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Rays not giving up on 'incredible' sister-city plan

Team President Matt Silverman thinks this proposal is the way to "prop up" the franchise.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays sure don't seem to be giving up on the idea of playing home games in two cities in the same season.

While St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriesman shot down the team's hopes last week of having a split-city operation in place by 2024, the Rays still believe the plan is the best path forward for a franchise that's always been on the cutting edge.

"We think that the way to prop this franchise up, make it sustainable and get it from the bottom of the revenues to somewhere closer to the middle, is this shared-season plan," Rays President Matt Silverman said in an interview with MLB Network Wednesday during the MLB Winter Meetings. "Montreal and Tampa Bay complement each other in terms of weather. 

"Both markets have their challenges, but together, we think it could be incredible."

He's not the only one, apparently.

Team owner Stu Sternberg continues to tout that is the best option to keep baseball in Tampa Bay long term, given the team's low attendance totals and failed attempts at stadium deals in downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa's Ybor City. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday it's in everyone's best interest to get behind one plan. He doesn't believe the Rays will break their lease at Tropicana Field, which runs through the 2027 season.

Silverman admitted the timeline for this plan was pushed back after the city of St. Petersburg gave, well, push back on this pitch.

So why insist on this being the solution, instead of working out a long-term stadium deal in Tampa Bay?

"You have two fan bases, two corporate bases, two TV contracts, all feeding together, " Silverman said during the interview, "and allowing us to generate the revenues we need year in and year out.”

Even if this shared-season idea was, somehow, given the green light, there are so many hurdles still to work out, especially the impact on the players, who would have to "live" in two cities.

Then, there's that stadium thing.

“It requires two parks," he said. "It requires a new park in Tampa Bay, an outdoor stadium with 25,000 seats, almost a spring training stadium on steroids...Then, in Montreal, a 25-to-30-thousand seat stadium, almost the biggest beer garden and baseball party you can imagine. 

"You have those two incredible environments and I think you fill both of those places 40 times a year. You have packed crowds 80 times a year as opposed to what we have today, which we’re at the bottom of the league in attendance.”

The Rays won 96 games this season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013, falling one win short of the ALCS. They expect to be in postseason contention for years to come, so a playoff format would have to be creative if the team calls two cities home -- a "high-class problem" according to Silverman.

"We’ll probably alternate," he told MLB insider Peter Gammons, expanding on a possible home playoff schedule. "The first time we make it, we’ll be in Tampa Bay for all the games. The next time we make it, we’ll be in Montreal. 

"We’ve talked to a number of fans and season-ticket holders, they like the idea of going up to Montreal for the playoffs. Taking that weekend trip and going up and seeing a couple of games and rooting their team on in a home park, but it happens to be in a different city.”

An ambitious idea, but that's all it is for now.

The year 2028 is still a long way away, but one thing is clear: The oft-contrarian Rays aren't ready to fold this plan just yet.

"It's not happening in 2024 or 2025, which was the earliest it could happen," Silverman said, "but that's our focus."

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