Sunday, January 21, 2018
Opinion

On Rays, it's spy vs. spy

Do we need to cue the James Bond theme for Foster, Bill Foster and Sternberg, Stu Sternberg, the Guys Who Came In From the Scold?

One can only imagine how this went down when the mayor and the Tampa Bay Rays owner met last week at a double super-secret location to glare at each other after exchanging the covert code.

Foster: "The rutabaga does the rhumba at midnight."

Sternberg: "But only when Joe Madden burps three times."

Two chaps who have a considerable difference of opinion on the future home of the Rays had to turn their rendezvous with peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jack into "Zero Dark Tropicana Field," waterboarding optional.

Really now, this wasn't like negotiating with the Taliban, or Nixon goes to China, or even Pope Benedict XVI pondering retirement. That sort of stuff that might require a modicum of For Your Eyes Only discretion.

Yet when you're Mayor George Smiley with a secret plan to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg that is so classified, so "If I told you, I'd have to kill you," perhaps you need to hold your clandestine chat with Sternberg at an undisclosed location.

This is not really a complicated issue demanding the Goldburgomaster Foster sit down with the Boys of Summer's answer to M at a bunker somewhere in St. Petersburg.

Frustrated the Rays are stuck playing in the major-league baseball equivalent of Alcatraz, Sternberg wants the city to let him look around for a stadium site in Pinellas County — and Hillsborough County, which the St. Petersburg mayor regards as the home office for SPECTRE.

The Tailor of Brouhaha has insisted the Rays honor their lease to play in Tropicana's field of steel beams until 2027.

And thus a cone of silence descended upon Foster and Sternberg, as the mayor held his breath and waxed about his super-duper Elysian Field Da Vinci Code, while the Rays owner had to feel as if he was talking to a brick wall, which in a way, he is.

It's possible the two men met at one of the city's most remote, desolate locations — the upper-deck seats at Tropicana Field. No one ever thinks to go there anyway.

What transpired between the mayor with a license to shrill and the Control of Tropicana Circus isn't known. But it is probably safe to assume backslapping did not occur, nor did Sternberg likely arrive with a Don Zimmer bobblehead peace offering.

Neither party would reveal much, except to say in a joint communique "the conversation was productive." That usually means everyone agreed to disagree.

Still, any opportunity to get Foster and Sternberg into the same room is itty-bitty progress, even if the two men stared at each other in silence. As a practical matter, what is there to talk about?

Sternberg: "Look, Mr. Mayor, I'm dying here. Attendance is dreadful. Even when we're winning, we draw fewer people than the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of starting Zimmer at shortstop. I need to look around, including Tampa. Whattya say?"

Foster (holding his ears): "I-Blah-Can't-Blah-Hear-Blah-You-Blah!!!!!!"

After the mystery "Three Days of the Cuckoo" moment between Mayor 000 and the Karla of Tropicana Drive, both sides pledged to meet again in the coming weeks, presumably at other dead drop sites such as the Pier, the shuttered downtown YMCA building, or underneath the Friendship Bridge.

But until Foster exhibits some flexibility to explore creative solutions to the Rays stadium woes, these sessions with Sternberg promise to be about as productive as the discourse between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The fog rolls in. Two men in trench coats meet under a streetlight.

Foster: "My baloney looks a little green."

Sternberg: "I couldn't agree more."

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