ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — After a season of disappointing attendance, Rays fans are finally turning out for the postseason.
Excitement about the playoffs has fans flocking to Tropicana Field this week, enough so for the Rays to open up seating in the upper deck.
“The tarps came off as we like to say,” said Bill Walsh, the Rays Vice President of Strategy and Development. “Thursday night we had about 27,000 people in the building. [Friday] we’re going to be pushing 40,000 people in Tropicana Field. It’s been many many years since we’ve had this many people come out to the building.”
That’s more than they could squeeze into Fenway for the Yankees/Red Sox Wildcard game on Tuesday.
“Some people are starting to pay attention. It was an electric game last night there are some awesome moments," said Walsh. "Randy stealing home - a lot of chatter around the water coolers this morning - so hopefully some people are recognizing what this team is doing and what they’re capable of and want to get along for the ride,” said Walsh.
But is filling up the Trop just for the postseason enough?
Sports economist Victor Matheson, from the College of the Holy Cross, says the Rays and MLB have a history of struggling in Florida.
“Obviously, the Rays are in one of the worst facilities in major-league baseball. It’s one that’s rated by the fans at the bottom or very near the bottom of all the stadiums,” said Matheson. “It’s one of the oldest stadiums at this point. There’s no doubt the stadium woes are keeping live attendance down.”
It’s one of the reasons the Rays are pushing the idea of a split season with Montreal and/or moving the team’s home base to the Tampa side of the Bay.
But the Rays say attendance isn’t the only way they measure success.
“A lot is made of how many people are in the seats and we’re well aware of that,” said Walsh. “But times like this, we look at the fans and the passion that’s out there and no matter how many people are in the seats on a given night, there are tens of thousands of people watching at home and there are many more watching online.”
The Rays say even for fans who can’t make it out to the stadium for games, there’s plenty of ways you can show your support.
Whether it’s picking up a “Rays Up” yard sign or simply wearing a Tampa Bay t-shirt or hat. Walsh says you can even head down to one of the free Rays watch parties at the St. Pete Pier or the Tampa Theater as the Rays head to Boston for games 3 and 4 of their series against the Red Sox.
“It’s about bringing the community together when this is a time when not a lot of things do that.”