As any online baseball writer knows, you risk an inbox full of angry emails if you ever refer to the Tampa Bay Rays as "Tampa" on second reference.
But it sounds like if Stu Sternberg has his way, those of us looking for a way to save a few words might have a defense against those particularly provincial folks from St. Petersburg.
Finally saying what most of us have been thinking for years, the Rays owner officially put one-half of the Tampa Bay region on notice, claiming in a Monday press conference that "baseball will not work longterm in downtown St. Pete."
Because attendance at Tropicana has always been lackluster — even with one of baseball's best teams currently playing there — and Sternberg now says the Rays must explore new stadium sites across the bay in Tampa. He also reiterated his belief that the Rays will not honor the entirety of their Tropicana lease, which is set to expire around the time Evan Longoria(notes) retires in 2027.
Here's just one of Sternberg's strong statements from his presser (via Rays Index):
"Our ability to compete and, quite frankly, to survive rests on our ability to attract people and businesses to our ballpark. Our customers are our fans. Like any other business, we need to be in a location that is convenient for our fans to reach us."
Translation: "The folks in Tampa have been complaining forever about driving over the bridge to get to Rays games and we're finally going to call their bluff and try to put a ballpark where the streets don't roll up around the early bird special. If Tampa folks balk at building us a stadium, well, then we've just laid the groundwork to move to New Jersey."
I know there are a lot of real fans in St. Petersburg who will be upset over this news, especially when there was once a plan for a pretty cool sailboat stadium on the table. It's not their fault that more fans haven't filled the stands.
But the bottom line is that the Rays are still 23rd in attendance and Sternberg has to explore every option to make Tampa Bay baseball succeed. The provincialism within the region is understood, but as Sternberg said on Monday, this is no time to become beholden to one portion of the area.
Put another way: Downtown St. Pete had its chance for 12 years, now it's time to look for a solution elsewhere.