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Good baseball being wasted in Florida

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There have been a number of great storylines this season in Major League Baseball. None have been more surprising, though, than the play of the two teams located in the Sunshine State.

As I write this, the Tampa Bay Rays, the perennial doormats of the AL East since the team's inception in 1998, are tied for the best record in baseball at 32-21, while the Florida Marlins, who lost 91 games just a year ago, occupy the top spot in the NL East.

Sadly, though, if you live in the state of Florida, you might not be aware of these facts. Both teams continue to play before near-empty stadiums in their hometowns.

Tampa Bay packed in a whopping 10,927 fans on Wednesday after bringing in just 12,174 people on Memorial Day. With 17,938 fans per night, the Rays own the worst average attendance in the American League.

And if you think it is bad in St. Petersburg, take a look at what's going on nearly 300 miles south in Miami, where the Marlins have drawn a Major League-worst 421,089 fans.

I have never been to Tropicana Field, but the consensus is that it is a miserable place to watch a game. There is no atmosphere. Granted, the Rays' performance on the field over the years has probably contributed to that, but they have one of the most exciting young teams in the game to watch right now and there is still no life in that stadium.

Unlike other cities, you can't even blame ticket prices. Tampa Bay has the lowest prices in the league and was recently named the best place, price-wise and with regard to concessions and tickets, to attend a game in the league.

I guess Rays "fans" should get a break, since their team has been awful right from the start. But, this year there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and they are still packing them in at a Montreal Expos-Olympic Stadium pace.

Marlins ownership, meanwhile, has claimed that its fan base would rather watch the team on television than show up at the stadium and brave the elements. Real die-hards down there.

Honestly, would anyone even notice if the Marlins left for somewhere else in the middle of the night, the way the NFL's Baltimore Colts did in 1984? Couldn't they just move to Portland following a west-coast road swing, instead of returning to Miami?

It sickens me to watch these teams play and see all the empty seats. The Marlins bother me more, though, because this is a franchise with two World Series championships in their short history, not to mention the best young player in the game in Hanley Ramirez.

On the bright side, both teams are slated to get new ballparks in the coming years. The Rays recently laid out plans for a state-of-the-art stadium along the waterfront in St. Petersburg, while the Marlins are close to breaking ground on a park with a retractable roof at the Miami Orange Bowl site.

Hard to say how much impact those facilities will have, however. Bottom line is that fans just don't care about baseball in Florida. There is no reason to have two teams down there. Honestly, I would move both of them. Floridians have their spring training and they seem to enjoy that, but when it comes to regular season, day-to-day baseball, they could care less.

WHY EVEN BOTHER WITH ALL-STAR GAME VOTING?

At what point does Bud Selig do the inevitable and just make the All-Star Game the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees versus the rest of the league? I guess the Mid-Summer Classic wouldn't "count" then, would it?

The first round of AL balloting came back and, of course, seven of the nine starters were from the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

I have no idea how Ichiro Suzuki and Vladimir Guerrero made their way into the starting outfield. It must have been some mistake. I am sure Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu or J.D. Drew will find their way into the starting lineup at some point.

The NL seems to have gotten it right so far with a huge, glaring exception in the outfield named Ken Griffey Jr. I know it is a game for the fans, so they should be the ones to vote, but can it really be considered an All-Star Game if a guy hitting below .250 gets in?

The NFL realized this problem a few years ago and made the fan vote just one-third of the equation along with input from players and coaches.

MLB should look into implementing something similar.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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