By MARC TOPKIn | Times Staff Writer
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg is entering his eighth season running the Rays — yes, even he's amazed — and he still loves every minute. Sternberg allows his staff to run things, yet he gets involved in all aspects of the organization, from miniscule projects to major decisions.
He sat down during a recent spring training game with Times baseball writer Marc Topkin for his annual Q&A session and talked about everything from the job he'd most like to do (once) at the Trop, what type of gift-giver he is, his not-so-smart cellphone and his latest TV and Web favorites. He also talked about food — and, thus, Mallomars, plus his "dark days" with no Yodels — and music, which is to say Springsteen. Some excerpts:
Q: What job at the Trop would you absolutely love to do for one night? And what job would you hate to do for one night?
A: This sounds crazy, but I would love to clean the bathrooms for a night, because I take pride in having clean restrooms. And that's probably the one I'd hate to do as well.
Q: Best new music you've heard and downloaded?
A: The Felice Brothers.
Q: Latest must-see TV?
A: I'm actually watching Downton Abbey. Don't tell anyone.
Q: Favorite "bad" TV show?
A: I can't, I don't … Secrets of New York, it's on a local access station.
Q: Last movie you saw in a theater?
A: After Argo, it was Silver Linings Playbook.
Q: Last book you read?
A: Unknown Pleasures.
Q: Usually watch TV live or on DVR?
A: DVR, but sports, obviously, live. I can't watch it DVR'd. Even if I miss some of our game, I can't watch it DVR'd. It just feels different.
A: A picture of our front yard that (his wife) Lisa took with snow, a pretty scene.
A: It's a gong.
Q: Do you still have that Blackberry flip-fone?
A: It's a (model) 4.6, they're up to 10 right now. This might be the end of it. It could be an opening day thing. Matt (Silverman) and Andrew (Friedman) make fun of it, they say it's not my smart phone, it's my mildly stupid phone. (Friedman offers later: "It was very advanced — in like 1992.")
Q: Favorite web sites?
A: Thefancy.com (unusual gift items) and theverge.com (covering technology, science, art, and culture).
Q: Can you do the Harlem Shake?
A: I just found out what it is. It seems all the teams are catching on to this. I don't quite get it.
Q: Three people you'd like to see sing at the Trop this year?
A: Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Jim James.
Q: Modern Family still your favorite show?
A: The best: just call me Phil (Dunphy).
Q: So the Modern (Family) version of the age-old Ginger or Mary Ann (from Gilligan's Island) question: Claire or Gloria?
A: You're gonna get me in trouble if I have to answer that question. The only thing I will say is that over the summer I got a hug from Claire (Julie Bowen).
Q: You like finding lesser-known places to eat; have you found "a place" in St. Pete/Tampa?
A: Matt (Silverman) took me to a place I really liked in Gulfport, Pia's Trattoria.
Q: You've dabbled with chocolate-drizzled popcorn, dates, flax seeds, Greek yogurt, brussels sprouts. What's your latest "treat?"
A: With my yogurt I've been having wheat germ.
Q: Anything more fun?
A: I have a big problem: Drake's went out of business, so there's no more Yodels or Yankee Doodles or Ring Dings or Devil Dogs. There's been some dark days in my home.
Q: But they didn't make your all-time favorite Mallomars?
A: No, no, thank goodness. I have that in my cellphone — they're from a company in Canada and made by Nabisco.
Q: If they were in trouble, you'd probably have to buy the company?
A: If that ever happened, yeah.
Q: What would be your walk-up song if you were batting?
A: (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes. It's Elvis Costello.
Q: Any progress on opening a restaurant, as you mentioned here last year?
A: No, there's a physical location that I have in mind (in New York), and it's closed up. But the owners don't want to sell. I've had the location in my head the last 6-7 years and I finally approached them a few months ago but they don't want to sell.
Q: Any other ideas?
A: I have an ice cream parlor I'd like to open. Lisa keeps saying I should just do it in the Trop.
Q: And what would you call it?
A: Stu's. Go out on a limb there.
Q: If you decided to open a store, what would you sell?
A: I always had a concept for a food place, and I'd called it Burnt to (something). I would just have a bunch of things that were really well done, like French fries and onion rings, stuff that's just burnt that people like that gets real crispy. So that's my concept for a food store. Everybody always likes the stuff, the little burnt parts, like pork rinds, the ends of the pork, the ends of the meat, the little burnt sort of things. So I'd pick out like 8-10 items that were burnt.
Q: Investment advice in this seemingly changing economy?
A: Don't own any bonds longer than 1 year.
Q: You've had one of your partners (Randy Frankel) run up the stairs of the Empire State Building and another (Gary Goldring) compete in rowing and triathlon events. What kind of competition are we likely to see you in?
A: I can't imagine I do anything well enough to compete in, except eat Mallomars. That would be about it.
Q: What was your wedding gift for team president Matt Silverman and his new wife Andrea?
A: I'm a practical guy, so I got them a giant deluxe HEPA air cleaner.
Q: Oddest gift at your own wedding?
A: It was a long time ago; it'll be 25 wonderful years. If I thought of it I'd insult the person who gave it to me so I probably couldn't say.
Q: What was your and Lisa's wedding song?
A: Always — that I know clear. By Irving Berlin.
Q: For your four kids' birthdays, do you usually buy the gifts or does Lisa?
A: We tend to do it independently, and then combine. They get a flavor of who each one of us are.
Q: And what's your style?
A: My theme is generally odd, practical items.
Q: Last thing you bought online?
A: Another one of my wallets, which is my favorite new item, a Daycraft moneywrap. This is the greatest thing ever. (The money clip his sister gave him 13 years earlier was lost/stolen.)
Q: For what concert would you drop everything and go?
A: Leonard Cohen. No wait, Tom Waits (left). I'm actually going to see Leonard Cohen. I've been waiting 10 years to see him.
Q: Both Andrew Friedman and Matt Silverman have gone sky-diving. What's the most reckless or dangerous thing you've done?
A: Had four kids. They can talk to me when they have four kids.
Q: What's the longest you can go without checking your phone?
A: There will be a debate on this, but I can probably go about eight hours. I could, but I don't. Normally, every 20 minutes.
Q: Do you actually know your kids' cell phone numbers?
A: I do, but those are about the only numbers I know. Everything's been on autodial for so long. But I set it up so they're sort of in (numerical) order with mine.
Q: What do you think when you see yourself on TV?
A: I think I'm getting old looking. Or older looking. And I sound like I'm from Brooklyn (which, oddly enough, he is).
Q: When you have an appointment are you usually early, on time or late?
A: I try not to be early, whether it turns out I'm late or not …
Q: Last time you got mad and yelled at somebody?
A: Can't say. Not that I won't say. I genuinely don't remember. I don't raise my voice.
Q: When working on a project do you get it done early or wait until the deadline?
A: I procrastinate, then do it. I'll do work right off the bat, then it all sits 'til the very end.
Q: Favorite Joe Maddon hair color?
A: Ha! White is right for me. I didn't care for that other stuff he had going on. I will say this, for years here the organization has made fun and made light of the glasses I've worn. Joe is now wearing the same glasses. (Sort of. Both have tortoise shell frames, Sternberg's from Retro; Maddon from Kaenon.)
Q: How about a little word association: WBC?
A: Great internationally.
Q: Red Sox?
A: Arch enemies.
A: Horace Clarke (former Yankees player)/ Alty (childhood friend who is huge fan).
Q: Carl Crawford?
A: Great Ray, wish him well.
Q: St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster?
A: We're getting along.
Q: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn?
A: Getting along.
Q: Lightning owner Jeff Vinik?
A: Great guy.
Q: Tim Tebow?
A: Don't follow him.
Q: A bed tax?
A: Necessary evil.
Q: David Price?
A: Spectacular Ray, for a long time.
Q: Evan Longoria?
A: The face.
Q; Our annual wrap-up: The Springsteen song that best captures last season?
A: Held Up Without A Gun.
Q: And for this season?
A: Working On A Dream.