. A recent survey suggested that two-thirds of area residents are opposed to helping to finance a project through tax payments, and a light rail initiative that would’ve played into the Rays’ hand in creating a foot traffic flow to a new site has fallen by the wayside. The current lease extends to 2027. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has said he will not stay in Tropicana Field for that long, but efforts to find business support for a new park either in downtown St. Petersburg or in neighboring Tampa remain relatively fruitless. There is potential for a move to another city or state altogether.
Meanwhile, the Trop plays home to a dynamic squad loaded with exciting players and personality, yet rarely draws many fans, except when the Yankees and Red Sox roll into town. It got a tad ugly in 2010, when Rays players themselves called out the fans for poor attendance down the stretch, as the team was fighting the mighty New Yorkers for a division crown.
A similar struggle for a new park took place on the other side of the state, but when the Marlins’ new ballpark opens in 2012, that charade will be officially put to rest. Sternberg’s team will stand alone as the only remaining member of the four expansion teams from the 1990s without an attractive place to call home.
All but eight of the 30 current stadiums in use in the majors were opened in the last 20 years, but those that are older are not going away anytime soon. That list includes the historic gems of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, the beloved Dodger Stadium, refurbished and perfectly satisfactory homes in Kansas City and Anaheim, the soon-to-be-replaced Sun Life Stadium in Miami and Toronto’s behemoth of a ballpark. Only the Oakland Athletics, who have called Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum home since 1968, have any real momentum toward moving to a new park, which could occur as early as 2015 in nearby San Jose.
If and when that move takes place, the Rays would once again stand alone. They would be the only team in baseball not playing in either a retro ballpark such as Camden Yards or Yankee Stadium, a “retro-modern” park such as Angels Stadium or Target Field, one of the retractable-roof stadiums such as Rogers Centre or Chase Field, or an ancient classic such as Fenway or Wrigley.
Tampa Bay has cowbells, but little else. In the AL East, that lack of panache is even more glaring.
Which team has the biggest need for a new stadium? Leave your comments below.