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  1. Rays

Jones: Stop talking and start building a new Rays stadium

Commissioner Rob Manfred is popular with the media on a visit to Tropicana Field.
Published Aug. 24, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — It was good to see Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, talking Rays baseball and the hope for a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay.

Know what would have been an even better sight?

A shovel. A bulldozer. A bag of concrete. Some guys in hard hats.

Just spitballing, but here's a thought: How about we stop talking about a new stadium and start building one.

Until then, the future of baseball in Tampa Bay feels as dicey as it ever has. Put it this way: How do you say "hitless through six innings" in French?

Manfred said the same thing Wednesday that he has said before. It's the same thing that his predecessor Bud Selig said before that. It's the same thing Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has been saying pretty much since he bought the team more than a decade ago.

"I've been pretty clear that they need a new facility here, a major-league-quality facility in an A-plus location," Manfred said.

RELATED: Commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium.

In other news, water is wet.

You don't need a law degree to know the Rays need a new stadium in a new location. We all know that. We've all known that pretty much since the Trop opened for business in the 1990s.

What we don't know is where it should be and who's going to pay for it. Meantime, as we talk and argue and worry and plan, we keep flipping over pages in the calendar. One month becomes the next. One year bleeds into another. And here we are, still talking, and it feels as if we are nowhere closer to digging in the dirt.

"It is time to move that discussion to the front burner here in Tampa," Manfred said.

Wait, it hasn't already been on the front burner?

Manfred said a new stadium needs government support, which sounds an awful lot like, "Hey, don't expect my buddy Stu to pay for this thing." Manfred also said he has no preference where the stadium is built.

Most baseball fans in Tampa Bay don't really care where a new stadium ends up, just as long as it's not Montreal, Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere outside the 727 or 813 area codes.

But most of all, don't you just want this thing to be over already? Don't you just want someone, anyone, to pick a spot and start building? And let's face reality, we can all shake our heads and complain and tell Sternberg that if he wants a new stadium, he can pull out his wallet and pay for it, but that's not how this kind of thing works.

RAYS FALL TO BLUE JAYS: Six home runs doom the Rays.

At some point, someone's tax money is going to be used to help build it, whether it's ours or our visitors'.

In the end, we are going to have to decide what we want to be known as: a community that stepped up to help build a stadium to keep baseball here or a community that refused to chip in and became the first American city to lose a baseball team since 1971.

Don't think that can't happen. Don't think the Rays can't move.

Just think about what Manfred witnessed firsthand Wednesday night when the Rays played the Blue Jays: an embarrassingly empty stadium that hosts a team that is still in a playoff race. With a bunch of blue seats, the lowest attendance in the majors (again) and no firm plans for a new stadium, shouldn't Manfred wonder if baseball can work here regardless of where a stadium is located and how swanky it is.

Shouldn't he be discouraged about Tampa Bay as a baseball market?

TOPKIN'S TAKEAWAYS: Beat write Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Blue Jays game.

"Discourage is such a negative word," Manfred said. "I would say this: I think the Rays have done a phenomenal job putting a competitive product on the field. And given what an outstanding job they've done with their club, you would hope they would be closer to the average (attendance) in major-league baseball, which is around 30,000 fans. It is a little disappointing, and I hope it improves."

Finally, Manfred said he wants the pace of stadium talks to pick up.

To which I say: Amen.

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