Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg called a press conference on Monday without revealing his intentions to the public. After meeting with St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster, Sternberg stepped up to the podium to tell us what we already knew.
Tropicana Field isn't good enough.
Though for the past two seasons the Rays have had the best home record in all of baseball, the Trop is quickly becoming a relic of bland 1980s architecture. The catwalks, the spotty turf, the dome itself are all things people point to when they talk about Tropicana Field.
Rarely is a kind word said about the dome, except perhaps for "Thank goodness there is air conditioning in here!"
In 2008, the Rays announced plans for a new waterfront ballpark to be built on the site of Al Lang Field, the previous Spring Training home for the Rays. Billboards were erected, architectural renderings drawn, commercials aired, and there was even an advertisement inside the Trop about the new project.
Unfortunately, this ambitious project was scrapped upon being put to a vote in Pinellas County after the 2008 season.
This obviously has been the closest the organization has ever gotten to building a new stadium, and many outsiders wondered if the Tampa Bay area could even support baseball, a question many still ask today.
Undoubtedly, the best location for a new baseball stadium would be downtown Tampa, next to the Channelside District. Within the next few years, a high-speed rail hub will be located near downtown, bringing thousands of commuters from central Florida. Were a stadium to be built near this hub, the target market of the Rays would go from the Tampa Bay area to all of central Florida.
In addition to the new rail line, Channelside and Ybor City are within close proximity to each other and to downtown. They are close enough, in fact, that an electric trolley car system connects Channelside and Ybor, and there are plans to extend the line to downtown.
Imagine this area with the Rays playing close by: Channelside venues would be packed on weeknights, something almost unheard of today; Ybor would flourish and the area would rival neighborhoods such as Wrigleyville in Chicago.
The Rays fanbase is still growing and continuing to take form. The Tampa Bay area has become a baseball town with a deep love for its team. Residents of Tampa have been pleading for the Rays to move across the Bay and settle down, while the residents of St. Petersburg shot down the idea of building a new ballpark at very little cost to the taxpayers.
Give your team to the people who want it, Mr. Sternberg. Give your team to Tampa.