ST. PETERSBURG — Acknowledging other major-league owners have serious doubts about the viability of the market, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Sunday that he remained committed and confident his team can be successful in the Tampa Bay area.
And Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said that is good enough for him — for now.
"I'm high man on the belief that baseball can succeed down here and prosper," Sternberg said before the opening game. "And I have been all along. I remain that. I think people believe it could but, unfortunately, the support has waned over the last five, six years. But I'm going to do everything I can, and Rob has a lot of faith in me and the office does, so they're willing to go along with me and give us every help that they can to make sure they see our vision here."
But other MLB owners, specifically those paying into the pool of revenue-sharing money the Rays get, are not necessarily on board.
"The first thing … I get told by the elders of the game and everybody in between, 'We knew it was never going to work in St. Petersburg. It's in the wrong location,' " Sternberg said. "And I say to them, 'Well, what do you think about Tampa or further north?' (And they say,) 'Quite frankly, I don't even think it will even work in the area.' "
Manfred, before his formal media session, acknowledged those concerns.
"There are doubters in baseball," he said. "Florida has been a challenge for us. But I think we have great management here, and I do believe if anybody can make it work here in Tampa (Bay), you guys have got the right guy."
Behind a microphone a few minutes later, Manfred reiterated his support for Sternberg's efforts to get a new stadium — and hinted that he, too, thinks a Tampa site might be better.
"The most important thing is Stu's palpable commitment to this market," Manfred said. "He is a respected owner in the game. I think people believe he is working very, very hard to make this club successful here in Tampa (Bay). And as long as he's committed, I think we — me and Major League Baseball — will remain committed to the market.
"I also think the market has great potential. Obviously Florida is a growing state. There is really great broadcast potential if you work through the existing agreements and get a new deal.
"And I remain hopeful that in Tampa Bay we will find a way to get a facility built that will improve the attendance for the club."
And though Manfred was too sharp to take sides of the bay when asked if Tampa is a better site, he kind of said it could be.
"I think the location of a stadium always can make a difference in terms of attendance," he said. "And I think the geography here would suggest it's possible to have a stadium that would be more centrally located for the overall Tampa Bay metropolitan area."
But St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who wants to keep the team in his town, also spoke with Manfred and said he came away encouraged.
"He had nothing but good things to say about the city and the region. He was very high on everything going on in our community," Kriseman said. "He didn't ask anything of me, it was more of what he could do to help us. His big concern was that people here have the wrong impression, that Major League Baseball is unhappy with the area, and he said that wasn't the case.
"I am feeling very favorable about baseball's future here. Not just from talking to the commissioner but from the things I'm hearing in the community."
Information from Times columnists Tom Jones and John Romano was used in this report.