FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Will baseball ever be able to make a go of it in Tampa-St. Pete, where despite a highly entertaining and competitive team, attendance has lagged dramatically?
I put the question to Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, who was drafted by the Rays in 2001 and played six seasons in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, going to the World Series with the Rays in 2008.
“No,’’ he said.
“Let it be known, everyone was watching,’’ he said. “You go to any restaurant, you go to any bar, you go anywhere, everyone knows everything (about the Rays). But they’re not going to the stadium.’’
“This is St. Pete, Florida,’’ said Gomes, who lived there when he played, just four miles from the park in Madeira Beach. “This isn’t Miami, where you go to the big buildings. You go to a beach bar, you’re in board shorts, no shirt, you’ve got a mai tai. You go to Bonefish (a local restaurant), it’s on every freakin’ TV and the waiters are going like this (craning his neck). You eat a shrimp cocktail.
“This is like, retired, kicked-back, watch-the-game in your front yard with a TV,’’ he said. “This isn’t, go inside. This is an outside joint.’’
But, of course, you have to have a roofed stadium in the area, because of the weather. “You get soaked just walking to the yard (from the parking lot),’’ he said. “I remember talking to people. People watched. But they don’t go. They’ve had a few opportunities to save themselves. But it ain’t gonna work.’’
Gomes has remained close with some of his former teammates. He made an appearance in Los Angeles with Rays lefty David Price at a Cartoon Network function.
Does Price know that Gomes intends to take him deep?
“He knows,’’ Gomes said. “He knows it will be on my mind.’’
For the record, Gomes has had nine plate appearances against Price and is 3 for 9 with a double. Price has struck him out three times.