You have to give the Tampa Bay Rays credit for one thing. They came to the right place on Tuesday to promote their bizarre plan to play half of future seasons in Montreal starting in 2024.
The setting was the Salvador Dali museum on St. Petersburg’s lovely downtown waterfront. Dali, as we know, was one of the world’s foremost surrealists. But after hearing the pitch by Rays owner Stu Sternberg, I believe even Dali would have gone, “Whoa, dude. That’s too strange for even me. That’s crazy talk.”
It was sure was surreal, though. Even Sternberg acknowledged that.
He billed it as basically a last-ditch effort to keep Major League Baseball in the Tampa Bay area. So, let’s start there.
He is frustrated because talks about building a new stadium in the center of the Tampa Bay market (read: Hillsborough County) have gone nowhere. That’s a stadium for 81 home games a year. But if no one has yet solved the Rubik’s Cube of building a new ballpark to host entire seasons, why would there be any interest in building one for a team that would head North every season after three months?
And that doesn’t take into account what might happen in Montreal when Sternberg pitches the same idea in that fine city. What if city fathers there see the price tag for a half-season of baseball and answer c’est hors de question – loosely translated, out of the question?
If I were a leader in Montreal, I would want all or nothing.
Sternberg said a Tampa Bay stadium would be open-air, and therefore less expensive because it wouldn’t need a roof. Let’s explore that. The late lamented Ybor City stadium plan with a roof was going to cost about $900 million.
Even if the new stadium in the Bay area is half that cost, that’s still nearly a half-billion dollars. And St. Pete Mayor Rick Kreisman made his feelings clear. He also previously said that there will be no timeshare with Montreal. The Rays lease keeps them at the Trop until 2027.
“If Mr. Sternberg wishes to formally explore this concept with me and his desire to privately and fully fund a new stadium in the City of St. Petersburg, I am willing to listen,” he said.
“The City of St. Petersburg will not participate in the funding of a new stadium for a part-time team. We remain receptive to partnering with the Tampa Bay Rays to redevelop the Tropicana Field site and build a new stadium for a full-time team. … Finally, I believe progress moves at the speed of the trust. If Mr. Sternberg is serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office.”
Yet, Sternberg insisted, “This is not a staged exit.”
But he also said 81 home games are too many for this market. Well, history is on his side with that one. The Rays annually rank at or near the bottom of MLB in attendance and revenue.
He ruled out any plan where fans could keep the Rays for their own.
“All for their own is not going to be an option going forward,” said.
But what if a new full-time stadium plan comes together?
“I don’t see it happening in St. Petersburg, and I would be hard-pressed to see it happening in Tampa as well, based on what I know,” he said.
Way to rally support for a new plan!
I go back to my original question then: If you can’t get a new stadium to house the team for complete seasons, why would anyone believe there is an appetite for a half season?
Stu Sternberg is a smart man. He put together one of the most innovative franchises in baseball. But this whole half-in/half-out idea is nutty, pure and simple. As buzzkills go, this one ranks near the top.
Start with the premise that the Rays are here for eight more full seasons after this one. If it becomes clear there will be no new stadium here, the Trop will look more deserted than normal.
Sternberg insisted this wasn’t goodbye, but it sure sounded like that.
One thing covering baseball ownership issues for many years has taught me, though, is not to over-react. Bay area leaders should accept this news conference for the surreal show it was, and then get to work on trying to solve this issue.
Baseball is worth saving here, all 81 games for every season.
So, put the best regional plan together that can be done and force Sternberg to make a choice. If he says that’s not good enough then it’s on him. This will still be a fabulous area to live, work and play – with or without the Tampa Bay Rays.