Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

The question behind the Rays stadium plans unveiling

TAMPA — Tuesday was a tale of two franchises

In Clearwater, Lightning star winger Nikita Kucherov talked about his new deal with the Lightning, the richest contract in team history. The Lightning pursuit of the Stanley Cup continues. At least Kucherov didn't announce plans to build a new arena.

Meanwhile, in Ybor City, dogs and ponies gathered as the Rays unveiled plans for a new 30,000-seat baseball stadium, complete with a fixed, translucent roof. Project cost: $892 million. No one knows who will pay for this, least of all the people who should pay for most of it, beginning with Rays owner Stu Sternberg.

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It's fantasy baseball time.

It's the difference between belief and hope.

The Lightning believe in Kucherov.

The Rays hope for a ballpark.

Look, I'd still take either of these teams over the Jameis Winston jersey concession at Bucs training camp.

But it's clearly two different worlds. The Lightning, with owner Jeff Vinik, arena in hand, a proven track record. The spunky Rays, ever young, surprisingly entertaining, but ready to deal, maybe even leave.

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I believe in the Lightning's path, one that includes Kucherov, maybe not even at the expense of landing Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson. Well …

And I hope the Rays get their ballpark. I'm skeptical, but not cynical. Hey, I brought a shovel to Tuesday's stadium unveiling. I left it in my car trunk, but I was ready to start right then. The Rays hope to open the 2023 season in their new digs.

"Today is asking fans 'Do you want this?'" Rays president Matt Silverman said.

Well, do you?

The proposed stadium is the future dropped down amid the red brick of Ybor.

Ye Olde Spaceship.

And there is this:

"Our goal is to use as little tax money as possible," Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "We're going have to find other ways."

This will be a profound struggle. Rays owner Stu Sternberg and the power elite of Tampa Bay are going to have to cobble together $800 million. That's a lot of cobbling. Works out to be about 100 years of Kucherov contracts.

We have no idea how much Sternberg will kick in. And forget putting it to a vote of taxpayers. The Bucs stadium referendum barely passed 20 years ago. A Rays stadium referendum would go down in flames.

The Lightning are trying to close a deal and win a championship. The Rays have proposed stadiums, not to be confused with proposed trades. It's where they are. Everyone is expendable.

Is this stadium?

I want baseball here. I haven't forgotten what it was like before baseball was here. That's not to say our area would become a network of caves without three professional sports teams, but a baseball park would be a sight to see. It might fill its seats.

You know, at least for a season or two.

I'm a skeptic, not a cynic.

I have no idea if we're a baseball town. Rays playoff runs didn't do the trick. I don't know why a translucent roof would do it, either. Is all this for real? Is this another red herring, like the proposed sailboat stadium in downtown St. Petersburg? Would Nikita Kucherov be interested in renting a suite?

It was just another day in Tampa Bay sports.

That roof is something, though.

Do you want this?

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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