ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from when Wander Franco signed his mega-deal extension.
Could the Tampa Bay Rays be eyeing Pasco County as the site of a future training complex? The short answer is: Probably.
Rumblings of the team looking for a facility closer to home were first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
The news comes as the MLB franchise is still in the middle of exploring stadium concepts, locations and plans once its contract with the City of St. Petersburg comes to an end in 2027 — but more on that later.
While the Rays are "declining comment" about any activity in Pasco County, several city and state leaders have confirmed the team is considering potential training complex sites in the area.
“I’m excited about the idea of the Tampa Bay Rays relocating their spring training to Pasco County & Florida’s Sports Coast and look forward to continuing the conversations," Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore told 10 Tampa Bay.
Mayor Jane Castor's Office echoed the sentiment, saying the mayor is "aware that [the] Rays are considering having a player development operation or facility in Pasco" but that she doesn't know any further details.
"Spring training would be in Tampa IF Rays wound up with a stadium in Tampa," a spokesperson added.
Castor recently met with Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg regarding a stadium plan and looking at trying to come up with a workable financing plan.
The City of Tampa, at the time, said it had not committed to anything outside of trying to do what it could to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area. Regardless of what financing outcome is selected, the city said taxpayers are not going to have to open up their checkbooks to bankroll a stadium.
Senate President Wilton Simpson also chimed in on the attention on Pasco County as a potential training site for the Rays saying, "I do believe they have a lot of interest in it."
The senator says "depending on the details" he and other Pasco-based legislators wouldn't be closed off to the idea of exploring state financial aid for a training site.
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Currently, the Rays call Charlotte County home when it comes to spring training and have done so since 2009. The team gets its reps in at Charlotte Sports Park, a "state-of-the-art" facility with a team store, upgraded concession stands and kids play area.
According to a spokesperson for the Charlotte County Board of County Commissioners, the Rays are currently under contract with the county through the 2028 spring training camp.
"Charlotte County has enjoyed partnering with the Tampa Bay Rays on their spring training camp and player development program since 2009. We are aware of the media reports about potential relocation discussions, but were told by the Rays management they have no immediate plans to move their spring training location. The Rays’ current contract with Charlotte County runs through the 2028 spring training camp," a spokesperson wrote in an email to 10 Tampa Bay.
So, even if the Rays do end up making the move to Pasco County, it appears it could be a while before fans would actually see a facility come to fruition.
10 Tampa Bay also reached out to Pasco Economic Development Council President and CEO Bill Cronin who issued the following statement:
"Sorry, we don’t comment on projects we may or may not working. (you know that)."
With the latest developments surrounding the Rays, you might find yourself asking: How did we get here? Glad you asked.
Believe it or not, the Tampa Bay Rays' stadium saga dates all the way back to 2008; but things really started to heat up in January 2016. It's the year the City of St. Petersburg granted the team permission to explore Tampa stadium sites — they were given three years to give a final answer.
In 2018, the Rays would publicly announce the selection of an Ybor City site, but the financing for a new stadium at the time remained a mystery. Fast-forward to July of that year, and the Rays released renderings of a proposed $892 million Ybor City stadium.
Five months later, Sternberg, announced the MLB franchise would not be able to finalize plans for the stadium. The City of St. Petersburg would then be informed that the team was officially terminating its negotiation window with Tampa.
The year 2019 would birth the idea of the Rays becoming a two-city team after getting permission to explore the idea from the MLB. But St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman threw the team a curveball when he said the Rays could not explore playing in Montreal or any other city prior to 2027.
A back-and-forth ensued between Sternberg and Kriseman until the idea pretty much struck out.
RELATED: 'I made a big mistake': Rays owner walks back plans to display Montreal sign at Tropicana Field
Then 2020 came along and Mayor Castor met with the Rays to discuss a potential move across the bay.
“Today, we took a meaningful step toward securing the future of Rays baseball in Tampa Bay beyond 2027. We appreciate Mayor Castor and Commissioner Hagan’s leadership and look forward to a continued dialogue with City and County stakeholders. We remain focused on the Sister City concept and unwavering in our commitment to work in partnership with the community as this process moves forward," the Rays wrote in a statement.
It's the same year that St. Pete started to seek "world-class" proposals to transform the 86-acre site where Tropicana Field stands. Developers were asked to consider both plans with and without a stadium for the Rays.
“The sooner we can provide jobs and affordable places to live to our residents, the better,” Kriseman said during his 2021 "State of the City" address. “And the sooner the Tampa Bay Rays make their desires known, the better.”
In April 2021, the team’s leadership group proposed their vision for a new "world-class" eco-friendly outdoor stadium that would be used year-round to host the Rays baseball team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team and other sports throughout the year.
But it wasn't the only proposal on the table.
The Rays' push for a stadium across Tampa Bay in Ybor City was revived when the team's president, Brian Auld, met with Hillsborough County commissioners to discuss the sister-city plan.
Auld hinted Ybor City could make a future Florida home for the team if it moved from St. Pete and began splitting the season with Montreal.
"We periodically provide updates to elected and community leaders on both sides of the bay. There are elected officials who have not yet had the opportunity to hear directly from us on the details of the Sister City baseball plan, and we are meeting with them to provide additional information. Our priority is to keep baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come, and Ybor City, with its storied baseball past, would make an outstanding home for Tampa Bay's baseball future," he said.
While what will ultimately happen to the Tampa Bay Rays is still a bit of a mystery, there's one thing for certain. The site they currently call home is getting a facelift — with or without them.
Earlier this month, Kriseman announced that Midtown Development was selected to redevelop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site. The project, which will likely take about 20 years to complete, is seen by many as an opportunity to make up for promises broken when the site was originally redeveloped in the 1980s.
Initial plans for the Midtown proposal included a retail space, a hotel, a conference center and green-certified housing, including at least 1,000 lower and moderate-income units.