PORT CHARLOTTE — You have to give Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg some credit.
At a time when many teams aren't using any credit, or cash, and are cutting back or, at best, maintaining payroll, the Rays took another large step forward financially.
In two years they've gone from a $24 million opening day payroll to $43 million to what looks to be around $61 million, giving them the largest percentage increases in the game two straight years.
In a way, the bad economy worked to their advantage. With prices on players down and competition thinned, Sternberg and Co. saw the opportunity and took advantage. He'll take thank you's in the form of tickets purchased to see the team they've assembled.
"Clearly, we were able to do some things in the offseason that if it was a year ago or six months before, there was no possible way we'd see some of the players here that are here right now," he said during last week's camp visit.
"With Pat Burrell and augmenting the bullpen, we were able to do things that just weren't able to be done. As you know about me, I like to ying when other people are yanging a little bit. I think while it's going to be a difficult time throughout baseball and we have our challenges, I'm very excited in bringing a lot of value and having the fans realize that and support us."
And though he said they "can't really afford" what they have now and had lost the flexibility to make in-season additions, he left just enough wiggle room, too. He admitted they spent as much as they did because some of his "competitiveness" came out because he felt they "have a real opportunity to win."
If they're close come July, he'll probably get that feeling again.
MARQUEE ATTRACTION: Henry O!, a feature-length documentary that tells the always-amazing story of Enrique Oliu, the Rays' blind Spanish radio analyst, screened Saturday night as part of the Gasparilla Film Festival. For details on the film, visit hamzehmystiquefilms.com/henryo
RAYS RUMBLINGS: LHP J.P. Howell likes to keep things simple, so it was a bit of a challenge packing for the Team USA WBC trip that could last 3½ weeks and take him from Clearwater to Toronto to Miami to Los Angeles. "I'm going to be using the hotel laundry a lot." … Couldn't you feel the sincerity bleeding through in hearing that Curt Schilling would like to come back to help the Rays (or Lou Piniella's Cubs!) get over that last hurdle to a World Series title? … The Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff's office has sought public help in trying to locate Troy Percival's customized red 1956 Ford F-100 pickup, valued at $100,000, that was stolen last month; Percival figures it was sold for parts. … Red Sox manager Terry Francona on the Rays to the Boston Globe: "They're not old. They're not going to forget how to play. They certainly make our life more difficult in the American League East."