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Buckhorn again raises eyebrows with talk about Tampa Bay Rays' future

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, left, talks with Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg at Tropicana Field on Monday.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, left, talks with Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg at Tropicana Field on Monday.

TAMPA — Seems like every week Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is thinking out loud about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays in ways that raise people's eyebrows.

Buckhorn said in a radio interview Tuesday that he believes the team will leave St. Petersburg.

"The Rays and the city of St. Petersburg are going to have to resolve their issues," Buckhorn told J.P. Peterson on WQYK-AM 1010. "There is a contract. And there are ways out of contracts. And there are prices to be paid for breaking contracts.

"But that's got to be between the city of St. Pete and the Rays," he added. "My personal opinion is that they will come. I think the Rays have made it clear that that is not a stadium they want to continue to play in."

If the Rays do leave St. Petersburg, Buckhorn said, and not for the first time, he thinks the best place for them to land would be downtown Tampa.

But asked whether he thinks the Rays will move to Tampa, Buckhorn said, "No. It's my belief that at some point the Rays will leave St. Petersburg … and I absolutely want to be ready when that happens."

On Wednesday, Buckhorn said it's clear that playing at Tropicana Field doesn't work for the team.

What about St. Petersburg itself?

"There may be other locations in Pinellas that work for them," Buckhorn said. "I don't know."

He said he bases his comments on what he has read in the paper and the numbers, not anything from the Rays

To the contrary, Buckhorn said he only met Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg for the first time before throwing out the first pitch at the Rays game Monday night.

"We had a great chat, but it was nothing specific," he said on the radio.

Earlier this week, Buckhorn told the Times he is not talking about the team's future with the Rays, nor with anyone in either the Tampa or St. Petersburg chambers of commerce, nor with any third parties.

"I'm not getting involved," he said.

But he is talking.

This spring, he told St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, "I'm not going to be the boyfriend in your divorce."

Then last week, he noted that the Rays were sponsoring a big business lunch in downtown Tampa. He told a crowd of 500, "I see the Tampa Bay Rays. Welcome to, uh," then in a whisper, "downtown Tampa."

Now there's this stuff on the radio.

Asked whether making flirty comments doesn't complicate things, Buckhorn said, it shouldn't.

"If you can't have fun with some of these arguably serious situations, you would melt," he said. "Humor is a great way to break the ice and hopefully move the discussion along."

Foster doesn't see it that way.

"Do I think he's helping?" Foster said. "No, I don't, but I understand his role as the mayor of Tampa. And I would appreciate people respecting my role as the mayor of the city of St. Petersburg."

Foster said he believes the economy plays more of a role in determining fan support for the Rays than the Trop or its location. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't blame the city, the stadium, the fans or the bridges when they didn't sell out games last season, he noted.

If anything, Tampa leaders should bring fans over to home games by the busload to demonstrate that the Howard Frankland and Gandy bridges are no big deal, he said.

"That's how we save the team for the region," Foster said.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Buckhorn again raises eyebrows with talk about Tampa Bay Rays' future 06/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 11:19am]

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