Present, future stakes the talk of Rays’ Fan Fest

ST. PETERSBURG — Despite growing concern about the financial stability of Bally Sports Sun, the Rays are confident that they will be able to get game broadcasts to their fans this season, team president Matt Silverman said Saturday during the team’s annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field.

“We’re all rooting for Sinclair, for Bally Sports, to continue on, and to be strong and continue to distribute our games,” Silverman said, “but in the case that it doesn’t happen, for whatever reason, we’re confident that baseball has made those plans to be able to step in.”

Diamond Sports Group owns 19 networks under the Bally Sports name, including Bally Sports Sun, which televises Rays and Lightning games. Diamond missed a $140 million interest payment on Wednesday, which would put the company closer to filing for bankruptcy.

Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the league is prepared to produce and distribute games for the 14 baseball teams that have Bally Sports as their regional sports network. Manfred also said they would help generate revenue to help those teams offset any losses from a possible Bally bankruptcy.

2027 and beyond

After years of speculation about the Rays’ ballpark situation, team president Brian Auld briefly addressed the decision of St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch to move forward with the team’s plans to develop the historic Gas Plant District.

“For fans, I think the most important thing to know is that just about everybody on both sides of the Bay is clamoring to figure out how to make sure that we’re here, how to get a shovel in the ground and how to make sure a new ballpark gets built,” Auld said. “The same is true of Major League Baseball. So Matt (Silverman), me, owner Stuart Sternberg, and everyone in the organization is deeply focused on that.”

“So we’re going to keep pursuing every single path to a finish line,” Auld added. “The last game played in this building is going to be at the end of the 2027 season and we’ll be throwing out a first pitch on opening day of 2028 somewhere in Tampa Bay, in a new world-class ballpark.”

Strong support

Jason Adam tried to weave his way through what would normally be rightfield, but the reliever kept getting stopped. To him, the 12,000-plus people who showed up for Saturday’s event was a repudiation of the Rays fans’ reputation.

“This is my first one and this is awesome,” Adam said. “Rays fans get a really bad rap. I feel like that’s totally unwarranted. Look at these people who all came out to support us. So we’re thankful for the fans and this has been a blast so far.”

The Fan Fest was the kickoff of the 25th anniversary season celebration, with merchandise marking the franchise’s milestone on sale for the first time.

New faces

Kevin Cash talked about 2023 as a spring of change for the Rays. The manager lost his bench coach, Matt Quatraro, the new manager of the Royals. Former third base coach Rodney Linares is moving into the dugout to replace Quatraro.

“As far as Rodney goes, he and I have worked together now for three or four years. He’s really done a good job with our infielders dating back to some young players,” Cash said.

The Rays also elevated Brady Williams from manager of Triple-A Durham to major-league third base coach and Tomas Francisco from minor-league catching coordinator to major-league field coordinator.

“I’m really happy for those guys, but also really think because they know our young players and they know the new rules, they will be a big help,” Cash said.

New game plan

Cash also talked to fans about the changes to the game, with MLB instituting three major rules changes for the 2023 season. The team will be learning on the fly in spring training.

“I think that’s the best way to do it. And they’re gonna enforce it right out of the gate. So our players can have the ups and downs of learning some of the rules in spring,” Cash said. “And by opening day, if we haven’t got it figured out, and that’s on us, myself and our staff.”

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