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Rays owner Stuart Sternberg: in-stadium sign promoting Montreal Sister City plan “a big mistake”

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A contrite Stuart Sternberg admits that seeking to promote this plan during the playoff run was a poor idea.

The Rays have reversed their decision to hang a sign in right field during the playoffs advertising the team’s Montreal Sister City plan. This plan, readers will recall, would send half of the team’s home games north of the US border.

In an interview with Rays Radio’s Neil Solondz, the Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg spoke at length in apology to the fans for distracting and detracting from what should have been a celebratory day: winning the team’s second consecutive division title.

Here is Sternberg’s opening comments apologizing:

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. It 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 you and tell the fans that the sign is not going to go up.

This surprise announcement came during an interview on the Rays pregame show, hosted by Solondz, in an effort to do damage control. Solondz’s podcast This Week In Rays Baseball, then in an interview with Rays President Matt Silverman, was where we first heard the initial surprise announcement that a Montreal-Tampa themed sign would have been displayed in the outfield during the playoffs.

In that interview, Silverman claimed that a “chorus” of voices was rising in support of the team’s Sister City plan, and seemed to believe the sign was the proper way to reflect the team’s excitement for the idea.

Sternberg’s contrite apology and solemn tone would seem to indicate those claims were not in step with reality.

Previously: Sign of the Times: Montreal Stadium Plan Creates Fan Distraction From Division-Clinching Night

When asked to explain the about-face, Sternberg’s first instinct was to remind his audience — Rays fans — that he does actually in fact enjoy Rays baseball:

Look, I love this team, and I love baseball. And I’d like to think anybody who follows the team knows since we’ve been at this, the future of the Rays organization and keeping this team in Tampa Bay for generations to come is something that constantly weighs on me. And it has for years. With the sister-city plan, I know we found a way to do that exactly. I’m excited about it. I’m enthusiastic about it. And our fans deserve to know how serious the situation really is.

How serious it must be indeed that Sternberg felt the need to reiterate what should be fundamental truths of any sports team’s owner like, “I love this team, and I love baseball.”

In speaking directly to fans, and addressing the passion of the fanbase throughout the interview, Sternberg appears to be acutely aware that some percent of the fans do not believe he cares about the team on the field. (It’s a shocking admission that is not helped by the Rays owner mispronouncing “Franco” just moments later when talking about what fans should be focused on.) Here’s that quote in full:

I know we have passionate fans who love this team. And I’m forever grateful for that. And that passion shows itself in many ways. The last thing I want to do is discourage any of that passion. The mistake I made here is directing that passion away from the field.

Our fans deserve to be focused on Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe. This has been an absolutely wonderful season. And it’s not over yet, obviously. There’ll be time to discuss and debate the future of Rays baseball. Right now it’s time to enjoy Rays baseball.

During the interview Sternberg also admitted that he was aware the team’s planned sign would be controversial, and that he did not appreciate the risks associated with rolling out such a plan mid-season:

I knew that a sign would bring us attention. And we do want the attention. I just didn’t completely process that now isn’t the moment for it. Postseason is a special time. October baseball is a special time for a team and its fans, and nothing should take the attention away from the games.

It’s a time for the whole community to come together and rally as one. By suggesting we have a sign that I knew could be controversial, I put much of that at risk. Plain and simple, it was a bad decision. And that’s why we aren’t going to go through with it. We are not going to put the sign up.

You can listen to the full interview at WDAE.

As a personal aside, I have to wonder if the mistake made here was not “directing... passion away from the field” or that the team was not being risk averse, but that perhaps a diverse enough set of voices are not in the room when the Rays brass are making these decisions.

Who is it that Sternberg or Silverman turn to when planning their riskiest and controversial endeavors to ask, “Is this a good idea?” Or is the question being asked at all?

The length and tone of this apology is unique in the history of the Rays Stadium Saga, and I can’t help but wonder if it will be here to stay in future statements about the team’s ability to stay in Tampa Bay.