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Rays’ Sternberg pushes Montreal as salvation for Tampa Bay baseball

ST. PETERSBURG — The hallucinogenic bulls and melted clocks did little to dispel the notion that the idea of a two-city arrangement for Major League Baseball remains trapped somewhere between waking consciousness and a fever dream.

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg addressed the media on Tuesday during a press conference at the Dali Museum. With the work of surrealist painter Salvador Dali as a backdrop, Sternberg attempted to paint a clearer picture of how a proposed split of the Rays’ regular season between Tampa Bay and Montreal might look on canvas.

But instead of a pretty portrait, the Sternberg left the gathered crowd with an even looser grip on the reality of baseball in the Bay area. The new proposal would involve new or vastly renovated, open-air stadiums in both host cities. The Rays would play the first 35 games in St. Pete with the remainder played north of the border. Sternberg would retain full control of the team as primary owner and stressed that he had no interest in selling the team.

Sternberg stressed that the idea was still just a “concept of an idea of a thought” but it was likely the only way that Tampa Bay would be able to hold onto its hometown team.

“We can’t pretend that a tweak here or a slight turn there and everything will be great and we will have the strong, sustainable franchise that we all crave,” Sternberg said.”We are at or near the bottom in nearly every economic category in Major League Baseball. This is a reality and we can all confront it together.”

The isn’t without some precedent. Since 2006, when the San Diego Padres “hosted” the New York Mets in Monterey, Mexico, Major League teams have played “home” games in stadiums other than their regular season venue, which has also included series played in Tokyo, Japan, and Sydney, Australia. Even the notion of a big league team splitting time between Canada and Pinellas County during the regular season is nothing new, even though it ultimately never came to fruition. During the MLB players’ strike in 1995, the Toronto Blue Jays, who because of Canadian labor laws that prevented the use of replacement players during the strike, moved forward with plans to play their regular season schedule at their spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida, just a short trip up the Gulf coast from Tropicana Field until the season could be resumed in Toronto.

How any of this will be accomplished, as well as what the team will be called or which city would get to host any potential playoff games, remained a mystery even after the nearly hour-long conference. To top off the surreal levels of confusion, the press conference ended with a fan crashing the room full of reporters screaming “traitors” before being escorted out by security.

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