Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tom Jones' Two Cents
  • Tom Jones' Two Cents
  • Sports analysis, perspective and more.

Happy opening day, Rays. Now about that stadium.

ST. PETERSBURG — A sold-out Tropicana Field, all spruced up with new turf, swanky concourses and bunting on the railings, hosted another baseball Opening Day on Thursday. And what an Opening Day it was as the local guy – Tampa's Denard Span – returned home and sparked a thrilling come-from-behind 6-4 victory against the Red Sox.

Hope you enjoyed it because there probably aren't many Opening Days left at the Trop.

"Four or five … at least," Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said.

Then where?

"Either here or somewhere in Tampa Bay,'' Sternberg said.

Hey, at least he didn't say Montreal or Nashville.

Sorry to interrupt this feel-good start to the 2018 season, but questions still remain about the long-term future of the Rays in Tampa Bay. They've needed a new stadium for about 20 years now. And while we'd like to think that all kinds of progress has been made, it still feels like we don't know a darn thing.

Like when a new stadium would open. Like who is going to pay for it. Heck, we're not even sure that the planned Ybor City site is the only option.

Until someone puts a shovel in the ground, why should we be sure of anything?

Before anyone starts digging, someone is going to have to pay for that shovel and a few other items that will cost close to a billion dollars. As of now, Sternberg estimates that a new stadium will cost around $800 million. But with each passing year, that number goes up along with the price of metal and steel.

Eventually, the Rays are going to pass the hat and ask for Tampa Bay to pay for most of the new digs. Last November, Sternberg told the Times that the Rays would be willing to chip in $150 million, but said again Thursday that the number was just an "estimation'' and a "signpost."

The guess is Tampa Bay has two other words for Sternberg's offer: "You're kidding."

For the next six or nine months, just like we have the past six or nine years, we can debate where the stadium should be. But it's hard to imagine Tampa Bay will swallow a bill for $650 million to keep a baseball team that has had, at best, a lukewarm reception in their 20 years.

Really, that's what this all comes down to. This is all anyone cares about. Who is paying for the darn thing?

"That's yet to be determined," Sternberg said. "A large part will be put on the business community. I put a number out there and it sort of shocked people. We could basically put anything we want out there. I try to be realistic and I try to tell everybody as I see it."

Using the New York Mets as an example, Sternberg did bring up one scenario in which the Rays might be willing to pay more. The Mets received $25 million a year from Citigroup for stadium naming rights.

"If somebody wants to walk in with $25 million in naming rights tomorrow, my number of $150 (million) goes up dramatically," Sternberg said. "So, yeah, I'll get you to $400 (million). You get me $25 million a year in stadium naming rights and get me to $400, I'll go halfsies."

Don't count on that happening here. It's one thing for the Mets to get that kind of dough to name a ballpark in New York City. If the Rays are going to build a new stadium in Tampa Bay, then Tampa Bay is going to have to pay for most of it.

Sternberg wouldn't go as far as to say he is "confident" we'll pay for his new stadium. He wouldn't say he was "certain."

"But I'm optimistic," Sternberg said.

As far as where, the Rays and Hillsborough County have agreed on Ybor City as a preferred site. But even that is not a done deal.

"We've got a lot of things lined up up to this point," Sternberg said. "And now it's up to us, it's up to the business community, it's up to the community leaders and the political people in Hillsborough to do what they think is appropriate to ensure baseball here for generations to come."

There's still a long, long ways to go in these stadium talks. Over the next year or two, there will be good times and bad. There will be sunny days when it looks like the Rays are staying and probably a few stormy nights when it looks like they're moving out of Tampa Bay.

"You want the trajectory to be upright, but there are going to be fits and stops along the way," Sternberg said. "As opposed to the Springsteen song, One Step Forward and Two Steps Back, it'll be Two Steps Forward and One Step Back."

Just as long as Sternberg doesn't start quoting Born To Run, there's still hope for baseball in Tampa Bay.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones

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