Rookie slugger Wil Myers hit a home run in his first career at-bat at Tropicana Field on Monday night. Good job, youngster. The sooner you get accustomed to what probably will be your home stadium for the next 15 years, the better. If the Tampa Bay Rays can afford to keep you that long, anyway.
The Rays desperately want to move from the Tropicana dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., where they draw the fewest fans in the American League, and into friendlier confines elsewhere in the area. One problem: The team's lease runs through 2027 and owner Stuart Sternberg says, somewhat obviously, that the Rays must abide by it. He's been trying to persuade area big-shots to help fund a new stadium for the Rays, probably across the bay in Tampa where the NFL's Buccaneers and NHL's Lighting play. But so far, nobody's buying. If someone did, the Rays might be able to persuade the City of St. Pete to let them go. Or maybe they couldn't. It's kind of a catch-22.
In an interview with Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, the Rays owner answered some blunt questions about the future of the franchise:
Fox Sports: What are the realistic chances the Rays leave the Tampa Bay area?
Stuart Sternberg: It’s very unrealistic. If it’s up to me, it’s very unrealistic. There’s certainly been a lot of discussion, from others within baseball, that we should get the hell out of there. It’s not in my makeup to do that. I am committed to doing whatever I can, until I can no longer do it, to make it work there.
FS: Is it safe to say that, eventually, there has to be a new stadium in Tampa Bay or you’ll sell the club?
SS: Eventually, yeah. I would suppose so. But if that happens, by doing that, I could be ensuring baseball is there anyhow. The other side is, in fairness, we receive a lot of revenue-sharing money each year.
It should be expected from other owners, if (we) put a winning product on the field, get to the playoffs and World Series, (they) shouldn’t have to share much money with (us) for the next couple years.
I think ours is the only franchise — maybe I’m mistaken — that has been to the World Series (recently) and we still had to take a lot of money in revenue sharing. The fact that all the other owners are consistently writing checks to us and see no way to get out of it, some of this will be their desires. … The decision can be taken out of my hands at some point. If you haven’t made any progress, and it’s not working where you are, (MLB could say), ‘We’re going to duke it out. This team is going to be somewhere else, whether it’s 10 miles away or 510 miles away.’
So the threat is there, even if it's put vaguely, that MLB someday could take the Rays out of Florida. Removal of a franchise that's posted a winning record every season since 2007 would be a shame. But it's understandably tough to expect local government (or any government, in these economic times especially) to help fund new a stadium that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that benefits, mostly, the Rays. Of course, that's exactly what MLB wants.
The Rays believe that greater Tampa Bay is viable for Major League Baseball. They just happen to be stuck in a bad stadium in a bad location. And they might be stuck there until the likes of Wil Myers, Evan Longoria and David Price are finished playing baseball.
Big BLS H/N: CBS Eye on Baseball