NORTH PORT — In the background as they prepare for the upcoming season, the Rays say they are making considerable progress on their unprecedented plan to split future seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal — something the team considers its “only option.”
Among the parties most interested in hearing details is the players union, which will have a say on final approval.
“There’s a lot that’s going to need to be discussed,” union chief Tony Clark told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. “”There are issues, logistical and otherwise, fundamentally related to the Tampa (Bay) players, as well as how it would affect any and all the teams that would otherwise be playing Tampa (Bay).”
There is much the union needs to know about issues that would directly impact the players and their families. Part of that is how the Rays would compensate them for the inconveniences, which could include housing, medical care, currency valuations, travel, child care and schooling.
“All I’ll say is there are issues, logistical and otherwise,” Clark said.
After pursuing a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area for more than a decade, team officials in June 2019 pitched the new concept. The Rays would start the season playing in a new open-air stadium to be built in St. Petersburg or Tampa, then move in early June to a new open-air stadium in Montreal for the rest of the season. Plans to share potential postseason games would be worked out.
Major League Baseball gave the Rays permission to explore the idea, and commissioner Rob Manfred has said he doesn’t consider the issues “insurmountable.”
Clark told the Times last year the plan was not “ideal” for players or fans, but it was not impossible for the union to approve it under the proper terms. He also said it was the union’s “strong preference” the team stay full time in the Tampa Bay area, and it was “unfortunate” there wasn’t a deal to get a new stadium built there.
“Our position remains the same,” Clark said Thursday in a phone interview from his Arizona home. “And I don’t see that changing unless or until we’re provided some information regarding what that consideration might look like.”
Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg told the Times progress on the Montreal side was “exceeding expectations” with government and business interests, though nothing has been finalized.
“There’s a site in mind. We have a design in mind. We have construction in mind. The funding is starting to coalesce,” Sternberg said. “Most importantly, the leadership up there, people are getting together, gathering, talking about it, putting a plan together along with us.”
The Montreal Gazette reported this week that the Quebec provincial government was open to helping fund construction of the stadium and two lobbyists representing the group leading the effort registered to push for it.
Given the progress in Montreal, as well as the additional motivation to get a team back after losing the Expos following the 2004 season, Sternberg said he feels “much more confident about the Montreal side sort of putting this thing together.”
He said he thinks that will jump-start progress on the Tampa Bay side, where there seems to be little momentum as fans and some leaders have not embraced the split-season concept.
“I think as (the Montreal effort) progresses, I feel pretty confident of us being able to get it done here, too,” he said. “I just happen to feel more so because they’re much further down the road.
“In fairness, whether it’s right or wrong, a.) they don’t have a baseball team, and b.) they lost a baseball team. So they’d like one back.
“Here you have one, and it’s sort of like, ‘It’s here, and, well, why only part of a season? Why not the full season? We have the team already.’ (Montreal is) going at this in a different fashion. They know what the hole of baseball has been. They want another crack at it.”
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