Tampa Bay Rays announce sign of Montreal future coming in the MLB playoffs
MONTREAL -- Baseball fans in Montreal will want to look on the right field wall of Tropicana Field during the MLB playoffs when the Tampa Bay Rays play.
Team president Matt Silverman said on the This Week in Rays Baseball radio show that the team will unveil a sign with a Tampa Bay Montreal graphic just as baseball viewers hit their peak for the playoffs.
“Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it," he said. It will mark the effort subtly and keep the focus on winning.”
The announcement about the sign confirms what Rays owner Stuart Sternberg first said in 2019 that the team would split time between Montreal and Tampa Bay in the future.
"It's an affirmation of the intention of the owner of the Rays to have the team play out of Montreal for half of the year," said Expos Nation founder and TSN 690 Radio host Matthew Ross.
Asked to comment on the matter, Montreal Baseball Group, through its spokesman Daniel Granger, declined an interview request from The Canadian Press. A message sent to Stephen Bronfman, who fronts the group, went unanswered.
The Rays also declined an interview request from The Canadian Press.
Major League Baseball already gave the Rays permission to split their season in Montreal.
A Journal de Montreal story on Friday said the partnership will be announced after the Nov. 7 Montreal mayoral election.
The Rays' lease in St. Petersburgh, Florida runs until the end of 2027, so they would need to buy out the lease if they wanted to split time with Montreal before 2028. The sister cities plan would involve building a new stadium in Tampa Bay.
The local Bronfman Group will also need to cement plans for a new stadium in Montreal before MLB games will be played here, Ross said. The Montreal Baseball Group has targetted land in the peel Basin that is currently owned by Canada Lands Company, which the group would develop with Devimco.
SIlverman said that the plan is the only way to ensure baseball stays in Tampa in the future.
"That’s been our sole focus," he said. "It’s never been about other markets and relocation overtures. It’s always been about how we can make it work here.”
The Rays recently clinched a post-season birth and first place in the AL East division. Tampa lost in last year's World Series to the LA Dodgers. This year, the team is offering tickets for $10 to playoff games to try and lure better crowds. The Rays average a meagre 9,513 fans per game, which is 26th in the MLB, ahead of the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins.
The Blue Jays, however, played a portion of their games at their spring training complex in Dunedin, Florida, where TD Ballpark's maximum capacity was limited to 1,000 fans, and at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, where the Jays could not fill more than 35 per cent of the 16,600 seats for their first games. The stadium was able to be filled to capacity in late June, before the team returned to the Rogers Center -- limited to 15,000 fans -- in late July.
The A's were also limited to a maximum of 12,000 at the Oakland Coliseum much of the season.
Ross said the new sign may be a shot across the bow from Sternberg to put pressure on local administrators to approve a new stadium in Florida.
"He's already said that Tampa Bay is not viable anymore for all 81 homes games," said Ross. "They clearly want everybody to know that this is the plan moving forward accept it, and embrace it."
MAYORAL CANDIDATES REACT TO NEWS
On Monday, the two main candidates in the election, outgoing mayor Valérie Plante and former mayor Denis Coderre, were both asked about the issue.
Plante said she was very enthusiastic about the return of baseball to Montreal, but said she did not want to see taxpayers' money used to build a stadium.
Coderre "sees the project in a good light", as long as "it comes from the private sector". He added, however, that people don't want to hear about baseball or building a stadium in the current environment.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Monday that it wants Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon to release information about the cost of Bronfman's baseball stadium project.
“Any sum Fitzgibbon gives to Bronfman has to come from Quebecers’ pockets first and taxpayers can’t afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium that will only get used for half a season each year,” said CTF Quebec Director Renaud Brossard. “It’s absolutely wrong for Fitzgibbon to cook up a huge bill in backroom deals without even letting taxpayers take a look at it.”
The CTF said Bronfman's group has not published economic impact studies or how much taxpayer money the project will get.
“Building a major league ballpark can easily cost a billion dollars and a part-time team won’t be able to pay for this,” said Brossard. “Taxpayers have already let the government know they’re against this handout, it’s high time Fitzgibbon listens to them.”
With files from The Canadian Press.