Legends On Deck

MLB (Thankfully) Stops the Rays “Sister City” Proposal

As the MLB/MLBPA lockout continues, fans may be looking for some good baseball news this off-season.  The leagues decision to stop the Rays from pursuing a partnership with the city of Montreal was significant.

The Tampa Bay Rays owner, Stuart Sternberg, had pitched a split season arrangement between Tampa Bay (St. Pete) and Montreal.  This would have meant the Rays played part of their season at Tropicana Field and another part in Montreal.  Tampa Bay would have likely been given the early season schedule (April-June), while Montreal would have had the late season (July-September).  This would have corresponded with weather trends.  However, there were so many holes in the proposal.

The Big Problem

The Rays have been a postseason contender for the last several seasons.  Where would postseason games have taken place?  How could that even be decided?  How much interest would fans in the Tampa Bay area have once the team departed for Montreal?  And, what interest might fans in Montreal have if the team were to arrive in June or July in last place?

In reality, fans in both localities would lose.  This is why it was a good decision for MLB to stop the proposal before it allowed other teams to consider the same option.  As the Oakland Athletics search of a stadium in the Bay Area, they might also consider splitting time between Oakland and Las Vegas.  And who else may follow?  How can franchises expect loyalty to a team that isn’t willing to show loyalty to a community?  In reality, it would be better for a team to outright relocate, rather than split a season.

Take The Show on the Road

This doesn’t mean that the idea of playing a select number of games in cities outside the 30 MLB franchises is a bad idea.  In fact, it is probably a very good idea in order to expand the game.  I have written a number of articles about this concept in the past.  For example, I strongly favor the continuation of destination games like the Little League Classic.  The Field of Dreams game this past summer was awe inspiring.  I would love to see MLB go back to the College World Series in Omaha.

I wrote an article several years back called, It’s Time for MLB to Go Back to the Minors.  In this piece, I laid out a plan for MLB clubs to play at least one game or even an entire series at their Triple-A affiliates ballpark.  If a franchise is going to have a “Sister City” it should be a city in which they share an affiliation.  This creates a bond between the local fans of the parent franchise and their minor league affiliate.  The same could be done with other levels of the minor league system.  Or even in-state colleges, for example.  What if the Tampa Bay Rays played a ballgame in Gainesville or Tallahassee?  What if the Atlanta Braves played a game in Athens?  These are the type of ideas that franchises and the league should be thinking about.

Montreal may indeed be worthy of consideration for a new MLB expansion franchise.  If that’s the case, they should begin hosting annual games.  Perhaps the Blue Jays could play a home game (or series) a year in Montreal against other AL East rivals.  Destination games overseas in places like Japan can help showcase the game in a variety of ways.  Games in Puerto Rico make a lot of sense.  But, splitting a franchise between two cities that are over 1,500 miles apart leaves no one satisfied.

What’s Next for the Rays?

Over the past few years, I’ve written at length about the future of the Tampa Bay Rays.  As a Central Florida resident, I’m personally interested in their future.  MLB’s decision should rekindle efforts to find a long term ballpark solution for the Rays.   Several years ago, there was discussion of a ballpark in Ybor City.  Moving the team out of St. Petersburg into a more central location in the Tampa Bay area would certainly help.  I’ve also written several articles pitching the idea of moving the Rays across I-4 to Orlando.  Pat Williams (co-founder of the Orlando Magic) has already formed a committee to bring MLB to Orlando.

The Rays could indeed begin to test out the Orlando market by moving the Spring Training facilities to the Orlando area or playing a few “destination” games in Orlando.  They could easily utilize the Champion Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports; former Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves.  An MLB Disney World Series featuring the Rays would certainly generate more interest in the Orlando market.

Ultimately, Florida is a hotbed for baseball talent.  It is also one of the fastest growing states in the country.  Taking any professional sports franchise out of the Sunshine State seems like a mistake.  The Rays should figure out how to make this thing work and make a long term investment in Central Florida.

**Picture from tampabay.com**

Brian Koss
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