It’s a rite of spring that Tampa Bay should preserve for future generations, and we’re not talking about spring break. It’s Opening Day. And in big-league markets around the country, including ours, that’s worth celebrating.
The Tampa Bay Rays open their season this afternoon against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field before a sellout crowd. There are names of new players to learn and new concessions to sample. On Opening Day there is renewed hope in every ballpark, even among fans of rebuilding teams like the Rays.
It’s been two decades since Tampa Bay’s team first took the field. That’s another reason to celebrate, even if the franchise is still young by most standards. There will be plenty of opportunities to look backward, to remember Carl Crawford and David Price and Evan Longoria, to recall the thrill of the 2008 World Series and yearn for another pennant race.
But the most important game for Tampa Bay this summer is off the field. The Rays have selected an Ybor City site as their best spot for a new stadium, and it could fill in a missing link from Ybor to the Channel District and a reimagined downtown Tampa. The nonprofit Tampa Bay Rays 2020 is recruiting members to lead their effort to build corporate and community support that is essential to the stadium effort, and there is no time to waste.
The Rays’ agreement with St. Petersburg to be able to look for stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties expires in less than a year. That leaves only months to build the support needed to keep the franchise and create at least the outlines of a financing plan for a stadium that could cost $800 million. No vibrant urban market wants to lose a Major League Baseball franchise.
Enjoy Opening Day. Cheer for the home team. But the Tampa Bay region has to keep its eye on the ball, and that means making real progress this summer toward making a new stadium a reality.