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Thursday, Sep 20, 2018
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Chris Archer, 25,000 Cubs fans and Tampa Bay's painful truth

ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest ovation inside Tropicana Field on Tuesday night was not for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was returning for the first time since managing the Rays.

It was when Chicago's Kyle Schwarber blasted a home run in the second inning. Most of the 25,046 in attendance went bonkers.

Sounded like Wrigley Field.

We've seen this kind of thing before. Like when the Yankees or Red Sox come to the Trop. Or when the Red Wings or Maple Leafs come to Amalie Arena. Or the Packers or Eagles come to Raymond James Stadium.

But this felt different. This felt worse. Even Rays pitcher Chris Archer, who served up Schwarber's gopher ball, said something after the game.

He called it "weird.'' He called it "strange.'' And while it wouldn't be fair to put words into his mouth, how could he not have been annoyed?

Because I was annoyed and I had no emotional investment in the game.

Now, let me be perfectly clear. If you buy a ticket to a game, that gives you the absolute right to cheer for whichever team you want. And let me also reiterate that I didn't care which team won the game. Being an objective sports columnist, I have no rooting interest in any game, contrary to what some might think. I honestly don't care if the Rays win the World Series or lose 100 games.

Same with the Bucs and Lightning and Florida and FSU and USF. Win or lose, makes no difference to me.

But sitting inside the Trop on Tuesday night and seeing all those Cubs fans, I had two thoughts.

One, apparently if you're motivated, you will find a way to get to the Trop on a weeknight — regardless of traffic, regardless of location, regardless of the stadium.

And, secondly, Tampa Bay looked bad. It looked small-time. It looked rinky-dink.

I'm guessing I'm not alone in thinking that.

While players on the local teams have to be careful with what they say so as not offend anyone, they must surely be embarrassed when they are made to feel like visitors in their own homes.

Evan Longoria strikes out and cheers erupt. Jameis Winston gets sacked and there's a roar. Amalie Arena turns into a sea of red when the Blackhawks are in town.

It's sad.

No one needs to explain to me why this is the way it is. I get it.

Very few are from here. Tampa Bay is a transient community. People move here from all over, especially the Midwest and Northeast and Canada. And they bring their sports allegiances with them. It's unreasonable to expect someone who has been a Bruins or Vikings fan for 30 years to suddenly drop their team in favor of the Lightning or Bucs.

But that doesn't make it any less irritating.

It has gotten so bad that the Bucs and Lightning have tried to put ticket obstacles in place to assure there are as few opposing fans as possible at their games. And that has drawn criticism from around the country.

Seems as if Tampa Bay is always a punching bag for the national media regarding who does and, often, does not go the games.

I'm not sure what's worse: having an empty stadium or having your stadium full of fans from the other team?

One thing that will help solve this issue is for the home teams to win, to have such an attractive product that local fans buy up all the tickets.

But even that doesn't always work. When the Lightning went to the Stanley Cup final in 2015, there was an issue with how many Chicago fans were at Amalie Arena.

Tampa Bay has lots of Tampa Bay sports fans. And they are good fans. They love their teams. They cheer hard.

There just aren't enough of them. And there are too many fans of other teams.

That has to affect the players. You wonder if it makes players long to play in other places where the fan base is more passionate about the home team. You wonder if part of the reason Maddon left for Chicago is because it's a better baseball town.

If you're Archer, don't you want to play in a packed stadium where everybody is cheering for you?

Too bad that likely will never happen in Tampa Bay.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones

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