It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays play in the worst stadium in Major League Baseball. Since their inception in 1998, they’ve called Tropicana Field home, and the ballpark has been universally disliked by players and fans alike.
The stadium is a domed stadium, where the field is made of artificial turf instead of real grass. This creates a lot of problems for players, mostly when trying to field ground balls. The balls take different hops on the artificial surface than they do on grass. The turf is also harder, making players more susceptible to injuries.
Fans don’t like it because of its location. It’s located in St. Petersburg, Florida, about 23 miles from Tampa. There’s only one way to get to the stadium from Tampa. You have to take the I-275 bridge. There are no other options. This makes traffic a huge pain in the rear.
Largely because of this, the Rays have been at or near the bottom of the league in attendance over the last 10 years. Even in 2008, when they made an unexpected run to the World Series, they ranked 26th in the league in attendance. They ranked dead last from 2012-2017.
And it’s not like the quality of play has been bad. Like I just mentioned, this team made the World Series a little over a decade ago. They’ve made the playoffs three more times since then. That’s a pretty good run for a small market team.
According to a report from Jeff Passan of ESPN, MLB has just given the Rays permission to explore the option of playing their games in two separate cities. Now before I go any further, it’s worth noting that this plan is still in its very early stages and is considered to be a long-term process. With that out of the way, according to the proposed plan, the team would play their early season games in Tampa, and then play the rest of their games in…Montreal?
Oh boy, here we go again.
I think I’ve heard this song and dance dozens of times before. Ever since the Expos left Montreal for Washington D.C. to become the Washington Nationals in 2005, it seems like everyone wants the Expos to make their triumphant return.
And I can see why. The team was never very good, part of which was due to incompentent ownership, but the team definitely ran into some bad luck along the way. None of it quite stings like 1994. The team was on a roll during the first half of the season, featuring rising young stars like Larry Walker, Moises Alou, and future hall of famer Pedro Martinez. But a players’ strike occurred, causing MLB to cancel the rest of the season. Many fans to this day still feel like the Expos had what it takes to win it all that season.
But does the city really deserve to have another team? Even when the Expos were good, fans were not showing up to their games. Even in the aforementioned 1994 season they ranked 21st in attendance (out of 28 teams at the time). They ranked dead last from 2001-2004, their final four years in Montreal.
This whole plan to have the Rays play in two cities is really stupid, for lack of a better term. I would simply suggest building a new stadium for them, but sadly that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon, despite the proposed plan having new stadiums built in both Tampa and Montreal.
The Rays have been trying to get a new stadium for years now. Most recently, there was a proposal to have one built in Ybor City, which is much closer to Tampa. The team planned to use taxpayer dollars to fund the stadium. St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman was having none of that. The Rays have signed a lease to play in Tropicana Field through 2027, and Kriseman is not willing to let them leave. Ordinarily I would side with the mayor here, as there have been a lot of examples of sports teams strong-arming cities for new stadiums over the past few years. But in this case asking for taxpayer money for a new stadium is warranted.
Tropicana Field is a dump. It contains poor playing conditions for players, and the fans have a hard time commuting to the games. The Rays need a new stadium, that can’t be denied.
Since they can’t get a new stadium, why not relocate the team? I already went over why Montreal isn’t a good option, so why not growing cities like Portland, Oregon or Nashville, Tennessee? The NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers have ranked in the top 10 in attendance each of the last five years. The NHL’s Nashville Predators have really seen their fans rally around them as of late, especially when they made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017.
This plan complicates things for the players as well. Since the team would be playing in two cities, most if not all of the players would have to buy two houses or rent two apartments, one in each city. For a small market team like the Rays, who have a lot of young players who are still on their rookie contracts, this could create some issues. Granted, these players are still making six figures, so affording two houses or apartments shouldn’t be too difficult, but it’s just very inconvenient.
Overall, this situation was just made harder than it needs to be by all parties involved. Kriseman needs to loosen his grip on the team. If he does, build the Rays a new stadium. If not, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred needs to step in and consider relocating the team. This problem is not very difficult to solve. Stop with the dillydallying and get this done.