The Tampa Bay Rays played in front of their second home sellout crowd of the season on Saturday, but it didn't feel anything like home with the New York Yankees and especially Derek Jeter in town. The Yankees' captain, who has already announced his retirement effective at season's end, was cheered at every turn, including a standing ovation prior to his first plate appearance of the game, and extended chants in the ninth inning after he delivered the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning single.
The first at-bat ovation is something that has been occurring regularly during Jeter's farewell tour, regardless of which stadium he's playing in. However, the ninth-inning response on Saturday is a little different story, and a lot more awkward when it appears the home fans are rooting against the home team.
Not surprisingly, that didn't sit well with Rays manager Joe Maddon. What is surprising, however, is how strongly Maddon spoke out about the situation, and particularly against Rays fans.
"Yeah it's great," Maddon said. "It's great that it's sold out. And I understand that the people like Derek Jeter. But you've got to come out and root for the Rays, too, you understand. I mean, I totally understand what's going on. But I'm not going to sit here and defend all of that noise in the Yankees' favor in our ballpark. I'm not going to defend that. So we're going to come out and root for the Rays. We'd appreciate that."
Here's the problem: The Yankees have long been associated with and linked to the Tampa/St. Petersburg area because that's where they hold spring training, and they also have a minor league affiliate, the Class-A Tampa Yankees, who have played there since 1994.
Not to mention it's an area where many New Yorkers retire. Even Jeter owns a home on the waterfront.
It's basically another subdivision of Yankees country, which is understandably frustrating for the Rays, but it is what it is. Until the Rays establish a stronger fan base for themselves, this will continue to be an issue. And it should be noted that it's not just an issue when the Yankees visit; the Red Sox and other opponents have healthy followings in the area as well. It's just more prominent and prevalent when the Yankees stop by.
By the way, the Yankees will make one more stop in the middle of September, which will definitely be Jeter's final regular season series at Tropicana Field, and could be very interesting if both teams are clinging to playoff hopes. If Maddon thought it was noisy on Saturday, it's possible he hasn't heard anything yet.
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