There is a time and place for everything.
The Tampa Bay Rays believe the time is during the 2021 postseason and the place is on a wall in right field foul ball territory in Tropicana Field. Unfortunately, for fans of the team, the thing is a sign — a sign celebrating the proposed sister-city plan to share the franchise with Montreal.
Rays President Matt Silverman joined the “This Week in Rays Baseball” podcast with Neil Solondz that aired just before the Rays played the Miami Marlins and clinched the American League East title. He said all the right things about keeping the focus on the field, but then mentioned the team’s plan to add a “very simple Tampa Bay/Montreal graphic” as a sign on an outfield wall. The interview can be heard here with the statements made starting at the 32:52 mark.
“Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it,” Silverman said. “It’ll mark the effort subtly and keep the focus on winning and winning games in October.”
The results of the effort has been anything but subtle.
Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times reported on the interview Saturday evening and the fan reaction quickly showed the planned signage was interpreted as disrespectful and ill-timed to many despite Silverman saying, “There’s been an encouraging shift among our fans and community and a real openness about the plan.”
This killed my vibe and I’m at the game, about to witness the division win. Slap in the face to us fans! https://t.co/0QLu5zulRV— RAYS FORCE (@TBRaysForce) September 26, 2021
So while the #Rays are playing their hearts out on National TV, the Post Season Narrative from all the national writers and broadcasters will be marketing the team to leave. While they are trying to win here. #NoHASHTAG https://t.co/ZMK4Ho6RZ3— Cliff Wolf (@Cliff_Wolf) September 25, 2021
The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference— Darby Robinson (@darby_robinson) September 25, 2021
For too long the whole Rays stadium stuff has been stuck in neutral. The vocal fan push for “move to Tampa” is refreshing. And voicing opposition to this idea is good!
A little hate can be okay, since it means they still care https://t.co/E2WBKWm4s5
Just move the stadium to Tampa instead of messing with your fanbase and the Montreal fans who want a team for themselves. ♂️ https://t.co/RbtXyCvDXF— Serenity (@HiImSerenity) September 25, 2021
There has to be more to the placement of this sign, and to the announcement of the placement of this sign, that is not being said out loud. It is hard to imagine either Montreal, Tampa or St. Pete are willing to put substantial public dollars behind shared-custody of a team and building an open air facility that will not be usable beyond the baseball season. It is also hard to imagine that placing this sign in the stadium will persuade leaders in Tampa or St. Pete to open their municipal pocketbooks beyond what they might already have offered.
So why hang a sign likely to irritate fans? My assumption is that the Rays are looking for additional private backers and sense that the postseason is a chance to spread the word. The only logic I can find to this scenario is to gain more private funding in both locations to pull this off; the sign, and the conversation around the sign, ensure that potential investors are aware of this opportunity.
What could have, should have, and would have been a night solely focused on popping bottles, celebrating clinching the division at home for the first time in franchise history as well as three straight postseason appearances, instead turned into a very bittersweet evening, as fans struggled to enjoy the game under the cloud of this reminder that the Rays have a foot out the door.
The Rays front office tells us all the time that this split season arrangement is exciting. We see why it might be exciting for them and their bottom line. We have yet to figure out why fans should feel anything but resigned.