Rays Tales: O Canada, the Rays’ next part-time home or native land?

Stuart Sternberg says without a new stadium planned, speculation like the Rays splitting time between St. Pete and Montreal will continue.
Fans walk into Tropicana Field for Fan Fest on Feb. 9. With a new stadium in Tampa Bay seemingly not on the horizon, speculation persists that the team may play games outside of Florida. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)
Fans walk into Tropicana Field for Fan Fest on Feb. 9. With a new stadium in Tampa Bay seemingly not on the horizon, speculation persists that the team may play games outside of Florida. (TAILYR IRVINE | Times)
Published Feb. 23, 2019|Updated Feb. 23, 2019

PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays are headed across the bay to Ybor. Or they’re staying in St. Petersburg. Or they’re eventually moving to Portland, Vegas or Nashville. Then there’s the latest rumeur chaude that they’re going to split home games between the Trop and Montreal.

That’s life with low attendance, a lack of sponsors and no firm plan for a new stadium to replace Tropicana Field, which, going by its 1990 opening date (as opposed to the 1998 start of Rays play), is eighth oldest in the majors.

In addressing questions about the latest time-share silliness out of Montreal, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Friday that the speculation “unfortunately” comes with territory, that if they had a new stadium in the works “this stuff wouldn’t be happening.”

While reiterating his focus is getting a new stadium built to keep the team in the Tampa Bay area (and that he has “no intention” of selling all or part of it), Sternberg pointed out it’s positive for the game that other cities want a team.

And, certainly, it’s not the worst thing for his cause that the Rays are the ones most speculated on relocating if it can create any urgency or action among Tampa Bay folks.

RELATED: Stuart Sternberg: I should have been more aggressive in Rays stadium talks with Tampa

Though the Rays are locked in to play all home games at the Trop through 2027, Sternberg has been saying more frequently of late that given logistics and construction timetables, they will soon have to start considering options for 2028, which will only fuel more relocation speculation in numerous places.

The Montreal sharing plan would face myriad issues, topped by St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman making it basically moot, saying he wouldn’t even consider it.

Asked if he had talked to the group trying to bring baseball back to Montreal, Sternberg said, “I talk to people all the time. I’m not going to deny not speaking to them, speaking to them, other cities. People are always looking to talk to us. I don’t go seek anybody out. … I can’t tell you how many times I get emails from people, ‘I was in the game, would you meet with me…” I try to generally avoid that stuff, and I do.”

Sternberg will listen, but reiterated he wants to keep the team “for generations to come” in the Tampa Bay area, and “I don’t want to move.” But until they have a plan to stay, it’s going to be an increasingly popular topic of conversation.

Players, knowing their shelf life with the team, say the uncertainly is not an issue or distraction. “We don’t really concern ourselves with that,” Matt Duffy said.

For now, anyway.

New voice in town

The hiring of Fox Sports’ Kevin Burkhardt to call 20 road games on TV when Dewayne Staats is off was something of a surprise given how Fox Sports Sun covered the last two years with Rich Hollenberg and the radio crew.

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But executive producer Brett Opdyke said they had their reasons: “Our productions are at their best when we have as much continuity as possible in each role, from our announce team to our production crew through our studio staff. We want that season-long stability.”

He said they sought out Burkhardt, who primarily calls NFL games and hosts the national MLB studio show but also has some baseball play-by-play experience, seeing him as “a great fit.” Also, someone who “is dialed in to the entire league and will bring that perspective to our productions.”

Opdyke declined comment when asked if this was just a one-year arrangement.

Rays rumblings

There apparently was good reason the Rays took over exhibition game operations from the Stone Crabs staff. “We had issues,” team president Matt Silverman said, “so we are running operations to ensure a great experience this spring.” … Blake Snell was 47th, Tommy Pham 59th and Charlie Morton 98th on Sports Illustrated’s top 100 players list. … Always creative thinking and open minded, the Rays are hiring writer Jeff Sullivan as a baseball development analyst. … Installation of the third new Shaw Sports turf at the Trop starts this week. … All nine Rays prospects in Baseball America’s top 100 were drafted or originally signed. … Experimenting continues with Trop’s new LED lights, capable of flashing after big moments and projecting multiple colors on the roof. ... Among the usual assortment of interesting takes in the Baseball Prospectus annual book is that Yandy Diaz “is a useful role player” who is more like a “beefed up” version of former Mets utility player Eric Campbell than a star like the Indians’ Jose Ramirez. ... Friday’s Rays-Phillies game was the first big-league game in history with a pitch-clock, but it was nearly over by the time MLB sent out a media release announcing implementation and explaining the details. ... Rays non-roster invitee Ryan Merritt in 2016 with the Indians was the second pitcher in history to make his second big-league start in the playoffs. The first? Matt Moore for the Rays in 2011.

Read more:

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Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.