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As chat with St. Petersburg mayor nears, Rays owner's ears are open

TAMPA — Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is eager to hear if St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has something new to say when they meet next week to discuss the stalled stadium situation.

"I'm going to talk to him, and if he's got something to chat about other than just the normal chatting, then that would be great," Sternberg said Saturday. "And if not, it would still be fine. It's always good to communicate."

Especially since Sternberg has been hearing a lot in recent months from Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig and other top officials about the likelihood of a resolution.

"We had to fight some things off," Sternberg said. "It was a lot to deal with, with Major League Baseball questioning how we're going about things here. Not so much running (the team), but just what the future holds. … They're wondering. How? What do we do?"

Sternberg said Saturday, as he has previously, that he's willing to be patient for now.

"I'm going to keep winning baseball games," he said.

But with stadium issues resolved in Miami and nearing a resolution in Oakland, baseball officials may not be as patient with the Tampa Bay situation. Historically, that has led to increased rhetoric from Major League Baseball officials, which could include threats to move or eliminate the franchise.

Foster said in April that the city was prepared for such "interference" from MLB, specifically the "Selig tricks."

Sternberg said his position on a potential new stadium has not changed. He wants permission to look at sites throughout the entire Tampa Bay area — including in Tampa, where he was Saturday to help the Rays build a playground at the Layla's House children's center. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn dropped by.

With the team signed to play at Tropicana Field through 2027, Foster won't allow discussions beyond the St. Petersburg limits or adjacent property.

"I'll look everywhere as long as I can look anywhere," Sternberg said. "That's still it. "

"And it's still coming off the ABC (coalition) report, and all that stuff. I don't sense anything has changed. I don't necessarily think the mayor's taking a hard-line approach. We're going to chat and see if something's moved at all."

Following up on a brief talk at the Rays' Oct. 3 playoff game, Foster contacted Sternberg in December to set a date for a meeting, and Jan. 17 worked for both.

"When somebody calls you for a meeting, they want to chat with you about something. … He called, so I'm glad to meet and looking forward to it," said Sternberg.

Foster, under pressure from City Council members to address the Rays issue, said last week they would "have a very candid and conversant and cordial meeting."

Sternberg said he was pleased at least that there has been an increase in the overall discussion about the team's stadium situation by all parties. And he is encouraged by a recent report from Scarborough Research that the Rays are the most popular of the area's three professional sports teams, and thanked the fans for their support.

"It heartens me to keep going forward and do everything I can to put the best organization together and the best product out on the field," he said. "And just have confidence and faith that we're just going to keep moving the ball forward."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Follow his coverage on Twitter @TBTimes_Rays.

As chat with St. Petersburg mayor nears, Rays owner's ears are open 01/07/12 [Last modified: Monday, January 9, 2012 10:06am]

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