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Tampa Bay Rays reverse course on ‘Montreal’ sign, but are they sincere?

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An outside view of Tropicana Field just before the Opening Day game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 2, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
An outside view of Tropicana Field just before the Opening Day game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles on April 2, 2013 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
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“Sign? WHAT sign?”

Those could easily have been the thoughts of Tampa Bay Rays management as it walked back the talk of the weekend.

Team President Matt Silverman had announced on a podcast Saturday that the Rays would make a “subtle” statement by erecting a sign that had “a very simple Tampa Bay Montreal graphic.”

The reference was to the team’s stated intention of splitting seasons, starting in 2028, between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg appeared on Tuesday’s Rays radio pre-game show.  As quoted in the Tampa Bay Times, Sternberg said:

"“I’m really here to speak directly to our fans today.  And to apologize, quite frankly. I’ve always said that baseball is meant to be fun and engaging and exciting. Brings a community together. . . I made a big mistake, a real mistake, in trying to promote our sister-city plan with a sign right now in our home ballpark. I absolutely should have known better. And really, I’m sorry for that. I’m here to tell … the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”"

That was what Sternberg said. What he meant was sorry we stuck a finger in your eye, making that announcement just before the team clinched the pennant. That sign is not going up, but the thought behind it still remains.  If we have our way, the team would have clinched the pennant in Montreal. I am sure you would be thrilled watching that on television.

Sternberg has said many times that the shared-custody plan is the only way to keep major league baseball in the Tampa Bay area. Under the plan, both cities would build new open-air ballparks.  The Rays will play in Tampa Bay through June 15, and then beat a hasty retreat to Montreal for the rest of the season, thereby avoiding the hot weather in Florida.

Fan reaction in the Tampa Bay area was initially critical and negative, saying the Rays were laying the groundwork for moving the team.  The Rays are saying that fans’ opinions are becoming more open to the idea despite not offering any substantial proof to that effect.

It is admirable for the Rays to think of the comfort for their fans as an incentive to play in Montreal for half a season. But is it really feasible?

That is a sincere question. It seems simply ludicrous to expect a fan to avidly support the Rays in person through June 15, and then not feel a sense of loss as they watch the team drive off with their other parent.

Shared or joint custody is widely praised as a preferential outcome in a divorce.  But will it work with a sports team?

Comments and answers to this question are welcome and encouraged.

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