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Manfred to Montreal: Here’s roadmap to MLB

Montreal ExposMLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues to tease Montreal baseball fans with talk about how the market could support Major League Baseball — and laid out the roadmap (i.e., a new ballpark) for the sport to return to Quebec.

The circumstances of Manfred’s comments were interesting: he was attending the Toronto Blue Jays season opener at Rogers Center, and the Blue Jays just happened to be hosting the Tampa Bay Rays. (Nice coincidence.) With lots of Rays and Canadian writers on hand for a press conference, Manfred said a game play for a new ballpark would be key to a deal, but nothing is imminent — expansion isn’t an active topic among owners (though we continue to hear about a potential, credible effort elsewhere for MLB ball), and the two teams with ballpark issues, the Rays and the Oakland A’s, aren’t ready to pull the trigger on a move yet. But there’s certainly a loud and vocal fan base seeking the return of Montreal baseball, and they’ve been showing up for exhibition games. From the Toronto Star:

“I’m aware of the crowds they drew (to Olympic Stadium) two years in a row,” Manfred said of the 96,000-plus for two-game sets in both 2014 and 2015. “It’s a very positive thing in terms of demonstrating Montreal’s interest in major-league baseball. I do think it’s important for Montreal to have a firm plan as to how they would get to a major-league facility, a site, a financing plan and the like in place.

“In terms of a timeline for an actual franchise, just impossible to tell. There’s two ways you can get there. Expansion, which I see as a back burner issue for baseball right now, and relocation, and that obviously depends on developments in other markets.”…

“I think it is really important for baseball to have viable alternatives with respect to expansion and relocation,” Manfred said. “It’s just good business to make an effort to make sure that we have alternatives available to us in the event that there is a problem. I’m reluctant to characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation, because I think our sport’s a great sport. It’s tremendously healthy and it has the potential to grow so that I see it as both an expansion and relocation issue.”

The issue, of course, is whether MLB is using Montreal as a tool for forcing Oakland and Tampa Bay officials to commit to a new ballpark. That would be a simplistic approach to complex issues: We can’t imagine Lew Wolff not confronting an issue directly, and Stuart Sternberg is saying all the right things to stay in the Tampa market.

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