Orlando Talking MLB: Could It Be The Tampa Bay Rays?

Jeff Leadbeater@reevesarmyocContributor IJanuary 24, 2010

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 12:  Carlos Pena  #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on in the game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on August 12, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  The Angels won 10-5.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

If one Orlando politician has his way, Carlos Peña may not have far to commute to work some time in the future.

According to a video report by local TV station WFTV, that politician, Armando Gutierrez, is trying to assemble investors to move a Major League Baseball team to Orlando .

Gutierrez has not named the investors yet, but has a meeting scheduled this week to finalize the details of their work. But he did say that the team would move into a privately-financed baseball stadium built at one of four possible sites: Disney, the Citrus Bowl area, the Airport area, or Orange County Convention Center.

Gutierrez also did not state a team. WFTV named the Milwaukee Brewers in their report, but whoever wrote the report's copy probably saw the stock baseball footage they used for the report, which largely featured the Brewers. For their part, the Brewers called the idea of moving from Milwaukee "ridiculous" .

Of course, that doesn't leave very many possibilities. There are only three teams that are in stadiums 20 or more years old that have not received, or are not scheduled to receive, new stadiums or major renovations to their current stadiums: the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays. And you can forget the Blue Jays, because they have shown no interest of leaving Rogers Centre.

Of these, the only feasible possibility is the Tampa Bay Rays.

Both the A's and Rays have seen difficulty getting new facilities. The Rays Ballpark idea was killed by a strong NIMBY push by bayfront condo owners in St. Petersburg who didn't want their view ruined. Cisco Field, Oakland's new ballpark idea, was killed a couple years ago by a lack of funding.

But there's no way the A's, or any other team, could come to Orlando with the Rays present in St. Petersburg. It's hard enough for the Nationals and the Orioles co-existing in Washington-Baltimore, which has more people in its urban conflagration than the I-4 Corridor.

The Rays, although improving considerably with their recent success, don't exactly have the strongest attendance figures right now. Planting another team in Orlando eliminates a major part of its market.

It also wouldn't help the Marlins much, either, who also draw upon Orlando for its fans, and will likely compete with the Rays for the Orlando market when they open their new ballpark in 2012.

If Gutierrez is serious about bringing an MLB team to Orlando, it has to be the Rays. It would, essentially, turn the tables on Tampa Bay as far as which area draws fans from the other. The big issue will be location.

The main thing that has hurt the Rays is their location in the Tampa Bay area. They are in St. Petersburg. Most of their fan base is across the bay in Tampa. It's a bare minimum 30-minute drive for most fans just to get to Tropicana Field.

Any team that comes to Orlando must be located in a prime spot. Disney and the Airport, while not prime as far as Orlando is concerned, are certainly better relatively than Tropicana Field. The Citrus Bowl is central, but not in the best neighborhood, and also lacks parking facilities without massive re-development.

The Convention Center, particularly on the side around Universal Boulevard, is perfect. Relatively central, plenty of open space for the building and for parking, and decent road facilities. Universal Boulevard, which is six lanes around the Convention Center, is virtually dead even when there are major conventions in town. The nearest expressway, the Beachline (SR 528), is being widened this decade.

Orlando has a ton of calendar space for a summer sport. The Orlando Magic and Titans seasons end as the MLB season begins, and the Predators average one game every other weekend during the summer.

A well-placed, inexpensive stadium can draw ample crowds from the Orlando market with the right location, continued team success and good marketing. It would also give the residents something to do during the summer while the tourists enjoy the attractions.

Plus, it will bring hundreds of construction jobs in the near term, and many service and management jobs in the long run. As long as no public funds are proposed, and Gutierrez has explicitly said he would not favor using public funds, placing an MLB team in Orlando is nothing but a win for Orlando.

If Armando Gutierrez succeeds at putting investors together, we may finally realize Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer's dream of an MLB franchise for Orlando. And the way the current MLB environment is looking, it may be the Orlando Rays we are cheering for.

Of course, we are a long way from this even being possible. For all we know, we may never hear about this idea again. But this should serve as a warning to the Tampa Bay area: Orlando wants a team, and the Rays are looking mighty good.