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Tampa Bay Rays look to Pasco County for new spring home

If the Major League team settles in Ybor City, it is considering Pasco County for a training complex
The Tampa Bay Rays could be looking to move their spring training/player development complex to Pasco County. Here, the Rays are shown at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte  before a Feb. 28 spring training game. Under the team's sister city concept, spring training games would be played at a potential new stadium in Ybor City.
The Tampa Bay Rays could be looking to move their spring training/player development complex to Pasco County. Here, the Rays are shown at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte before a Feb. 28 spring training game. Under the team's sister city concept, spring training games would be played at a potential new stadium in Ybor City. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 9, 2021|Updated Dec. 9, 2021

A potential Tampa Bay Rays move to an Ybor City stadium could be accompanied by a relocation of the team’s spring training and player development complex to Pasco County.

In separate interviews, state Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the team is interested in Pasco as a location for its training site.

Team officials have said the Rays plan to play spring training games in the Ybor City stadium under their sister city concept of splitting the season with Montreal. The Rays, however, would still require a multi-field training complex near Ybor City and Simpson said the team is considering possible Pasco County sites.

The team would likely explore locations within a short bus ride between a training site and the Ybor ballpark, which isn’t a big enough property to accommodate training facilities.

Another benefit of Pasco County is the availability of less-expensive land. It also would allow players to find housing in the vicinity of both a training complex and the Major League ballpark to avoid the need to find temporary housing for spring training.

“I do believe they have a lot of interest in it,” Simpson said Thursday.

Whether the complex would include a minor league stadium is not known, he said.

Castor likened it to the New York Yankees player development site on Himes Avenue in Tampa, There, across Dale Mabry Highway from nearby George M. Steinbrenner Field, the team has four baseball diamonds, an observation tower and fitness center on 14 acres leased from the Hillsborough Aviation Authority.

The Rays have held spring training since 2009 in Port Charlotte, where they have a lease that runs through spring 2028. The former minor-league team relocated to Charleston. S.C.

Related: Rays owner, Tampa mayor talk Ybor ballpark

A team official did not return a voicemail and text message from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment.

Simpson said he and other Pasco-based state legislators would be open to seeking state financial aid for the training site “depending on the details.”

“If it does come to fruition the Pasco County (legislative) delegation would be very supportive. Infrastructure and facilities is something that would sit very well with Pasco County – something that we would certainly be interested in helping them get behind,” Simpson said.

This isn’t Pasco County’s first flirtation with a Major League baseball team. Land adjacent to Interstate 75 and State Road 54 was targeted for a Yankees spring home in the mid-1990s before the team settled on what is now Steinbrenner Field.

Simpson, chairman of Pasco’s Economic Development Council in the mid-2000s, said the business community talked of luring spring training to Pasco 15 years ago.

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And the Rays aren’t strangers to Pasco, either. J.D. Porter, whose family is developing the 5,000-acre Wiregrass Ranch, said the Rays talked to the Porters about a possible spring training site there several years ago. “But nothing recently,” he said.

Pasco Commission Chairperson Kathryn Starkey and Commissioner Mike Moore, chairman of the Pasco Tourist Development Council, declined comment on potential locations for a Rays training complex, but both welcomed a chance to be affiliated with the team.

“We stand by to help keep Tampa Bay a baseball community. So, whatever we can do to help, we’re ready,” said Starkey.

Site selection rests with the team, said Simpson.

“They would do the assessment and homework to see where the best location in Pasco is,” he said. “That would be up to the Rays to decide what the best opportunity is.”

Related: Rays ballpark plans focus on former Kforce site in Ybor City

A spring training decision would be subordinate to the Rays other tasks of finalizing plans for a $700 million stadium at the former Kforce site near the intersection of E Palm Avenue and Nuccio Parkway in Tampa. The Rays have said they expect to pay for half the costs of the stadium.

Major League owners also have yet to consider the split season plan in which the Rays would play spring training and early season games in Tampa before relocating to Montreal each summer for the remainder of the regular season games.

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