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Dunedin series a glimpse of what Rays execs hope is to come with Montreal plan

Rays Tales | Playing outdoor games in the Tampa Bay area in May was a “great” experience, team exec says. Plus, rumblings.
Rays players celebrate after beating the Toronto Blue Jays 14-8 Monday at TD Ballpark in Dunedin.
Rays players celebrate after beating the Toronto Blue Jays 14-8 Monday at TD Ballpark in Dunedin. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 29, 2021|Updated May 29, 2021

The Rays enjoyed playing in Dunedin last weekend.

They had good reason, beating the Blue Jays in all four games — three in their last at-bat, two in extra innings — as they played some of their most complete and exciting games of the season in extending their winning streak to 11.

Plus, they enjoyed strong support from the COVID-limited crowds of 1,500 or so at TD Ballpark. Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, the former Rays coach and minor-league manager, noted, “It was almost like playing a home game for the Rays. Somebody mentioned to me that it was louder here than the Trop.”

But the outdoor experience, in good weather, was a big reason why, as it provided a glimpse of what the Rays hope is the future.

The organization remains intent on proceeding with its plan, despite suggestions otherwise, to split future seasons in Montreal.

“We are solely focused on the sister city plan,” Rays president Brian Auld said Friday in a statement, “and keeping the Rays in Tampa Bay for generations.”

That plan, which has not necessarily been embraced by Rays fans, still faces significant hurdles, including approval by Major League Baseball and the players association.

Also, getting new stadiums built in both markets, with funding by partnerships among the issues still to be worked out.

Open-air stadiums.

Which brings us back to why Rays officials so enjoyed their Dunedin visit.

“The conditions were ideal,” said Matt Silverman, the other Rays president. “We couldn’t stop talking about how great it was to be outside watching games in late May.”

The Rays envision starting the season in their new Tampa Bay area home — downtown St. Petersburg (on the Al Lang waterfront site?), Tampa (Ybor City?) or wherever — and staying maybe just a bit longer than the Jays did (until early/mid June, with the expectation through scheduling requests that they’d play around 40 games).

They would then shift to Montreal, playing the rest of the regular season there, much of it during comfortable summer nights. Postseason games likely would be shared, potentially rotated by years.

The Rays certainly can learn from the Jays’ unexpected Dunedin experience. They played 21 games there, with one rained out, before shifting their base to a northern site in Buffalo, N.Y., where they will play until when/if coronavirus travel restrictions are eased and they can go home to Toronto.

The Rays will want intelligent design in a larger stadium than the Jays’ spring facility, including at least a second deck, to provide ample shade and better maximize the winds/breeze as a cooling element.

Also, smart scheduling as they get into May. The Friday and Saturday night games, despite first-pitch temperatures of 84 and 85 degrees, were much more comfortable than the Sunday and Monday day games that started at 86 and 85.

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For what it’s worth, the Rays are 10-0 playing outdoors relatively close to home: 3-0 in 2007 and 2008 series at Disney, and 4-0 in Dunedin.

2008 flashbacks

The weekend series is a rematch of the 2008 World Series, in which the Rays came up short battling the weather and the Phillies. Neither team has anyone left in big-league uniforms who participated. The only players still active are former Rays Evan Longoria and Scott Kazmir (who just got back to the majors for the first time since 2016) with the Giants, and David Price with the Dodgers.

Current Rays infielder Joey Wendle has good memories, having grown up in the Philadelphia area and attending West Chester University at the time. “That was a lot of fun for me as a Phillies fan at the time,” he said. “I was at West Chester, celebrating with my friends. I had never been a part of a fan base that had a championship team. So it was pretty exciting, pretty fun time for me.”

Rays rumblings

Among the most interesting items in the lawsuit filed by four minority partners against principal owner Stuart Sternberg is the claim that the team received a whopping $385 million in its latest local TV deal, though knowing the length of the contract is needed to provide context. ... Traded Willy Adames took No. 27 in Milwaukee, which was worn there by good friend (and ex-Ray) Carlos Gomez. In Adames’ third game with the Brewers, he faced former Rays mate Blake Snell, walking twice during the current Padre’s 3-2/3-inning outing. ... Playing the Phillies without injured Bryce Harper and then the Yankees without Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks and Corey Kluber seems somewhat fortunate for the Rays. … After hitting .348 (16-for-46) with seven extra-base hits (three homers) in his first 11 Triple-A games, top prospect Wander Franco hit .214 (9-for-42) with five extra-base hits (one homer) in his next 10 for Durham. … Rookie switch-hitting shortstop Taylor Walls got the balls from his first big-league hits right- and left-handed. … Jays reliever Travis Bergen used the same baseball for all three bases-loaded walks to the Rays in the ninth inning last Sunday. … Latest mock drafts have the Rays using the No. 28 pick in July on Mississippi State right-hander Will Bednar (mlb.com), Arizona high school infielder Wes Kath (The Athletic) and Pennsylvania high school outfielder and Penn State football recruit Lonnie White (Baseball America). … In the small world department, new reliever J.P. Feyereisen’s first catcher in pro ball with Cleveland was Francisco Mejia, his current teammate in Tampa Bay. ... In the smaller world department, the Cleveland scout who signed Feyereisen, Les Pajari, played at Minnesota’s Duluth Denfeld High for coach Dukes Knutson, who is the Rays’ press box attendant. ... Former Rays reliever Dan Wheeler was named head baseball coach at Clearwater Central Catholic High, where he had been an assistant. ... … Matt Martell wrote on SI.com that the Rays don’t deserve to be praised for winning with a low payroll or to benefit from “the false narrative that their scrappy organization continues to overcome economic forces well beyond their control,” writing that “the most remarkable thing ... is how much better they would be if they were willing to spend money.” ... On Wednesday, Tyler Glasnow flirted with what would have been the first complete game by a Rays pitcher since 2016 (Matt Andriese); on Thursday, Austin Meadows got the hard half of what would have been their third ever-cycle and first since 2017 (Longoria, previously B.J. Upton). ... Fred McGriff, the ex-Ray and Tampa native, shared some shocking news last week on Kenny Mayne’s ESPN finale: He has never actually watched the Tom Emanski instructional video he so famously endorsed.

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