PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg reiterated his faith in the Tampa Bay market during a visit to spring training Tuesday, saying he was "pretty certain" it can be a viable home long-term.
"I'm optimistic," he said, "and my belief since day one is that it can and it will work in this market."
After a January meeting with Sternberg, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he felt the Rays "have a question about the ability of the region to support baseball." Tuesday, Sternberg made it clear the Rays could stay here long-term, and said: "I read some things that characterized that I might not believe that to be the case, and there's nothing further from the truth."
Sternberg said he was pleased with the increased level of discussion around the area about the team's future, led by the Tampa Bay Partnership. And he indicated that while Major League Baseball officials are impatient with the stadium impasse, there would not necessarily be threats and ultimatums forthcoming.
"I'm a conciliatory kind of guy, and we just want to keep getting the message out," Sternberg said. "And I believe brighter, more sensible minds will prevail."
Sternberg said he was "encouraged" by recent talks between Foster, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and business leaders, "but I also think it's going slower than it can be."
Sternberg specifically praised the efforts of the Tampa Bay Partnership led by Chuck Sykes, to focus on the team as a regional asset.
"It's incredible, the work they're doing and the time they're taking and the energy they're putting in, and most importantly, the regionalization of the team, which I've been a proponent of since '06, since it was clear to me upon coming in here, is what's really going to make this thing really hum over time," he said.
"I can't underestimate the great job Chuck and the people he's working with — and the willingness to do that job — have done."
Rays officials are hoping for an increase in attendance based on a slight increase in season ticket sales and what they perceived to be an overall increased level of interest in the team and improvement in the economy.
A key, he said, will be support from the business community. "I ask the businesses just if they're thinking about it, get off the fence and buy a plan or season tickets," he said.