The Rays sent shockwaves through Tampa Bay when it announced Thursday it received permission from Major Leauge Baseball to explore the possibility of splitting its home schedule between St. Petersburg and Montreal, perhaps as early as 2023. The idea must overcome a variety of hurdles to come to fruition. Still, amid a cauldron of anger and sorrow, there remains curiosity. Could it work? Why now? What’s the most intriguing aspect of the proposal? We convene a roundtable to get answers.
The clock went from ticking to ringing
Marc Topkin, Rays beat writer @TBTimes_Rays: The timing. Followed by the specificity. Last we’d heard the clock was ticking, the Rays would let St. Pete know during the summer if they were interested in a new stadium at the Trop site and within the next few years needed some clarity on where they’d be playing in 2028. Then, this. And during a promising season, putting the players in the middle of it and casting somewhat of a pall. Also, rather than the usual MLB tactic of saying they had permission to look around, that they had a specific, and somewhat challenge-laden, plan.
The Rays’ real motivation
John Romano, columnist, @romano_tbtimes: The Rays pulled the plug on the waterfront stadium proposal in St. Pete before it ever went to a voter referendum because then-Mayor Rick Baker wasn’t supporting the plan and they didn’t like the odds. They abruptly shot down the Ybor City proposal a month before the deadline because Hillsborough politicians seemed lukewarm and the Rays said the plan had no chance. And yet they’re suddenly going all-in on a plan dismissed by Mayor Rick Kriseman that seems like a 100-to-1 shot? It’s completely out of character, which makes you want to question the true purpose behind this proposal.
The road to relocation?
Eduardo A. Encina, pro sports enterprise reporter, @EddyintheYard: We know MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dreams of a global game. Major League Baseball’s best rivalry will go to London next week, and games have already been played in Mexico, Japan and Australia. But moving the Rays to Montreal for part of the season would create baseball’s first international team. We also know from the Expos’ two years of playing games in Puerto Rico that a home schedule that includes games elsewhere is a gateway to a team eventually having all of its games being played elsewhere. That said, it seems at first glance, something short of moving the moon would have to take place before Les Rays de Tampa Bay becomes reality.
What about the players?
Martin Fennelly, columnist @mjfennelly: Since I don’t think this Montreal timeshare is going to work anyway, it’s just the last stop on the Rays’ way out of town, there isn’t much intrigue. But if I had to make some up, it would be just how is this going to fly past the players union? Sure, live in two places, pull my kids out of school, why not? These guys doth protest when Manny Machado gets suspended, so what are they going to say about this? We haven’t even gotten to the fans. Say the Rays can’t break the Trop lease until 2027. You think local fans would crowd the ticket windows to see half a baseball season? I can see them boycotting this team. Then again, how would we be able to tell?
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Wait - Could this actually work?
Mike Sherman, deputy editor-sports, @mikesherman: We were all so sure, certain the Rays were tanking in the months before the 2018 season started when they got rid of the face of the franchise, their top two home-run hitters, their 2017 All-Star and a starting pitcher – without getting one full-time starter in return. We were positive their pitching staff would be wrecked, their bullpen burned, by the so-called opener strategy that looked more like desperation than inspiration when the Rays employed last May. One of these days we’re all going to be right and the Rays are going to be wrong. Thursday felt like that day, again, when MLB announced the Rays had its blessing to explore splitting home games between St. Petersburg (presumably?) and Montreal. So we’ve heard all the reasons why it won’t work, shouldn’t work. More intriguing me to me is this question: Are there ways this could work?
The audacity of ownership
Ernest Hooper, assistant sports editor @hoop4you: The Rays again displayed the audacity that led to all of their on-field innovations when they floated this proposal Thursday. They fly in the face of convention and dare us to object. They no doubt will offer a thoughtful litany of reasons why this off-the-wall idea can work. They can argue that retrofitting Al Lang Stadium for 30-40 games will be far cheaper than building a $900-million stadium. They can point to how a move to the waterfront would open up the Tropicana Field site for the right kind of development that will fill city coffers with new property tax streams for years to come. They can cite attendance figures and reason they’re easing the burden on fans and corporations. Yet the bold moves that worked on the field will find a far more difficult challenge working off the field. This region has an ego, and the Rays’ awkward roll out of this proposal just insulted it, again. Asking Tampa Bay to share a team sends a signal we’re not a major league town, and for the 31 years I’ve resided here, Tampa Bay’s mission has centered on becoming America’s Next Great City — not someone’s second choice. The one shortcoming of Stu Sternberg’s smart management of the club reveals itself again: he’s not in tune with the community.