Lunch and learn more about the Rays' big idea for a split season

The Tampa Bay Rays ownership team wants you to know why they believe sharing the team with Montreal is the only way to keep a Major League Baseball presence in the Tampa Bay Area.

They’re pitching their unique “Sister City’’ plan, developed by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and team Presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman in a series of “Lunch and Learn’’ gatherings. The plan is for the lunch series to be held at least weekly in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in early 2022. Moving forward, the Rays intend to have similar sessions in nearby counties, such as Pasco, Polk, Manatee, and Sarasota.

“The concept is to meet people where they are,’’ says Rays Chief Communications Officer Rafaela Amador. “What we’re talking about goes beyond an easy soundbite. We want to have more in-depth conversations to help people understand what Sister City baseball is all about.’’

The Rays have already started hosting gatherings of 20 to 40 people, inviting business, community, and neighborhood leaders to ask questions and consider the possibilities. Moving forward, the team plans to open the events to the general public, Amador says.

The goal for the Rays is to gain better understanding and support from different people in all walks of life from different parts of the region in order to build momentum and make the plan succeed.

So far, the conversations have been in local restaurants and in front of membership groups, such as Tampa Tiger Bay Club and Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, where Silverman and Auld can talk candidly about what led to the Sister City effort and how it could work going forward.

They usually take roughly 30 minutes to explain what their plan is all about and how it will work. Then, they invite guests to ask questions.

A list of upcoming gatherings will be made available after the holidays with more information about them published in 83 Degrees. In the meantime, anyone interested in hosting or attending a luncheon in 2022 is encouraged to reach out to Wendy Brill of Sunset Public Affairs. Simply send an email to Brill.

What to expect at a Lunch and Learn

At a recent session in front of about 25 business, tech, and arts leaders gathered at Mise En Place restaurant next to the University of Tampa, Auld and Silverman gave a clear and concise overview of the Sister City concept, something that has never been attempted in Major League Baseball -- at least not to the extent to which a team split its entire home schedule between two brand-new stadiums in two different cities. Yes, the Expos spent a smaller portion of the 2003 and ’04 in Puerto Rico, playing in an existing facility that wasn’t anywhere near MLB standards. But that was just a temporary thing.
Rays President Brian Auld
Basically they are envisioning a new, open-air stadium somewhere in Tampa and they want the same thing in Montreal. The cost of each stadium is expected to be approximately $700 million and Auld and Silverman say the Rays would pick up roughly half the tab. 

Major League Baseball gave the Rays permission to explore the Montreal option in 2019 and leaders in Quebec have indicated they are interested in bringing baseball back to a region that lost it when the Expos left in 2004. Canadian businessman Stephen Bronfman has stepped forward as the frontman and potential minority owner if the plan gets approval, and Montreal officials are already exploring sites to build a stadium.

Long ago, the Rays determined that St. Petersburg’s domed Tropicana Field, where the team has played since it started as an expansion team in 1998, wasn’t Rays President Matt Silvermansuitable as a long-term home. Now that their lease expires in 2027, a decision about where to go next is feeling more urgent. 

“Baseball was meant to be played outdoors,’’ Auld says.

A new baseball stadium in Tampa would be designed to accommodate soccer too as a venue for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a professional soccer team also owned by Sternberg.

As it currently stands (and virtually everything is open to change), the Rays are considering whether to maintain their spring training complex in Port Charlotte. They are also considering whether to build a new training facility / player development complex in Pasco County north of Tampa.

The proposal calls for the Rays to play their spring training games and the first half of the regular season at their new ballpark in Tampa Bay, through the first half of June, before moving to Montreal, Canada for the rest of the season.

Auld and Silverman say they would like a firm plan in place by the time the 2022 regular season starts in April.

“Really, this is the last, best chance,’’ Silverman says. “I don’t even want to think about what would happen after that.’’

This story is underwritten by the Tampa Bay Rays in a new media partnership with 83 Degrees Media.

 

Read more articles by Patrick Yasinskas.

Pat Yasinskas is a freelance writer based in Tampa. He has been an award-winning sportswriter at ESPN.com, The Charlotte Observer, and The Tampa Tribune. He also currently freelances for Street & Smith's NFL and College Football preview yearbooks, and several other websites.