1. Business

Romano: Rays? Rowdies? Let the conspiracy theories begin!

It's beeen a long time since Al Lang Stadium was filled with fans for a spring training baseball game, such as this one between Boston and Tampa Bay in 1998. And just because the Rays have purchased the Tampa Bay Rowdies doesn't mean baseball is returning to the St. Petersburg waterfront anytime soon. [FRED FOX]
It's beeen a long time since Al Lang Stadium was filled with fans for a spring training baseball game, such as this one between Boston and Tampa Bay in 1998. And just because the Rays have purchased the Tampa Bay Rowdies doesn't mean baseball is returning to the St. Petersburg waterfront anytime soon. [FRED FOX]
Published Oct. 2, 2018

Is this what a midlife crisis looks like for a baseball owner?

Instead of an expensive sports car or a hip new tattoo, you buy the keys to the waterfront stadium that was once the ballpark of your dreams?

Because this purchase of the Tampa Bay Rowdies by the Tampa Bay Rays ownership seems, if you'll pardon the phrase, straight out of leftfield.

You've been trying to move your baseball team out of downtown St. Petersburg, and now you've bought a soccer team a few blocks away? You're negotiating with Hillsborough County about the amount of money you can afford to put into a baseball stadium, and now you're investing in a soccer team?

It's almost as if they're buying conspiracy theories in bulk now.

"This was so unexpected, I'm sure those thoughts are going to cross a lot of people's minds,'' said St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice. "I'm still putting the puzzle together myself.''

So let's take some of the theories one at a time:

Theory: This is an enticement to get the baseball stadium built in Ybor City. Reality: Probably not.

It's true the Rowdies' lease at Al Lang Stadium is up in 2020, and so the soccer team would be free to move to Tampa if the Ybor stadium opens as scheduled in 2023. But there would likely be logistical problems with the artificial turf, not to mention scheduling problems for sports that overlap.

RELATED: The Rays are buying the Rowdies. What does it mean for Tampa Bay?

Theory: Once the Rays leave for Ybor, they will bring spring training back to St. Pete at Al Lang. Reality: Farfetched.

Most everyone agrees Port Charlotte has not been a perfect spring training site, but Al Lang would require extensive renovation, and it does not fit the modern model of having an entire complex with multiple practice fields. Plus, the Port Charlotte lease still has close to a decade remaining.

Theory: The Ybor plan is going poorly, and the Rays are going to take another shot at building on the Al Lang site. Reality: Dream on.

The Ybor stadium still has massive financial hurdles that must be navigated, but that does not change the dynamics that killed the St. Pete waterfront plan proposed by the Rays in 2008. It would take a referendum to allow new construction on the Al Lang site, the stadium would have to be crammed in a small area, and there's still the question of whether St. Pete can support Major League Baseball.

So where does that leave us?

With a much more boring explanation.

It's possible this was a deal the Rays simply could not pass up. No one is talking publicly about the purchase price, but there are whispers the Rowdies were sold dirt cheap.

If that's the case, the purchase makes more sense. The Rays have experience running a sports franchise, and already have infrastructure in place for marketing, ticketing, training staff and other departments. That would seemingly give them a better shot at turning a profit than Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.

Could it be that simple?

The story line isn't as sexy, but yeah.

We are a little more than a month away from the 10th anniversary of what should have been a November referendum on a waterfront stadium at the Al Lang site. That idea crashed and burned so spectacularly that the Rays pulled the referendum months before the election.

They still don't have their new baseball stadium, but they finally got a waterfront view.


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