Tampa Bay Rays strike out with split-season 'sister city' pitch

Owner says MLB has rejected plan to divide season between Florida, Montreal
Tropicana Field before Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox game in 2021
Posted at 11:18 PM, Jan 20, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A proposed plan by the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news Thursday.

The "sister city" plan struck out with MLB's eight-person executive council, which initially gave the team permission to explore the idea in June 2019 after attempts to build a new ballpark in the Tampa Bay area failed.

By rejecting the proposal, MLB faces the likelihood of its first potential relocation since the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals after the 2004 season.

The Rays lease at aging Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season. Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have ranked near the bottom in attendance annually.

Tropicana Field during Tampa Bay Rays practice in 2020
This is a general view of Tropicana Field during Tampa Bay Rays practice Saturday, July 4, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

There is still optimism that the Rays will remain in Tampa Bay.

Sternberg said in a statement on Twitter that his "goal is -- and always has been -- for the Rays to thrive here in Tampa Bay, today and in future generations."

However, Sternberg admitted that MLB's decision was "flat-out deflating" for the organization.

Sternberg said he has no intention of selling the team and hasn't sought permission from MLB to explore full-time relocation if a new stadium can't be built, but time is of the essence to find a new home by opening day in 2028.

"We're certainly going to be exploring things in the Tampa Bay region," Sternberg said. "I've said since I've owned the team for 17 years that our goal has been to keep it here for generations and generations. We have tried in the past to build in St. Petersburg. We've tried to build full season in Tampa, as well, so the idea that it wouldn't work completely is not necessarily the way our approach has been. We felt that this ["sister city" plan] was a much better approach and something that ensured it that it would work."

The "sister city" proposal called for the construction of two new ballparks -- an open-air stadium in the Tampa Bay area and another in Montreal. The Rays would have spent spring training and the early part of the season in Tampa Bay before playing the second half of the season in Montreal, while splitting their games equally.

Team and Montreal officials made their final pitch to the MLB group during the owners meeting in November.

Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier makes diving catch in front of 'St. Pete Clearwater America's Best Beaches' sign at Tropicana Field during Game 2 of American League Division Series vs. Boston Red Sox, Oct. 8, 2021
Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier makes a diving catch in the third inning off a fly ball in Game 2 of an American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Rays became Florida's second major league team, following the Florida (now Miami) Marlins.

Tropicana Field opened in 1990, five years before MLB awarded a franchise to Tampa Bay. The domed stadium was built to lure a major league team to the area and helped make Tampa Bay one of six finalists for two National League teams during MLB's 1993 expansion, but it lost out to Miami and Denver, which was awarded the Colorado Rockies.

Jen Salvey walks dogs outside Tropicana Field in 2020
Jen Salvey, of St. Petersburg, walks her dogs Sebastian and Lola outside of Tropicana Field, Thursday, March 26, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tampa Bay had unsuccessfully tried to lure the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners, and a group of investors from the area even signed a memorandum of agreement to purchase the San Francisco Giants from then-owner Bob Lurie in 1992.

The team, which changed its name from the Devil Rays after the 2007 season, has won two American League pennants and four AL East Division titles, including each of the past two seasons, in its history.