They roared and rang their cowbells when David Price induced a groundout to send the Rays to the 2008 World Series. They carried that same verve when Evan Longoria propelled the Rays to the playoffs with a 12th-inning walkoff in the final regular-season game of 2011. They erupted when catcher Jose Lobaton launched a game-winner to the Ray Tank in Game 3 of the 2013 ALDS, and a fan in a Dan Johnson jersey went berserk near the landing spot of the home run while a girl holding a "Red Sox Are Wicked Awesome" sign slouched in front of him.
Despite the jokes, there is tradition in St. Petersburg.
Thirty-six thousand people on average have packed Tropicana Field for postseason games. That figure includes a hefty amount of rival-supporting transplants, of course, but it also comprises baseball-loving Rays fans still willing to come out to their run down stadium when it matters most.
Even though we won't see that many natives at the park if the team makes the playoffs in 2019 due to seating capacity changes, the upper-edge of local fervor is apparent.
So, plenty of human beings will feel let down if the Rays head elsewhere — a possibility made more realistic Thursday when the team received MLB approval to explore splitting time between Florida and Montreal. The franchise has been in existence 22 years and, even in the most of unfortunate of circumstances, its diehards have remained.
Observe a sample of the responses to the Rays' proposal, and the legitimate mix of hurt and frustration:
I will no longer watch baseball if this happens— William Rosson (@Wrosson2) June 20, 2019
This has been a rough week.— DRaysBay (@draysbay) June 20, 2019
People won’t want to give their $ to an owner who they think doesn’t care about keeping the team here, it’s a catch 22— Hunter Morgan (@hunterm1518) June 20, 2019
Sell the team Stu! We don't want a part time team.— WhatJoeknow (@WhatJoeKnow) June 20, 2019
The truth! We like the rays and want them on this side of the Bay but as a tax-paying citizenal body we don’t want to pay for out of pocket for the new stadium when the owner is more than capable of handling most of the cost. But as is the case with the on-field team: he’s frugal— win.everyday🗯 (@CJWinterberg) June 20, 2019
BS. I'm ready to dump all of my Rays jerseys, hats, bobble heads, all of the team garbage, & our season tickets we have in front of the Trop. I wont though...not just yet.— Mr. Potato (@cocoabee1) June 20, 2019
No way, total slap in the face to the fans. Sell the team and retire to Long Island!— Brad Myers (@BradMyersFL) June 20, 2019
This is insulting and infuriating.— Steve Easterling (@grim_prime) June 20, 2019
Dark day for the franchise— Luis (43-32) (@Vanity_Facade) June 21, 2019
Why don’t more of those fans attend regular-season games consistently?
The Rays’ meager attendance totals fall, at least partially, on subpar ownership and unacceptable facilities. Like predecessor Vince Naimoli, current owner Stuart Sternberg does not command much popularity in the local community. The team regularly slashes payroll — playoff heroes David Price and Evan Longoria were just a couple of the stars shipped away — making it difficult to maintain connection with the on-field talent. Tropicana Field, built in 1990, is a gloomy, artificial eyesore. It's also controversially located in St. Petersburg, not Tampa, which hampers accessibility for many fans. The number of people from other states who pass their non-Rays allegiance on to the next generation of Tampa baseball fans is a statewide issue that would exist even under better organizational conditions.
Still, there are flickers of homegrown enthusiasm if you squint hard enough.
Beyond the postseason attendance upticks, which happen in any city, out-of-stadium followers have been surprisingly resilient. By regional prime-time baseball TV ratings in 2018, the Rays ranked 20th in MLB, ahead of franchises such as the Mets, Orioles, Padres, Rangers and Angels. That's not great, but it indicates a chunk of the fan base routinely watches from home rather than at the stadium.
Their favorite team, however, may one day be viewable from Montreal.
While it’s unlikely the dual-city proposal is more than a ploy to pressure Tampa Bay politicians into building a new stadium with taxpayer money, this is nonetheless an escalation of tension between the Rays and their current region. MLB has long been rumored to be looking for an alternative location for the franchise, and there's now tangible evidence of the league eyeing an out from Tampa. If it's not Canada, then it could be Charlotte or Portland or any number of U.S. cities.
If the Rays do leave, you better believe it will leave a mark. Their fans may be relatively low in number, but their pain is real.