ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There were more comments and clarity Tuesday on the baseball bombshell dropped last week by the Tampa Bay Rays.
- Rays' team officials hold news conference on Montreal talks
- Sternberg highlights team's successes, struggles
- Mayor Rick Kriseman on Rays-Montreal: "Getting a Bit Silly"
Fans were shocked, and not too happy, to hear about a plan approved by Major League Baseball that would allow the team to pursue splitting its season between St. Petersburg and Montreal.
On Tuesday, team officials addressed the plan for the first time since it was announced, and team owner Stu Sternberg confirmed the team will move forward with the proposal.
"This is not a stated exit. This is not a play out of a playbook to gain leverage," he said. "We think this can and will be extraordinary for the region."
Sternberg reflected on the Rays since he purchased them, highlighting successes but mentioning struggles as well.
"Fifteen years ago I had the opportunity to be the owner of a baseball franchise," Sternberg said at a news conference at Dali Museum. "I beam with pride what we've all been able to accomplish together."
"The Rays have become a community treasure," he said.
Sternberg also talked about some of the franchise's hardships, including a failed bid to open a stadium at the Al Lang site in 2012, and a recent three-year window to speak with Hillsborough County officials about a stadium there.
"For most of the franchise there has been a question about its viability," he said. "We greatly lag behind the rest of the league. We are at or near the bottom in every economic category in Major League Baseball. This is a reality."
Local officials are making it clear that they are not letting the team go easy, reiterating the potential of the Tropicana Field site and the possibilities of Hillsborough County.
St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman said he is waiting to see what the Rays have to say.
“If Mr. Sternberg wishes to formally explore this concept with me and his desire to privately and fully fund a new stadium in the City of St. Petersburg, I am willing to listen. The City of St. Petersburg will not participate in the funding of a new stadium for a part-time team. We remain receptive to partnering with the Tampa Bay Rays to redevelop the Tropicana Field site and build a new stadium for a full-time team. St. Pete’s future has never been brighter and every business and baseball team in America should want to be a part of it," Mayor Kriseman said.
"Finally, I believe progress moves at the speed of the trust. If Mr. Sternberg is serious about this idea or any other, it will require the reestablishment of a good working relationship with my office,” he added.
Sternberg said that in a "perfect world" the Tampa-Montreal arrangement would begin in 2024 but acknowledged the many steps that would have to take place for that to happen.
That would include approval by the Major League Baseball players union, in addition to St. Petersburg's approval.
Meanwhile, leaders across the Bay in Hillsborough also are meeting Tuesday, hoping they can find a way to keep the Rays. However, any talks involving a Hillsborough County stadium would have to start with approval from Kriseman.
"I still strongly believe that the Rays want to be in Tampa and want to be in Hillsborough County," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan. "That’s why Hillsborough has asked Mayor Kriseman on multiple occasions to let’s sit down and have a conversation to see how we can move this issue forward and unfortunately he refuses to talk with us."
"We’re doing everything we can on the Hillsborough side to position us to be ready when that opportunity comes."
The stadium saga for the franchise took a big setback in January when the Rays announced they were "not close" to acting on their plans for an Ybor City stadium.