If you are a baseball fan in Tampa Bay you can’t escape the talk of the Rays poor attendance and if they will get a new stadium. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on both subjects and the solutions to them. Many think a new stadium will solve everything, others say that more than a new stadium is needed, but a more centralized location to go with it, and still others believe Tampa will lose the team to another city.
There has been many rumors swirling about all of the above, including moving the team. With every loss last season my fiancee would remind me of the rumors and joke that the Rays would be moving to Montreal. As any fan would, I always tell him to shut up and that he doesn’t know what he is talking about, but could his jokes become a reality?
Last night I saw a tweet by one of Tampa Bay’s foremost authorities on the Rays stadium saga; @StadiumShadow. He quotes a tweet of the Canadian journalist, Pierre Trudel @Trudelpierre, that stated the the Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg was funding a stadium viability study in Montreal. @StadiumShadow is trying to find out where is reporter got his information and of course is waiting on a statement from the team on the rumor. As of yet, no clarification on the truth behind the tweet has surfaced, but it got me thinking; could the rumor be true? Could the Tampa Bay Rays become the Montreal Rays?
One thing that has always kept this possibility in the back of my mind is that Sternberg has no real ties to Tampa aside from the team. He has been the majority owner of the team since 2004 but does not own a home in the bay area. Sternberg’s permanent residence in Rye, New York. Moving the Rays to Montreal would cut Sternberg’s commute in half and would increase his attendance at home games.
Two other things are also pushing me to believe the rumors:
During 2014 winter meetings in San Diego, CA Sternberg talked about if there was not an agreement reached with St Petersburg City Council that would allow the Rays to look for new stadium locations in Hillsborough and and Pinellas county that he would sell the team and it would be moved. We all know that city council did agree to let the Rays look for a new location, but no locations seem to be viable. The latest option posed is putting the stadium in Palm Harbor in north Pinellas county. Hearing this location is even an option lets me know that the team is desperate and none of the other more centrally located locations are working out (Downtown or Westshore). At this point it feels like the Rays are doing anything to keep fans hopeful that they will get new home in the area.
The Expos leaving Montreal. The story behind their departure is a long one and it began with the players strike in 1994. They, much like the Rays, had low attendance and an ownership group that did not like to invest much money in their players. By 1999 Claude Brochu, the president of the Expos organization, was being heavily criticized by the media and was also being accused of conspiring with then MLB commissioner Bud Selig to move the team to Washington DC. The now current owner of the Miami Marlins Jeffrey Loria took over principle ownership of the team in 1999. He promised to invest money in the team and return them to their early 90’s success, but it was short lived. Amidst continued struggles to win, Expos attendance continued to decline. Loria sold the team to the MLB in 2002 and used the money to buy the now Miami Marlins. The MLB had no intention of keeping the team in in Montreal but was not ready to move the team right away. In an effort to increase revenue they farmed out home games to San Juan, Puerto Rico. In 2004 the Expos would play their last game in Montreal before a crowd of a little more than 31K fans that wanted to say goodbye to their once beloved team. In 2005 Bud Selig got his wish and the Washington Nationals were born.
I tell you the story of the Expos so pose this question; when Sternberg mentioned selling the team and having them move in 2014, was we referring to the Rays taking a similar path as the now Nationals? Would he sell the team back to the league and let them be the bad guys that take the Rays away from Tampa? All this is just speculation, but I know it’s got me paying attention.
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