Pulitzer-winning newspaper asks if Rays fans are staying home out of anger that owner can’t break lease

The Tampa Bay Rays are terrible, and the New York Yankees shortstop is Didi Gregorius, so you might expect that attendance for a Rays-Yankees matchup in April might be lower than usual. Or, if you work for the Tampa Bay Times, you can use it as an excuse to write an article titled “Smaller crowds against Yankees at Trop: Are fans tiring of stadium stalemate?” that features lines like these:

But, still, the crowds for the Yankees games were small. Does the stalemate between the city and the team have anything to do with it?

“It certainly may, but I don’t think there is any way to find out,” said council member Bill Dudley.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this. We could look at attendance in past years that the Rays were lousy when there was no stadium controversy, and see that they’re actually drawing better than in the bad old Devil Rays days (though this year’s average is admittedly goosed a bit by having one of their seven home games be opening day). Or we could just try to picture a Tampa Bay baseball fan thinking, “Hey, the Yankees are in town. Could be a good night for a ballgame — but damn, I sure am tired of the city council not letting the Rays owner break his lease and try to get a new stadium built somewhere else. Why, it’s a veritable stalemate! Stalemates are like ties, and ties are for soccer. Hey, I wonder if there’s any soccer on TV? Do I even like soccer? Where did I leave the remote?”

The Tampa Bay Times, interestingly, filed this not under “sports” but “human interest,” presumably because they don’t have a category tag for “clickbait.” Give them another few months, they’ll get with the program.

Cubs really need less ironic slogan for Wrigley renovations than “Making the Confines Friendlier”

Putting up some kind of barrier so that fans can’t hassle players for autographs while they’re walking to their cars isn’t all that unusual. Doing so while in the middle of renovations that have left fans without enough restrooms for two months, then slapping a logo on top reading “Making the Confines Friendlier” — that’s so Cubs.

(Incidentally, can anyone tell me who’s actually being protected from whom by this autograph barrier? It looks like it’s on the corner of Seminary and Waveland, adjacent to the “triangle building” site that’s under construction in the background. But I see what look like fans on both sides — do the players walk a gauntlet between the two fences to the lot on the north side of Waveland? And do they have their own restrooms there?)

Braves VP on parking at new stadium: I hear bicycles are all the rage

Hey, Atlanta Braves and Cobb County, how’s that transportation plan that you’ve been punting on for a year and a half coming along?

The plan for where people can park near the stadium, spread out over 40 acres of property the Braves have purchased around the stadium, will be revealed in the last quarter of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016, he said.

Alrighty then. Do you have any ideas at all for how to get people to games in a spot next to a highway intersection without enough off-ramps in the middle of a not-all-that-developed suburb?

Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of operations, said he encourages business owners and residents to “think outside of the box” and look into new transportation methods to the stadium. For instance, he said, he hopes local community improvement districts will consider extending their biking trails toward the stadium.

Anyone else have any other ideas?

Kim Perez, president of the Kennesaw Business Association, said at a meeting of the organization Tuesday she knows of many business owners in Cobb who are working on a smaller scale to transport employees or customers to the 81 games each year.

“Restaurants and other businesses are thinking about how they can get people to the stadium, and that’s a really neat thing,” Perez said.

Bicycles and crowdsourcing. This really is going to be a 21st-century stadium!

New MLB commissioner is worst ever at explaining stadium blackmail demands

Okay, it’s official: New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred really sucks at shaking down cities for stadium deals. Or rather, he sucks at putting those shakedowns into English. I mean, listen to this:

“I think it is really important for baseball to have viable alternatives with respect to expansion and relocation,” Manfred said [of a possible team in Montreal]. “It’s just good business to make an effort to make sure that we have alternatives available to us in the event that there is a problem. I’m reluctant to characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation, because I think our sport’s a great sport. It’s tremendously healthy and it has the potential to grow so that I see it as both an expansion and relocation issue.”

I had to read that three times just to figure out even partly what Manfred meant by it; how on earth are the poor francophones in Montreal supposed to suss that out as a “build it with taxpayer loonies, and we will come” ultimatum? I mean, come on, “characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation,” who talks like that? Sheesh, lawyers.

Anyway, the upshot of all of Manfred’s verbiage is that Montreal might get a team someday through expansion, or it might get a relocated team, but it’s way too soon to talk about either of those, especially without a stadium. But you knew all that already, as did everyone in Montreal, so all this was going to do was maybe get some scare headlines in Tampa Bay, since Manfred made his statement at a Rays game in Toronto. Scare headlines in Tampa, anybody?

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks about Rays stadium issue

Yeah, that’s probably about the best he can hope for. Oh dear, oh dear, doesn’t anyone know how to haggle anymore?

Cleveland Indians remove 7,000 seats, replace them with ugly beige Legos, call this progress

The Cleveland Indians responded to years of declining attendance at Progressive Field this season by spending $26 million* to get rid of 7,000 seats, replacing them with a new sports bar, among other renovations to the now 20-year-old stadium. And if that sounds like it will make the stadium — which was much more hulking than its Cleveland Stadium predecessor, despite having 30,000 fewer seats — more intimate, you probably shouldn’t get your hopes up:

May I be the first to say “ew”?

The problem with the outfield upper deck at the Indians’ stadium, really, is with the deck below it: By making room for a wall of triple-decked luxury suites in the infield (and then not lowering the upper deck once it gets to the outfield, the Indians guaranteed that the top-level outfield seats would be a million miles from the action. That they’re now retrofitting that section with what look like beige shipping containers with retired numbers painted on them is just an indication that 1) stadiums designed with tons of corporate seating are really tough to retrofit for normal humans, and 2) the Indians management wants to leave room to reinstall seats in case the throngs who came to the games during the stadium’s initial eight-year honeymoon period somehow rematerialize.

*This is not actually $26 million in Indians money, of course, since the team just got well more than that in new county subsidies last year to pay for future renovations. Though I guess at least there’s some fitting symbolism in using the cash to set up a new bar, since local alcohol drinkers are going to be the ones paying for it.

Anaheim fires world’s worst stadium negotiator who gave Angels three extra years to threaten to leave

It took a couple of years, but the Anaheim city council voted last week to fire Charles Black, the local developer who’d been in charge of lease talks with the Los Angeles Angels. All Black had done was give Angels owner Arte Moreno an extra three years on his lease opt-out clause on the grounds that “he has the resources and willingness to build his own stadium,” offer to give Moreno $245 million of land around the stadium for $1, and generally piss off Mayor Tom Tait, who for some reason was opposed to a style of negotiations that involved offering the Angels valuable gifts in exchange for not much of anything.

Black will now be replaced by local Democratic operative Wylie Aitken. We’ll have to wait and see how well he does at talking with Moreno about a new lease — something there hasn’t been much of since the Angels owner publicly announced last fall that he was shutting down talks and opening negotiations to move to Tustin, talks that promptly went nowhere fast — but he can’t do much worse than his predecessor.

Cobb County is taking money allocated for parkland and spending it on Braves stadium

One of the trickiest parts of understanding the stadium game is figuring out the tricky finances used by team owners (and local elected officials on their behalf) to fund new buildings. This is intentional: In a world where handing over a $300 million check from the public treasury to a private sports team is considered gauche (or at least likely to get you tarred and feathered by constituents), it’s important to have a convincing cover story claiming that, no, it’s not really a public subsidy.

For Cobb County, part of that cover story has been that taking $8.6 million a year in existing sales-tax surcharges and devoting it to a new Atlanta Braves stadium doesn’t really cost taxpayers anything, because they were going to be paying the tax anyway. Except that some people, including reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, have noticed that the tax was originally approved in 2006 so that Cobb County could buy parkland, and voters there specifically authorized bonds to buy parkland in a 2008 vote, but instead Cobb County sat on the money and is now using it for a stadium:

After the successful 2006 referendum, which resulted in the purchase of 387 acres, voters went back to the polls and approved a second parks bond referendum in 2008. Although the measure passed with 67 percent of voters’ approval, the county commission never issued those bonds and no additional green space was ever purchased.

Jim Dugan served on the Cobb Parks Coalition, which worked to get parks referendum on ballots, and then served on the committee that evaluated undeveloped land for possible purchase. Dugan said the county has a moral obligation to either take the tax rate off the books or dedicate the revenue for more parks, in fulfillment of the 2008 vote.

Bah, “moral obligations.” How many divisions have they got?

Roger Buerki, who served on the committee that identified parks purchases in 2006, likewise called the sales-tax redirection a “sleight of hand” and “unseemly,” adding: “The commissioners might want to see an audiologist. They hear the Braves just fine, but they don’t hear the voters.” You say that like it’s a bug, Roger, but it’s really a feature.

A’s owner says fighting to move to San Jose “not worth nasty battle” with Giants

You’d think this would make bigger headlines, but Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff has apparently admitted he’s all but given up on moving to San Jose:

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said a possible move to San Jose is “not worth a nasty battle” over territorial rights with the San Francisco Giants, and is hopeful the city’s new mayor can help them get a new stadium built in Oakland.

Wolff sounded open to staying in Oakland in an exclusive interview with KPIX 5’s Phil Matier.

“Every article I read says I can’t wait to move to San Jose, and that’s not true,” Wolff said.

This has been more or less a fait accompli for a while, but still it’s interesting to see Wolff openly talking up Oakland and talking down San Jose. Of course, this could also be mostly a ploy to prove to Oakland officials that he loves them more than the Raiders do, but still.

Parks built to replace those destroyed by Yankees are contaminated, need city cleanup

Remember those new Bronx parks that New York City paid a couple hundred million dollars to build to replace the ones that the Yankees had obliterated to make way for their new stadium six years earlier? Well, the good news is they’re open now, and full of kids. The bad news: They’re contaminated with leaking underground gas tanks.

Department of Parks and Recreation officials said there are no such dangers from the contaminated groundwater.

“It doesn’t sound good, but again, there’s no exposure to the public here,” said Liam Kavanagh, First Deputy Commissioner at the Parks Department…

CBS2 has learned the cleanup effort has been under way since 2009. CBS2 also uncovered the contracts between the city and the engineering firm doing the decontamination work, and found it has already cost taxpayers $410,000.

If the gas is just getting into the groundwater, then yeah, it’s probably not a threat to kids playing up on the surface. (Or no more threat than it is to all kids in the neighborhood, who live atop contaminated groundwater.) Still, it’s a reminder that Bronx kids used to play on ballfields that had always been ballfields, never gas stations — until this happened.

Marlins had a rain delay despite building domed stadium just to avoid rain delays

It’s not all making fun of the Chicago Cubs around here these days. Look, I can also make fun of the Miami Marlins for having a rain delay at a stadium with a retractable roof!

Since the Marlins have a domed stadium, their crew doesn’t have the proper tarps for a rain delay, because, you know, they would never have one with a roof, in theory. That’s how you get a bunch of confused, lost people in polos, doing whatever they can to try and keep the ground dry.

Marlins Park, let’s recall, is costing Miami taxpayers close to a billion dollars in part thanks to that pricey retractable roof, which the Marlins owners insisted on because they decided it rained too much during baseball season in Miami. So why didn’t they close the damn roof?

Not everybody can be the Cubs, but some teams sure are giving it the old college try.