The Rays were once very close to building a new stadium, which is something we haven't given enough of a spotlight in recent years, given the struggles and the lack of cooperation in St. Petersburg.
At the time the Rays were reticent to discuss the particulars, but we now know a sail-design waterfront stadium, at the site of Al Lang field, was planned and proposed to the city prior to the Rays' World Series run in 2008.
The now vilified St. Pete City Council voted to allow the Rays to put a motion on the 2008 ballot for a new stadium, but at the onset of the Great Recession the Rays were unsure they would garner public support, or whether they should seek public funding during such a difficult time for Florida residents. They abandoned the motion for a public vote with hopes set on the future.
Seven years later, discussions have only gone in reverse.
The Rays have a use agreement for Tropicana Field that limits their consideration of a new ballpark to the city limits of St. Petersburg, and the agreement will hold the Rays hostage through 2027. The team has been vocal in claiming the stadium is too far from the fan base and too ill-suited for baseball to be a long term solution, and would like to conduct a proper search of the Tampa Bay region for their new home.
Of course, there is a complicating factor. The team's contract with the city states that team officials cannot "enter into, initiate or conduct any agreement or negotiations (directly or indirectly) for the use of any facility other than the dome" during the life of the contract. If the Rays break that agreement, the city could sue and force the club to pay damages "that are not readily calculable."
Speaking with the Tampa Bay Times from Saturday's annual Fan Fest, owner Stu Sternberg contradicted that language. Participated in a question and answer session with the Times, he had frank comments on exactly when a search would begin:
Assuming it takes at least five years to build a new stadium, will you start a regional search without St. Petersburg's permission by 2022?
Absolutely. Before that. I haven't thought of a timetable, but five years is a minimum from the time you would start the process to when you would ring the bell.
Seven years removed from the last real chance the Rays had at a new ballpark, Sternberg is setting a deadline seven years into the future for the pitch to finally begin.
Certainly the Rays would prefer an alternative, such as the proposal Mayor Rick Kriseman made to the City Council for the Rays to be able to terminate their lease for multi-million dollar pay scales. Unfortunately, that progress has only moved ckward.
After the Council highlighted a trivial matter in the proposal as an excuse the scuttle the deal between the city and team, members of the Council made disparaging remarks about the Rays to the press.
Accordingly, Sternberg has announced that the Rays will no longer attend any further meetings held by the City Council, likening the Council's posture to a "mob mentality."
Perhaps returning to a compromise like the 2013 proposal to allow a pay-for-search deal ($1.42M annually to look outside the city limits) could bridge the divide, but the best shot may be for the Rays to address the Council's concerns in their negotiations with Mayor Kriseman, who can then approach the Council with a new deal. Whether that can succeed without the Rays' participation is another matter.
The Council held a Stadium workshop last week in which they speculated public funding was likely too difficult to muster, and suggest the Rays remain at Tropicana Field until a new stadium could be built, likely in the parking lot of Tropicana Field.
Keep close to the DRaysBay youtube page until April, as we plan to post several videos from Spring Training through the coming months.
Two such examples of what you can find: interviews with new Rays catchers (and likely Opening Day tandem) Rene Rivera...
and Bobby Wilson.
Marc Topkin is back in mid-season form, with something like ten articles posted over the last two days. Here are some key tweets and comments.
Unofficial count is that 52 of 63 players on #Rays spring roster have checked into camp. First workout Monday for pitchers/catchers— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 22, 2015
Only two #Rays pitchers not here in Port Charlotte yet are Belisario and Colome.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 22, 2015
#Rays estimate Fan Fest attendance at 16,000 and say approximately $97,000 was raised for Rays Baseball Foundation.— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) February 21, 2015
- Longoria says the new-look Rays make the environment feel like 2008 again.
- Not only are the Rays on the hook for Jose Molina's $2.75M contract next season, they will also need to pay for his knee surgery that will keep him off the field. The veteran catcher was released early in the off-season.
- Topkin covers Jake Odorizzi's 17 lbs. gain from his off-season workouts with Chris Archer. Both pitchers have been training with a former trainer of Derek Jeter to add weight this off-season.
- "Among interesting locker placement, rookie OF Steven Souza is next to team leader 3B Evan Longoria."
- Finally, Topkin has an profile on new Rays catcher Rene Rivera, who apparently nearly quit the game.
- Rays Fan Fest was this weekend, and we hope you enjoyed. Steve Kinsella has the full audio from James Click's sabermetrics panel, as hosted by the great Neil Solondz. If you have any pictures or stories to share from the weekend, drop them in the comments! My personal favorite from the Rays twitter account:
- After Fan Fest, relievers Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger and Kirby Yates took part in the Pediatric Cancer Foundation's Fashion Funds the Cure event Saturday in Tampa, walking the runway with the children sponsored by the Foundation."
- The Rays and Fox Sports have announced their new sideline reporter, Gaither HS graduate Emily Austen. Currently the anchor for the Boston Celtics webcast, Austen previously worked as a production assistant at the Golf Channel before moving to broadcast for High School football in Texas. She will take over in-game reporting and one-off specials for Kelly Nash, saying "I'm so blessed to return to my hometown and continue my career dream with FOX and the Rays." SunSports returns on March 26th.
- Meanwhile, Chris Archer made his own broadcast debut, covering youth sports for CBS affiliate News 10, including a three part interview with Rays head athletic training Ron Porterfield among many other videos.
- Marc Topkin does not believe the Rays will win their appeal for tampering in Joe Maddon's move to the Chicago Cubs. In the same link, he continues to beat his off-season drum that a David DeJesus trade is imminent.
- Meanwhile, DeJesus believes any perception that the Rays are re-starting this off-season is misguided.
- B.J. Upton will play this season by his given name of Melvin Upton Jr, according to the Atlanta press. Bossman Junior chose the nick name in honor of his father, Melvin "Bossman" Upton, and his change continues the homage, just more formally so. It has yet to be seen if commentor "Bossman333" plans to change his name to "Melvin" as well.
- As the first player to transition directly from the KBO to MLB, new Pirates signee Jung-Ho Kang discussed the pressure he feels to set a path for other Korean ballplayers in America.
- At the weekend Fan Fest, surplus Rays items were on sale as expected, but there was some severe mark down for Joe Maddon memorabilia.
- Add the Shark to the list of players who dislike analytics.
- Sternfan says the Rays owner is gaining respect for his weekend comments.
- Bill Petti is asking for examples of good process and bad results. If any comes to mind, drop him a line on Twitter:
Collecting examples of good process, bad outcome and vise versa. Any suggestions, sports or otherwise? General or specific?— Bill Petti (@BillPetti) February 21, 2015