ST. PETERSBURG — A key to success for Blake Snell is to keep things simple, on the field and off.
So while he’s gotten little official information about the Rays’ radical plan to split home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal starting in 2024, the Cy Young award-winning pitcher has heard, read and picked up on enough to have some significant concerns about the impact.
“This is some stressful stuff that Blake doesn’t like thinking about,’’ he said. “Blake just wants to throw the baseball.’’
The Rays have a long list of people they have to sell on the plan, starting with St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Because of the team’s use agreement with the city to play all home games at Tropicana Field through 2027, Kriseman has to give permission to the Rays for them to even start working on details, which include building two new open-air stadiums.
They also need a stamp of approval from Montreal investors, government, business and political leaders in both markets and the players union and MLB owners.
Of course, at some point, they’ll need to get their players to buy in, even if many they have now won’t still be around when they become professional snowbirds. (Or, for branding sake, SnowBirds?) Getting Wander Franco on board may be more important than Willy Adames. But if the Rays get the requisite permissions to proceed with exploring the plan, and it inches (centimeters?) closer to reality for 2024, the level of conversation, and consternation, in the clubhouse will quickly increase.
“To have two different homes is kind of a lot of stress on the player,’’ said Snell, who this spring signed a five-year deal through 2023. “Playing half in St. Pete and half in Montreal, would just feel like a whole season of road games? What if I have my dog in St. Pete? What about people with wives and kids?
“It just seems like a lot of work. And just way more work for the player than anything. I just don’t know. Honestly, it seems like a lot.’’
The initial framework of the plan is for the Rays to move spring training back to the Tampa Bay area and play the first 35 or so of its 81 home games there, then move north by early June for a second opening day and play the remaining three-plus months based in Montreal. Specifics of how, which is what some players ask about when the plan is brought up, haven’t been disclosed, or maybe even worked out.
Would the Rays get some kind of unusual in-season break in the schedule, such as two-three days off, for the move? Would the team hire movers to pack, transport and set up the players’ stuff while they were on a road trip? What about their families? Their cars?
How many days in advance of the move, while they’re playing games that count, would they have to start dealing with the details? Who, even though many make millions, would pay for the move? Would they be expected to stay in a Montreal hotel at first then move into apartments or rental houses? Would there be a team trip in the spring or on an off-day to find places and sign leases?
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And that’s apart from questions about differences in tax rules, currency, language, medical care and more.
“It just sounds like a lot of concessions,’’ said veteran pitcher Charlie Morton. “As someone with a family, I could see how that could be really difficult. Not just that it would be two different cities, but very far apart an in an entirely different country.’’
Morton, 35, has played for five big-league teams and eight in the minors before that, and was traded once in-season, which is how this move would seem, except for the whole team. Yet Morton said he has always felt part of the community where he was playing (even if he was only there during the season), and wonders how that would be impacted by the split-city plan.
“You have that running through your veins, so to speak,’’ he said. “You become proud of becoming part of those communities.’’
There is also a comfort in having a home base during the hectic season.
“Familiarity affects performance, to me,’’ said Morton, signed through 2020, with a 2021 option. “You go to these cities and you’re just trying to figure out the basics of the area, how do I get around, what are good places to eat, what are the routes to take? As human beings, we’re always programming ourselves to become very familiar with our surroundings. …
"When you go to a place that you don’t know, you have these thoughts and emotions and reactions to everything that’s going on around you.’’
Outfielder Tommy Pham was concerned about the expenses of the move, especially for the players making around the MLB minimum, currently $555,000.There is no question the players would have to “adjust” beyond what any others have faced, said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier, signed through 2022 with a 2023 team option.
“It’s different. It’s a different plan," Kiermaier said. "And that’s not a compliment or throwing shade.’’
Kiermaier, who lives year-round in Tampa and said he understands why fans who “put their heart, soul money and time” into the team are upset, said he isn’t, yet anyway, going to get too concerned about the details. Neither is infielder Brandon Lowe, though he could be impacted since his new contract has options through 2026.
“It’s so far in the future, I haven’t really worried about it at all,’’ Lowe said.
Pham, who has criticized the Rays’ lack of fan support before, thinks something has to change, so despite the logistics maybe the split-season idea is the answer.
“When you have a market like this where you have a team of our caliber and we’re second to last in attendance, it’s problematic,’’ said Pham, a free agent in 2022. “I can understand if we’re losing, but we’re not. Back to back seasons, we’re on a pace for 90 or more wins. Our owner is doing everything like the (recent special) $2 tickets. … This is a way to provide the franchise with more revenue to go out and get more players. So I understand their reasons behind it.’’
Snell, who is from Seattle, said he greatly enjoys living and playing in the Tampa Bay area but knows the team needs a new stadium and would like resolution. Preferably without the stress of a mid-season move.
“I don’t really care where I play as long as we have a good crowd and it’s fun,’’ he said. “I’m a bigger fan of pick one or the other – whatever y’all want to do, I just want to play. Wherever I play at, that’s for them to decide. … But a split thing, that’s tough.’’
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.