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Inside Rays clubhouse, potential split home schedule between Tampa Bay and Montreal is surprising, but ‘so far ahead of us’

While players were surprised by Thursday’s news, they realize, “you never know what’s going to happen, until it’s guaranteed.”
MONICA HERNDON | Times Fans enter the stadium through the rotunda for the Tampa Bay Rays opening day at Tropicana Field on March 29, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Rays take on the Red Sox with first pitch at 4:05.
Published Jun. 21
Updated Jun. 21

OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Kiermaier has worn a Rays uniform long enough to be well-versed on the team’s uncertain long-term future in Tampa Bay, but he woke up to a text Thursday morning from vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom that left him in shock.

“Getting the text, I had to read it a couple of times,” Kiermaier said. “I am like, ‘What?’ It’s one of those things where it was kind of out of nowhere, honestly.”

Several veteran players were given advance knowledge of the news out of the owners’ meetings in New York, that the Rays had received clearance from Major League Baseball to explore the possibility of splitting the team’s home schedule between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Before opening a four-game series late Thursday against the Athletics, Rays manager Kevin Cash said the focus was on the field, especially given that playing games in Montreal wouldn’t start until 2023, at the earliest. And with the Rays experiencing a June swoon — just swept out of Yankee Stadium and losers of eight of 10 — Cash said he hasn’t thought much about something that far down the line.

“Look, the news that came out, I think the intention of it is ultimately to do the best that we can do to keep baseball in the bay area, in the Tampa Bay area,” he said. “And there’s a lot of smart people, a lot of better decision-makers than myself who probably have a lot more opinions and answers than that. But our goal right now is to win games.”

Cash said he understands the interest in Montreal.

“You hear the passion from the fans there, that when the Expos played there, you recognize that they’re in the mix now, there’s been a lot of talks. I think baseball wants to go where baseball’s wanted,” he said.

“Look, MLB, the Rays, they’re trying to grow the brand of baseball. I think we recognize that with what we’re doing, what they’re doing in London, what they’ve done in Mexico, all over the world. This is probably another avenue.”

While a potential split schedule wouldn’t necessarily affect current Rays, there are players who could still be under team control in 2023. Sixteen players on the current 25-man roster have less than two years of service time. Most players remain under team control for the first six years.

“It’s in the future, it’s so far ahead of us,” said infielder Brandon Lowe, who has less than a year of service time. “It’s going to be big news now, but to a lot of us, it happened, we saw it and that’s really all it is.”

Kiermaier said he saw St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s statement saying the Rays can’t explore playing games in Montreal or anywhere else before 2028 until reaching a formal memorandum with the city.

“You never know what’s going to happen until it’s guaranteed,” Kiermaier said. “There’s a lot of moving parts, and there are a lot of things that have to happen for this thing to come to fruition. … The news definitely surprised me, waking up to that text, and then I had a lot of buddies text me, and I’m like, ‘Look, you never know what’s going to happen in this game.’ ”

Catcher Mike Zunino said he received a text from general manager Erik Neander telling him of the news a few hours before it became public.

“I’m not sure how some of the logistics are going to work out from a player’s standpoint, but it’s hard to say anything,” Zunino said. “They’re trying to do what’s best for the club, and that’s important. As players, we just sort of have to hear it out.”

Zunino said the relocation — early plans would be for the Rays to play the first half of their schedule in Tampa Bay and the second half in Montreal — would have its challenges, especially for players with families.

“We’re so fortunate in Tampa,” Zunino said. “Maybe you move from Port Charlotte to St. Pete. Now you’re talking about possibly three times. I know there’s not much talk about coming back later in the season. So there’s finding another place, moving your family again, and it’s moving your family to another country for the time being.”

Pitcher Tyler Glasnow, one of the Rays’ player union representatives, said he hasn’t gathered formal team reaction on the potential split schedule, which would need union approval.

“I feel like it would be hard to organize that,” he said. “But I’m sure if they’ve talked to MLB about it and they’ve okayed it, it’s probably on paper. It’s not just in the air.

“I haven’t talked to anyone from the union on it, so I guess until there’s more information on it and there’s a schedule and more about how they’d do that, I can only comment on what I know.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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