BOSTON (CBS) — It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays struggle to draw fans inside of Tropicana Field. In terms of attendance percentage, the Rays rank 26th in MLB this year at 53.5 percent capacity. In terms of sheer numbers, they rank dead last, drawing 18,237 fans per game. They finished 30th out of 30 last year, and in the last decade, their average spot in terms of overall attendance is 28th out of 30. Fans in the Tampa area just typically don’t flock in droves to watch the Rays.
So when the home park is sold out and the sub-.500 team gets to play in front of an actual atmosphere, you’d think the manager would be happy.
But Joe Maddon was anything but happy this weekend.
The Rays manager led his team in front of 31,042 fans — nearly 13,000 more than the average number — because they wanted to be a part of the Derek Jeter farewell tour. It makes sense that Tropicana would be filled for such an occasion. For one, Jeter has been getting standing ovations in ballparks around the country — even Boston. There’s also the fact that Tampa is the Yankees’ spring training home, and it’s also Jeter’s home. And just like with Boston fans when the Red Sox are in town, it’s not uncommon to see Yankees fans outnumber Rays fans 2-to-1 in the stands whenever the Bombers visit Tampa.
Maddon, who’s been in Tampa since 2006 and therefore should know the drill, expressed his displeasure with hearing so many cheers for Jeter. He then instructed fans how they should act.
“Yeah, it’s great, it’s great that it’s sold out, I understand that people like Derek Jeter — but you’ve got to come out and root for the Rays, too, you understand?” Maddon said after losing to New York on Saturday. “I mean, I totally appreciate what’s going on, but I’m not gonna sit here and defend all of that noise in the Yankees’ favor in our ballpark. I’m not gonna defend that. So if you’re gonna come out, root for the Rays. We’d appreciate that.”
Well there you have it, people of Tampa. Root for the Rays, and root for them loudly, or else you’ll incur the wrath of Mr. Maddon.
(Again, Maddon’s been there since ’06. He knows the drill. It was just three seasons ago when Tropicana Field was just 83 percent full for a playoff game, so what does he really expect when the team is wallowing away in fourth place? Last year, even when the Red Sox were in town for a playoff series, the place wasn’t sold out, and when the fans do show up, they bang cowbells, which is unseemly behavior not even seen at the Little League World Series. So whether it’s April, August or October, the Yankees are going to have more fans in that building than the Rays. Add in the Jeter farewell tour to the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for a Yankees home game in Florida.)
Of course, what likely had Maddon bumming was that his team just lost another game, falling to two games under .500, 10 games out of first place and 6.5 games out in the wild-card race. It’s a lost season, and Maddon is left to keep himself busy by complaining about the designated hitter on the last-place Red Sox and then wishing out loud that he worked in a city that supported its baseball team.
It’s unclear what Maddon will complain about next, but one thing’s clear: The man may be groovy and zany and unconventional, but he just has no #Re2pect.
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