The newly-refurbished Charlotte County Stadium was the site of a very successful spring training for the baseball club last year and officials hope that the money secured from the sale of the naming rights to the stadium will pay for some much-needed upgrades to the facility.
"As this is Southwest Florida," said one Rays official, "we know that it's all about the show. We had to hit a home run with the customer amenities right out of the box to make this work. Maybe that whole 'if you build it, they will come' thing works on those corn-fed rubes in Iowa, but, here, it's more like 'if you build it outrageously swanky, they will come--maybe.' I mean, fans really love our Boardwalk, our Tiki Bar, our topless vendors. We wanted to give our fans a true laid-back Florida experience."
One thing the club would like is to upgrade the playing surface by replacing the all-dirt field with a more traditional grass outfield, at the very least. Mosaic Phosphate was considered a natural fit as a business partner for the stadium, as they are the state's largest producer of fertilizer. Next to Tallahassee.
It was also hoped that after the new sod, there would be enough money left over to buy the old Johnston place which is inconveniently located in short left-center field. While the Rays are accustomed to playing with quirky ground rules in their home dome of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, club officials are irate that during the 14 home games at the Charlotte County facility last March, 186 baseballs were lost to Old Man Johnston, who has steadfastly refused to return them.
The Rays and Charlotte County have announced that they are currently entertaining bids from several other entities for naming rights to the stadium. They include:
- the newly-formed Tea Party Political Party, who want to name it "Palin Park", but would require teams to field only players who can document that they are English-speaking, white Anglo-Saxon Americans.
- disgraced Ponzi schemers, Art Nadel and Neil Moody, who would name it "Scoop Stadium" after their now defunct sham investment firm, Scoop Management. They would also require that the games played there be broadcast on closed-circuit TV to all federal prisons.
- the Southwest Florida Association of Mortgage Appraisers, who want to re-name the facility "Drive-By Stadium" in recognition of how they conduct residential appraisals.
- the Miccosukee Indian tribe, who would call the stadium complex "The Lucky Lady" and install slot machines at all entrances and have twice-an-inning raffles. They would also prohibit any games involving the Cleveland Indians or the Atlanta Braves.
- the Charlotte County Board of Realtors, who wish to name the field "Buy Now Ballpark" and require everyone in attendance to fill out an information card, including their most recent credit score.
- the Southwest Florida Banking Federation, who would choose to christen the park, "Bailout Ballpark" and plan on removing all the existing seating and replace them with prohibitively-expensive luxury boxes to "discourage the riff-raff from coming."
- the Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government, who would simply close the stadium because "if Sarasota County isn't playing baseball, then neither is Charlotte County. We know we can sue them for something."
- and, finally, it has been learned that the Toyota Motor Company has recalled their bid. So has Honda.
Meanwhile, the City of North Port is anxiously awaiting spring training for the Rays to begin in late February, as they welcome fans driving through their community to attend the games.
The management of the Rays strongly suggest that out-of-towners do NOT call any local 911s for directions to the ball park. It is illegal. And Sarasota County 911 will send you to the wrong address, North Port's system "unfortunately, doesn't work that way" and Charlotte County 911 will refuse to give you an answer if it overlaps a shift change.