Nine straight losing seasons hasn’t helped the Tampa Bay Devil Rays attract more fans so the team is taking some unorthodox measures to correct that.
The Devil Rays play the first of three straight game against the Texas Rangers in nearby Orlando Tuesday night in an effort to become a more regional franchise.
While finishing last in the AL East in eight of nine seasons may be the main reason why the Devil Rays (15-22) have never drawn particularly well at Tropicana Field, there are other factors involved, including the park itself— routinely rated among baseball’s worst.
Hoping to draw fans from the Orlando market, the Devil Rays have moved this series to The Ballpark at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The 9,500-seat stadium is about 20 miles southwest of downtown Orlando and will be the smallest ballpark to host a major league game since the Athletics opened the 1996 season with six “home” dates at 9,000-seat Cashman Field in Las Vegas while improvements were made at Oakland Coliseum.
“You have to build that fan base up,” left fielder Carl Crawford said. “They’re trying to build a bigger fans base, and we get to go to Disney. That’s all right. Nice way to shake things up a little bit during the season.”
The team hopes that by playing three games in Orlando, it will boost television ratings across Central Florida and eventually lure fans about 90 miles southeast to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
“We’re fortunate to play in a region that has a great love of baseball,” team president Matt Silverman said. “Orlando is a big part of where we hope to spread our brand. … And what better way is there to ignite the fandom than carry the game to them?”
Rangers outfielder Jerry Hairston is in favor of the idea.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “First trip for my son going to Disney World. He’s 18 months. First time seeing Mickey Mouse. It will be good for him. I’ll record it and he’ll always have it.”
Not all the Rangers are planning theme-park visits and sightseeing junkets. After all, the games do count in the standings.
“It will be business as usual,” shortstop Michael Young said. “I don’t care where we play. I want to go out and get it done.”
The Rays haven’t given their fans much to cheer about again this season, improving to seven games under .500 by ending a six-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory Sunday at Toronto.
One bright spot for Tampa Bay has been the performance of James Shields (3-0, 3.10 ERA), who is coming off the best start of his career. He scattered three hits over nine scoreless innings Wednesday at Baltimore, but left without a decision in a game the Devil Rays lost 1-0 in 10 innings.
Shields beat the Rangers 6-5 on April 11, yielding five runs and five hits in seven innings. He is 2-0 with a 4.85 ERA in two career starts against Texas.
Texas (15-23) lost three of four to the Angels and now plays its next six games on the road, where it is 5-13.
Brandon McCarthy (3-4, 6.89) looks to win a career-high third straight start after limiting the New York Yankees to one run and five hits in 5 1-3 innings Thursday in a 14-2 win. He has allowed two runs in his last two starts over 11 1-3 innings after giving up 17 in his previous six innings.
The Rangers have won eight of 12 against the Devil Rays since the start of last season.