Retro Relapse: The Durham Bulls Solution to the Tampa Bay Rays Problem

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2015.

Let me start this post off by saying that there is no way that this will ever happen.

That doesn’t mean that I cannot dream though. And frankly, this idea is great and it was born from a conversation a friend and I had about what to do with the Tampa Bay Rays.

By the way, I still prefer to call them the Devil Rays because that name was infinitely more bad ass than Rays. What the shit is a ray? Even Stingrays would be better than Rays. But enough bitching about a dumb name, let me get to the point here.

The Tampa Bay Rays have major attendance troubles. This also stems from the fact that they play in a shit hole, they are located in Florida (a state with horrible sports fans) and most of the attendees that do go to the games are usually there for the road team. If you don’t believe me, go to a Rays game. I have and each time I saw more jerseys and caps for the opposition. It didn’t matter if it was the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Twins, Tigers, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles or even the foreigner poutine-fueled Blue Jays.

Florida sports fans suck a bucket of balls. I live in Florida and I witness the antics of my state mates on the reg. Look at Miami Heat fans. Oh, that’s right, you can’t anymore because LeBron James left and they ceased to exist.

Florida is also made up of a lot of tourists who buy homes and become part-time residents. Even though they melt down the side of our planet every autumn and settle in on Florida during the winter months, many stay longer or become permanent fixtures in the state. With them, they bring their love and affection for their own team from their northern place of origin. This is why teams from the Northeast and Midwest are always represented en masse at Florida sporting events. This is also why the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to not sell playoff tickets to non-permanent Florida residents and banned all team apparel that isn’t Lightning apparel. God forbid those Red Wings fans have the freedom to express themselves in Tampa Bay’s house!

When it comes to Tropicana Field, the home of the Rays, I can’t even begin to express my frustration with that abomination: sitting like a gargantuan cyborg choad, wedged between I-275 and downtown St. Petersburg. The ballpark is impractical, balls get stuck in the rafters and it is just a drab and awful sight to see. The concessions are also below average. However, that Latin American fair I went to back in 1996 resulted in me getting a handy in a toilet stall while on a high school field trip, so I do have one fond memory of Tropicana Field.

But lewdness aside, there isn’t a month or even a week that goes by where it doesn’t seem like there is some story or report about how the Rays aren’t going to survive in the Tampa Bay area or that they are going to move somewhere else. A lot of it stems from their insanely lengthy lease at Tropicana Field and the fact that people just don’t want to go there but there are a multitude of things going on, most of which I’m not going to waste time on because I don’t feel like writing a novel and the problems aren’t what this is about – this is about the solution.

So I propose that you let the Rays just fade away. Unfortunately for the American League East, this leaves them with four teams in their division: everyone else has five. So what can be done to bring balance to the AL East?

You take the Rays Triple-A team since 1998, the Durham Bulls, and make them the new Major League Baseball franchise to represent that fifth spot in the American League East division.

Crazy idea? Well, hear me out.

The Carolinas do not have a major league baseball team. However they are represented in the NFL, NBA and the NHL. They have great sports fans and a pretty successful minor league history. The Durham area is also next to Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest and not too far from Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Charlotte isn’t far either. Also, the Carolina Hurricanes already play in that area and do pretty well for a team not even located in the biggest city in the Carolinas.

By selecting the Durham Bulls, I’m not just picking some random Carolina-based team, I am also not picking them just because they are already associated with the Tampa Bay Rays, even though that does play into this. There are several reasons for this idea but the main one is that the Durham Bulls are already an internationally recognized brand.

Since the hugely successful and awesome 1988 film Bull Durham, there has been a mystique around this team. That film starred Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and “the Clown Prince of Baseball” Max Patkin (look him up). It is a classic and probably always will be. It is by far one of the greatest baseball movies ever made and it made the Durham Bulls a household name.

Because of that, a team that would come and go throughout history, became really popular, expanded, and went from a Single-A team to a Triple-A team when they left the Carolina League and joined the much larger International League in 1998. The Rays recognized the Durham Bulls’ value as a brand and thus, made them their premier minor league affiliate after their lengthy run as a lowly team in the Atlanta Braves system.

This does hurt the actual real Rays fans out there and for that I am sorry but this would be better for the sport in my opinion and would inject a much needed boost into the AL East and MLB, in general. And being that I live in Florida and love going to as many MLB games as possible, this would be a blow to me, even though these contests take place in the worst venue in Major League Baseball.

Fans would also miss out on the growing division rivalry between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox, which only intensifies and strengthens with each season. This could certainly evolve naturally if the Rays whole roster moved to Durham though.

But then again, despite all the troubles the Rays have and all the reports about them hightailing it out of Tropicana Field or completely out of the Tampa area, one fact remains true: they are really friggin’ profitable.

As of right now, in April of 2015, they are valued at $625 million dollars. This is a huge jump from the $451 million they were worth in 2013 and an even bigger jump than the $200 million they were bought for in 2004.

Realistically, could the Carolinas match or exceed the value the team has built up in the Tampa Bay area over the last decade? It is tough to say but it would be an interesting experiment, nonetheless.

And truthfully, maybe them staying put, albeit in a better venue, is the right solution.

Either way, something has to change.