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Rays Will Pursue Tampa Bay/Montreal Split in 2028

Tampa Bay Rays Ybor City ballpark rendering 2

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says his team will merely delay, but not scrap a planned Tampa Bay/Montreal split schedule until 2028, after the current Tropicana Field lease ends.

The Rays received permission from Major League Baseball to pursue a split season and approached St. Petersburg city officials about changes to the Tropicana Field lease allowing for the change. Earlier this month St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman halted talks for a split season between Montreal and Tampa under the current setup, saying that the team needs to adhere to its current Tropicana Field lease.

According to Sternberg, the process for planning a split schedule — and two new ballparks in both markets — will still take place, just without the contracted schedule needed for a 2024 debut of the plan. So that means a resumption of the search for a new Tampa Bay ballpark site in the next 12-24 months, as well as proceeding with the current plan for a Montreal ballpark. Both ballparks, it would appear, would be open-air ballparks, as there would be no need to shelter Montreal fans from cold weather in April or May and Tampa Bay fans from hot weather in July and August. This would, in theory, lower the price of both facilities. From the Tampa Bay Times:

But staying full time in the Tampa Bay area, in Pinellas or Hillsborough, remains the least likely solution given their failed previous attempts.

“I’m open to any conversation,” Sternberg said. “They’d have to show me why it would work. We did work previously, we spent years on it. Some of the really solid business leaders, earnestly, and in a caring fashion, tried to make it work. But if there’s a genie in a bottle somewhere that wants to show me why it would work — I just can’t envision it. You never say never, but I can’t envision it. It’s less than highly unlikely.”

And if they were to consider it, he said a Hillsborough site would “no doubt” be the choice over St. Petersburg, but Hillsborough options “don’t see to be viable enough” either. “It doesn’t get over the bar for full season,” he said. “Is it more (attractive) than St. Pete? Yes, because St. Pete is not happening.”

Cynics will say that planning for a split season is at least partially a negotiating ploy in an attempt to get a deal for new full-season ballpark in Tampa Bay. But, the planning will move forward, and it could very well be that a mayoral change in St. Pete would also change things. Moving the Rays full-time to Montreal is not on the table yet — Sternberg thinks there are better markets interested in MLB, but has not talked with investors in cities like Portland, Las Vegas or Nashville — and it sounds like the whole situation is still in flux.

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