ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays’ proposal to split their home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal struck out in Pinellas County.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman didn’t mince words in rejecting the idea.
“Sharing this team with Montreal is not an option on the table,” he said at at Thursday afternoon news conference.
The mayor dismissed the proposal as another chess move in the negotiations with the city and Pinellas County to build a new ballpark — one paid for with taxpayer dollars.
“After 12 years of indecision (about the future of the team) ... I am tired of the games that are being played related to getting a new stadium built,” he said. “We all deserve better and should not take this too seriously. This is just the latest chapter in the book of negotiations.”
“I believe this is getting a bit silly.”
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The team is under contract to play its home games at Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. It isn’t even allowed to talk to other cities about the possibility of playing elsewhere before then. It could only talk about where it would play in 2028.
To even explore the idea of splitting time with Montreal before 2027, St. Petersburg City Council and Kriseman would have to come to a memorandum of understanding with the team.
Otherwise the Rays would be in breach of their lease.
“I have no intention of bringing this idea to our city council to consider,” the mayor said.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said he was so floored by the news that his initial reaction wasn’t fit for publication.
“It’s like your wife saying she’s going to spend half the year with her other family,” he said. “Wasn’t ready for that one.”
Welch said he can’t understand why, if this is part of a negotiation, the team would take such a tack. The county has already set aside money to help the team build a new stadium.
“We’re already all in,” said Welch, who has announced he’s running for St. Petersburg mayor in 2021. “So not sure what would be gained by that.”
He said it’s unclear what the Rays’ announcement means for financing a new stadium in St. Petersburg. He supports continuing to set aside county money to one day help build that stadium — but only if the team is a full-time resident:
“I’m trying to keep an open mind but I personally don’t have an appetite for allocating a substantial amount of bed tax for a part-time stadium.”
He also wondered if MLB is proposing such an idea for any other attendance-challenged teams. He noted that the Rays draw more fans than the Miami Marlins, and only slightly fewer than other teams. The Rays trail the Pittsburgh Pirates by fewer than 25,000 in total attendance this year, according to baseball-reference.com.
“I don’t know where MLB is going with this,” Welch said. “Are they going to split the Miami franchise with Montreal or another city?”
State Sen. Daryl Rouson, a Democrat who represents both downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa, said this is the beginning of the end for Rays in St. Pete.
"Or the middle of the end, depending on whether you thought the beginning was three years ago," he said. "I think the Rays need to commit one way or the other, and stop treating the city and its citizens as a part time lover."
He said it sends a poor message to the local community and chips away at any relationship or good will the team had built up with fans.
It felt sneaky, he said, that this came out as a big announcement, instead of a more public discussion.
"I just think this foretells of leaving," he said. "And they oughta be straight up about it."
The opposition wasn’t universal, however. St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes, who stood behind Kriseman as the mayor railed against the proposal, said it took him a little while to come around on the idea.
"My first reaction was, now I know how Evan Longoria felt when Joe Maddon told him ‘Hey, three to four batters a game you’re going to have to play on the right side of second base,’ " he said, referring to the former Rays third baseman shifting to the right side of the infield for certain lefty batters. “But as they explained it to me from a business model standpoint, I started to recognize there was some strong logic there.”
Gerdes, a die-hard Rays fan who threw out a first pitch at the Trop earlier this year, has been a big proponent of keeping the team in the Tampa Bay area, even if that means the franchise would have to leave St. Petersburg. It’s through that lens that he’s looking at the current proposal.
“If keeping them here for a long time means we may have to work out a sharing deal, I prefer we have them here for a long time half of the time instead of none of the time," he said.
But Gerdes said he could only support a deal that locked in the Rays here for the long haul.
"There has to be a commitment from the rays that this is absolutely not a transitional solution," he said. "This is not one foot out the door."
The other council members who could be reached all declined to comment. Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, however, couldn’t contain her surprise when a Tampa Bay Times reporter told her about the Rays’ idea.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.