MINNEAPOLIS — Is there now reason for hope in the Rays stadium saga?
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday reiterated the team's need for a new stadium but also expressed some faith in the Tampa Bay market, said he was willing to leave the matter in the hands of Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, and suggested there could be a breakthrough before he leaves office in January.
And Sternberg said recent conversations with new St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman have left him optimistic and hopeful of a long-term solution.
"It's obvious they need a new stadium," Selig said in his annual All-Star media session. "It's no secret. … All you have to do is look at the daily attendance figures, the attendance figure to date this year, and you can see what they need."
Despite those major-league-worst numbers — an average of 16,902 that is barely more than half the MLB average (30,028) — Selig said, "The demographics in the market are good, I have no question about that."
Asked later if that meant he felt that baseball can work in the market, he told the Tampa Bay Times, "I'm sure it can, but talk to Stu Sternberg."
Selig, 79, is set to retire, and the Rays' stadium issue appears to be one of the major issues that will go unresolved.
But not necessarily, the commissioner said, hinting there might be progress in the team's discussions with St. Petersburg officials to gain permission to explore sites in other parts of the Tampa Bay area.
"I have a lot of faith in Stu Sternberg," Selig said. "He's very smart, and he knows what he has to do there. He's talking to a lot of people, and he keeps me briefed on exactly what's going on. Look, there are some problems that take longer to solve than others. But I do have a lot of faith in him and that organization. Hopefully, before I leave office, there'll be a conversation on all of this."
Sternberg said there are reasons for hope.
"Bud is aware of my optimism, which has come out of the chats with Mayor Kriseman," Sternberg wrote in an email to the Times. "I continue to believe that the civic, business and political leaders in the city as well as the region will do their best to ensure that Rays baseball is here for generations to come."
Selig said he had an opinion on whether the team would be better off seeking a new stadium in Tampa but would not share it. "That's a local club's decision, (Sternberg) knows the market," Selig said in his meeting with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. "He's doing what he can."
In response to another question, Selig spoke highly of the Montreal market as an "excellent candidate" to get a team back after two spring exhibitions that drew around 95,000 fans.
Selig said MLB noticed.
"It did make a big impression," he said. "I was impressed. I've talked to a lot of people there. They have much work to do, but that was very, very impressive. No question in my mind. We certainly in my case have no hard or angry feelings toward Montreal at all. They tried to keep the team there; it's a long story. I think (the exhibitions were) marvelous. But they do have a lot of work to do. I wish them well. And I think they would be an excellent candidate in the future, no question about it."
Selig would not address questions about the potential of the Rays, or any other team, eventually seeking permission to relocate to Montreal. Selig instead said, again, that the stadium issue was being handled by Sternberg, who has said he plans to keep the team in Tampa Bay.
"Stu Sternberg is working hard on that, and that should be his problem," Selig said. "I'm here to help him, and he knows that. But it's a judgment call he has to make."