ST. PETERSBURG — Rays fan Andrew Katzman didn’t care much for the team’s split-season plan to start with. Then came Montreal baseball group leader Stephen Bronfman’s “much nicer city” comment.
Explaining how players could be persuaded to see the merits of splitting seasons between Florida and Canada, Bronfman said Montreal is a "much nicer city to be in than St. Petersburg, please. Much more cosmopolitan. Much more fun.” Bronfman has since issued a statement apologizing for those comments to a Montreal radio audience.
Katzman is unmoved.
“I was upset that (Stu Sternberg’s) so-called business partner trashed my city (Friday),” Katzman said Saturday at Rays Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. “I mean, if we’re going to do this sister-city thing, if he’s going to trash my city, how is that going to build a relationship?”
Katzman, of St. Petersburg, waited outside of the 95.3 WDAE radio booth on Saturday morning to address those concerns with the Rays owner personally. Sternberg assured the 36-year-old fan that Bronfman had taken back what he said.
"It’s like he’s saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go into business with this city. That city’s a piece of trash. My city’s better,’ ” Katzman said. “That’s not who you go into business with. That’s not a partnership that I’m crazy about to begin with. If we’re going to do a partnership, we’re going to be on even terms.”
Sternberg insisted he and Bronfman had worked things out during a phone conversation. Katzman still thinks the whole split-season idea “is a load of crap and there are too many obstacles for it to actually work."
“Deep down, I still think it’s leverage,” Katzman said. “But (Sternberg) is able to keep a straight face when he talks about it, so that’s impressive.”
Some fans booed Saturday during a Q&A when team president Matt Silverman talked about the “sister-city plan.” Others heard Sternberg out as he worked the crowd and described the Montreal plan as an alternative to something “dramatically worse — no baseball at all.”
Katzman said he attends about 40 Rays games a season. When he’s not in a seat at the Trop, he’s follows them on television or radio.
“I don’t have much of a life outside of sports,” he chuckled. “I don’t miss a Lightning or Bucs game, either. I’m a tortured Tampa Bay sports fan, and you want to take one of my teams away from me? Is that the whole idea here? That if you take a team away from him, he’ll be less tortured? No, we’re all tortured.”
Enter fellow tortured Tampa Bay sports fan, Lenny Fraraccio.
Fraraccio, 51, wore his what he called an “anti-Stu” T-shirt — featuring two large strips of white medical tape forming an "X" over a Montreal Expos logo — to Fan Fest to protest the Montreal plan. That drew attention from some attendees, including Sternberg, who stopped to take a picture with Fraraccio.
“(Sternberg) said, ‘You know what, we’re going to have both sides of the argument. I got no hard feelings to you, but you have to make sure you listen,’" Fraraccio said.
The Brandon resident believes the Rays have only 648 games left in Tampa Bay, and Sternberg already has a plan. The Montreal split-season plan is simply a distractor, he said.
“(Mayor Rick) Kriseman is doing a good job of standing up against him, which I like,” Fraraccio said. “I’m a baseball fan, so I want baseball here.”
Like Katzman, Fraraccio goes to about 40 games every season, but even he knows he’s not part of the problem.
“I’m not the guy who’s not going to the games,” Fraraccio said. “I’m the guy who is going to the games.”
Sue McCormick, 56, has been a partial season-ticket holder since the inaugural season in 1998. She goes to 25 home games every season, sitting a couple of rows up from the home dugout in Section 110.
“I don’t know what I’ll do,” McCormick, of St. Petersburg, said at the idea of a split-season. “I don’t think that works, and I’m against it. I wish they would renovate (Tropicana Field)."
Robert House and Sherry Langlais don’t want to think about the possibility of the Rays playing elsewhere. For them, Fan Fest is a tradition. They treat it like “Christmas morning,” meeting for breakfast before arriving early at the gates so they can be among the first to enter the Trop.
House, 56, of Palm Harbor, looks forward to taking his grandchildren to Rays games in 20 years.
For Langlais, 65, a season-ticket holder from Dunedin, “it’s about the present. We want to keep baseball in Tampa Bay, and we’re showing that today."
She’s happy to see the Rays committed to the present on the field, noting how the front office knows how to "squeeze that nickel. We know how to get every single bang for our buck.
“We’re going to the playoffs, again,” Langlais added before taking a shot at the Astros, Red Sox and whoever else gets snagged in the sign-stealing scandal.
“Maybe we need to up our cheating game because, obviously, we don’t cheat as well as everybody else does.”