ST. PETERSBURG — The first question at Tuesday morning's press conference came from a woman draped in Rowdies green and gold. Would they keep the stadium a soccer field, Mary Karnstedt, 70, asked, a slight waiver in her voice, or would a pitcher's mound replace her beloved Rowdies?
She held a tissue close as she awaited the answer. The Rowdies aren't just an occasional hobby for Karnstedt. They're a family. She and her husband are season ticket holders. She remembers learning the Rowdies song — "they're a kick in the grass" — more than 40 years ago. She's crocheted scarves to award players when they score their first goal.
Edwards wore one during Monday's announcement. He wore another in New York City when pitching MLS to come to St. Petersburg.
So when the answer came quickly from Edwards — "The Rowdies will play at Al Lang" — the tears came quickly to Karnstedt.
"Oh, I am definitely so reassured," she told the Times. "The Rowdies are so family oriented. We all feel like we know them.
"We didn't want to lose Al Lang to a baseball team."
On the field
Rowdies players and coaches were also relieved after hearing the Rays would buy their club. The team is nearing the end of another long season and is fighting for a playoff spot. Head coach Neill Collins not only had to worry about the standings, but about the future of his club as well.
"You have to go into this with an open mind," Collins said. "Bill (Edwards) said it would be good for the club and you have to take him at his word. I think it's exciting times around here."
St. Petersburg is a soccer town?
The Rays said all kinds of nice things Tuesday about investing to make the soccer team more successful in downtown St. Petersburg while at the same time working to move the baseball team to Tampa because it can't make it there.
Team president Matt Silverman said it is not as contradictory and convoluted as it might seem.
"Each franchise needs to be able to stand on its own two feet,'' Silverman told the Times. "We believe that the Rowdies can excel at Al Lang in that venue with the number of games it plays and the cadence of its schedule.
"And we believe that the Rays have a great chance to thrive in Ybor City with the ballpark plan that we've presented there. The goal with Ybor has always been to put the Rays in the best chance to succeed and we're pursuing that plan, and it's full speed ahead on that as we work towards the year-end deadline.''
More events at Al Lang
Edwards will retain control of booking concerts at Al Lang which has been a relatively new and growing business, and Silverman said the Rays will seek to bring in other events, public, private, corporate. For example, he said there are requests they can't accommodate at the Trop that could work at Al Lang, such as corporate parties.
"Any opportunity we can get to bring people into downtown St. Pete, whether it's Tropicana Field or Al Lang Stadium is important to the city and it adds commerce and activity and vitality to the area,'' he said. "It's one of the great things that sports teams and venues can do for a city.''