When Stuart Sternberg and his group of investors bought the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team, it had to be immediately noted that the group had no ties whatsoever to Tampa Bay. The team would undoubtedly remain in St. Petersburg, though, for one major reason: the 30-year Tropicana Field lease signed by then-Rays owner Vincent Naimoli and St. Pete from 1998 to 2027. But now that push has come to shove, Sternberg has shown that he wants nothing more than to keep his team in Tampa Bay. Sternberg elucidated that once again in a recent interview with Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports.
FS: What are the realistic chances the Rays leave the Tampa Bay area?
SS: 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.
The key word in Sternberg’s answer is others. People across baseball chastise the Rays for their paucity of fans and multiplicity of empty seats in their ballpark. Outsiders are convinced that the people of Tampa Bay don’t care about baseball and never will and that there is nothing at all the Rays can do. And lastly, they believe that the Rays’ ownership doesn’t really care because they’ll be selling soon anyway for a huge profit. The public have it wrong. Sternberg will do whatever it takes to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay area and the fans that people claim don’t exist are just waiting for a beautiful new stadium in a more convenient location to start showing up in the numbers in which they should. Why do fans watch their favorite team play in Tropicana Field for one three-game set and make numerous misguided assumptions based on just that?
Sternberg knows that something has to be done. He admitted that the rest of baseball is tired of paying revenue-sharing checks to a team that consistently ranks among the best in baseball, and if this drags on much longer, Major League Baseball may step in and move the team, “whether it’s 10 miles away or 510 miles away.” But Sternberg and the Rays leadership are doing everything possible to make sure that scenario never comes into play. The Rays’ stadium talks aren’t progressing and people across baseball are only intensifying their dismay with the Rays. But with an ownership committed to Tampa Bay and committed to the long haul, you have to believe that it’s only a matter of time before the nightmare ends and everything is resolved.