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The Rays arranging for Montreal group to be in Oakland is a bad look

John Romano: Accommodating a prospective Montreal partner on wild-card night reminds Tampa Bay that the Rays are eager to stadium shop in Canada.
Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, left, and Rays president Brian Auld are seen on the field just prior to the America League wild-card game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 in Oakland. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Oct. 3
Updated Oct. 3

OAKLAND — Why not invite Bud Selig, too?

Or Jerry Reinsdorf? How about Bill White? Why not invite every other owner/executive who has teased, impeded or otherwise been a thorn in the side of Tampa Bay baseball fans throughout the years?

Why stop with the man who now wants to poach the Rays?

Oh, I’m sure it’s not as bad as it looks. Rays owner Stu Sternberg says he simply accommodated the request of a potential business partner when he got tickets to Wednesday night’s wild-card game for prospective Montreal owner Stephen Bronfman.

But it does look bad. And that’s kind of the point.

“It’s not ideal,’’ Sternberg told me of the news getting out about Bronfman’s ticket request on the eve of the Rays game with the Athletics.

So on Tampa Bay’s first postseason night in six years, the Rays have now reminded every fan back home that they are eager to go stadium shopping in Canada as soon as the season ends.

We all knew that already, but it would have been nice to watch Charlie Morton on the mound Wednesday without having it thrown in our faces.

If it helps your mood, none of this seemed to have been planned by the Rays. The disclosure of Bronfman’s ticket request, which was first reported by Montreal radio host Matthew Ross, seems to have come from his group.

On Wednesday, an executive of the Montreal consulting firm EY tweeted a photo of Bronfman and members of the Montreal Baseball Group at the airport on the way to Oakland.

Sternberg, who said he would not be sitting with Bronfman, said he and Rays executives dealt with the request “for a total of four minutes’’ before moving on to other matters.

He was insistent that the front office is focused on the postseason and would not be discussing stadium matters until after the playoffs.

“When they asked us for tickets they said they had been at Fenway last year (for the playoffs) and the same group had been at other ballgames in other years. So we said sure. I’m thrilled they want to be here,’’ Sternberg said. “I haven’t spoken to him in months and my sense is it was a real request, he’s a real baseball fan. They’ve been to other postseasons games in the past that we haven’t been involved in.’’

There could have been a strategic reason for Bronfman divulging Sternberg’s role in getting tickets.

Bronfman apparently is meeting with the Montreal Public Advisory Office this week about his stadium proposal, according to La Presse, a French-language digital newspaper in Quebec. The advisory office will report to the city on the viability of the plan.

By making his trip to Oakland so visible, Bronfman could be cementing the idea of his proposed partnership with Sternberg in the minds of Montreal city leaders.

Meanwhile, the pressure may be ratcheting up on Tampa Bay from other directions. In a recent interview in Sports Business Daily, commissioner Rob Manfred was asked about the possibility of expansion and he referenced the unsettled stadium situations in Oakland and St. Pete.

Manfred mentioned the possibility of relocation, which he has been reluctant to bring up in the past. It was unclear whether Manfred was talking about the shared Tampa Bay/Montreal plans, which MLB has already given Sternberg permission to explore, or a complete relocation.

Baseball’s only relocation in the past 45 years was when the Expos left Montreal to become the Washington Nationals in 2005.

“To be in a situation where we have unresolved franchise problems and the potential at least for a relocation, to have expansion talks going on at the same time, it’s just too much all at once,’’ Manfred told the publication.

In the meantime, Sternberg is still seeking permission from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to pursue the shared city plan. The Rays are not allowed to discuss playing in other stadiums beside Tropicana Field during the life of the use agreement, which runs until 2027.

I asked Sternberg Wednesday if he had invited Kriseman to attend the wild-card game.

“No,’’ he said. “But I didn’t invite Bronfman either.’’

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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