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MLB, Rays respond to proposed Braves Spring Training complex in St. Petersburg

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Before Tuesday’s contest last week against the Red Sox, curious news broke (via the Tampa Bay Times) that the Atlanta Braves are interested in calling St. Petersburg their Spring Training home at some point in the near future.

A proposal by SportsPark Partners LLC a group ― a development group led by Darryl LeClair ― would move the Braves Spring Training quarters from the Orlando area to a new stadium complex in the Toytown area of St. Petersburg.

You might recall, LeClair put together a Rays stadium proposal in the Carillon area of St. Pete three years ago. That plan, however, never gained traction with the team’s ownership group.

The initial bid on the Toytown property was made the beginning of the month, though the bid was not made public at that point, and it was assumed that LeClair might consider using the property toward another Rays stadium bid ― after all, it’s in the East/Central part of Pinellas County, it’s right off the highway, and it’s not far from the Howard-Frankland Bridge. It should also be noted, Pinellas County has the money to pool together for a new stadium.

The team chose not to comment on things until later in the week.

Three days after a plan was unveiled to move the Atlanta Braves Spring Training home to St. Petersburg, Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays issued their first public comments (below).

Rays president Brian Auld quickly made his first public comment on the proposal:

The Rays appreciate MLB’s attention to this matter. We fully agree with and support their statement.

Major League Baseball issued the following statement that morning:

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays learned of the St. Petersburg Sports Park proposal for the first time.  Major League Baseball appreciates the support that it has received for the construction of Spring Training facilities throughout the State of Florida. The most pressing need, however, is the construction of a Major League-quality facility for the Rays.

Major League Baseball is committed to working with the Rays to secure a new ballpark in cooperation with the Tampa Bay region.  This can only happen with the support of local political and business leaders.

Before some of you take umbrage to the whole situation, and place the blame on the City of St. Petersburg, realize that both the mayor and city council were caught off guard by the news.

Incidentally, Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium) opined the proposal could mean one of three things, all unique interpretations of the news:

  1. The Rays & MLB are assuming the Rays will be gone from Tampa Bay in a decade or so, thus diminishing any negative impact of a Braves spring training relocation. In fact, it could be positioned as a consolation prize for Pinellas County.

  2. The Rays & MLB want to stay in Tampa Bay, but are using the pressure on Pinellas County’s limited tourist tax bonding capacity to force St. Pete’s hand.  Forced to make a decision about where bed tax revenues would be best-spent, the city could allow the Rays permission to begin negotiating for new stadium sites.

  3. The Rays & MLB want a taxpayer-funded stadium at Toytown and – unable to negotiate with Pinellas County right now – the Rays have coordinated with the Braves, MLB, and developers to orchestrate a bait-and-switch.  The proposed 10,000-seat stadium becomes a 25,000-seat stadium and the Rays move closer to the bay bridges.  The Braves could even share Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater without major expenditures.

Pransky was quick to note that while option three is a longshot, all three theories could mean a considerable bump in leverage for the Rays as they continue to push for a new stadium.

Why use Montreal as the bait when baseball could leverage St. Petersburg against itself?