The Tampa Bay-Montreal Rays? MLB stars say such a life would be ‘impossible’
CLEVELAND — The Tampa Bay Rays have long considered Tropicana Field unsustainable as a home stadium.
Several prominent major leaguers feel the same way about their plans to alleviate that.
Major League Baseball has granted the Rays permission to explore a split home schedule between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, a plan that would require approval from, among others, the city of St. Petersburg (not likely) and the MLB Players’ Association.
And the players gathered here for the 91st All-Star Game delivered almost as stern a rebuke to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg as the one delivered by St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman.
“It would be borderline impossible,” Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole said of a concept that would have the Rays play from April into June in the Tampa Bay area, and the remainder of the season in Montreal, both in new, open-air stadiums.
“I just don’t know what you would do if you had kids. It would be really tough on players’ families.”
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MLB and the Rays are both well aware of that and would plan to mitigate relocation as much as possible. Yet ballplayers are creatures of habit, above all, and the midseason disruption would put them at a competitive disadvantage in addition to the strain on family.
“That’s a lot, man,” Red Sox All-Star slugger J.D. Martinez says. “You know what it is to move your entire family and make a mid-season move, to another country? You’re not moving down the street.
“You gotta move your house, your kids, everything you have. And play a baseball season at the same time? That’s difficult.”
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the league “would have an obligation to bargain with the players about the effects of a two market solution. There would have to be provisions made to make that tenable from a player perspective.”
Tropicana Field has been the Rays' home since the club's inception in 1998. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, was a New York Mets first baseman in 2003, the first of two seasons when the flagging Montreal Expos played a handful of home games in Puerto Rico. He said the Rays’ split-home proposal is “far more complex,” though he also seems keen on the Rays finding a path to viability.
“I do know it is in everyone’s best interests to put that organization in the best position possible,” Clark said. “To the extent that that’s in Tampa, somewhere else in Florida, split in Montreal, there’s a lot of work to be done to see what that looks like.”
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The Rays did their best to get out in front of the issue with their own players, contacting team leaders such as Kevin Kiermaier ahead of the plan’s release, letting them know it’s quite preliminary in concept and several years away.
The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires after the 2027 season, and after their window to build a stadium in more centrally-located Tampa failed last year, the drumbeat of potential relocation is growing louder.
“I think Sternberg and those guys are just trying to find ways to lure more fans into the games,” says Rays All-Star outfielder Austin Meadows. “I played (in Montreal) with Pittsburgh a couple years ago, and the place is incredible.
“We’re going to continue to worry about baseball and the season. But we have to do whatever it takes. I personally enjoy the Trop; if the Montreal-Tampa Bay thing happens, I’m all for it, but for now we’re going to worry about the season and take care of it.”
That doesn’t lessen the sting of potential relocation – for part of future seasons, or permanently – for those who grew up in the baseball-rich area. New York Mets rookie and Home Run Derby champion Pete Alonso fondly recalls attending games in Tampa and says it would be “kind of upsetting” to see them split.
He’s also halfway through the grind of his first major league season, and realizes the strain this plan could create.
“As a player, that’s really tough. You have to have two apartments – one in Tampa, one in Canada,” he says. “Kids have to go to school. You have to have a routine. I don’t think that would be fair from a player’s standpoint.
“If that were to happen, that would be really disappointing.”
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