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Sternberg 'excited,' still exploring two-city plan

@juanctoribio
December 16, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- While St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman ended talks with the Rays last week about a potential sister city agreement between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, Rays majority owner Stuart Sternberg remains confident in the idea. "I'm more excited about the plan now than I was a

SAN DIEGO -- While St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman ended talks with the Rays last week about a potential sister city agreement between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, Rays majority owner Stuart Sternberg remains confident in the idea.

"I'm more excited about the plan now than I was a month ago. I'm more excited than I was a month before that, and I'm more excited than when we made the announcement in June," Sternberg said. "Most people we've spoken to in small gatherings and stuff like that, they get what we're trying to do."

Sternberg said he believes both areas would benefit from the idea, despite Kriseman and St. Petersburg not wanting to build a new stadium for a part-time team. Sternberg, however, understands that there are still things that need to be resolved over the next couple of years in order to fully execute the plan that he envisions.

On Tuesday, Sternberg met with a group of reporters and provided an update on the situation, while also answering some of the questions surrounding the plan.

What's the updated timeline?

With mayor Kriseman ending talks last week, the Rays will need to stay at Tropicana Field for the duration of their lease, which ends after the 2027 season. After that, Sternberg is able to continue exploring possibilities for the franchise.

"We're targeting 2028 Opening Day. To this point, there's no way around it," Sternberg said. "We would have to do it with a 2028 start as opposed to a 2024 or 2025 start date. That was clear to us four, five weeks ago. We're moving forward like that."

However, Sternberg indicated that in order to make a potential sister city plan work between the Tampa Bay area and Montreal, they would need to have a concrete plan in place by 2022 or 2023 in order to give potential free agents and team employees an opportunity to plan accordingly.

What has been the reaction from players or Major League Baseball's Players Association?

Sternberg said that he understands some of the difficulties about a sister city plan in terms of housing and planning, but he also believes there are some benefits to the idea. Ideally, the Rays would move their Spring Training facility to the Tampa Bay area, which would allow the players a couple more months in the area before moving to Montreal in late June for the summer.

"I would envision something where they would be more apt to live year-round, because if they have Spring Training [in Tampa Bay] and they have a good chunk of the season [in Montreal], and it's only those 12 weeks -- which by the way, is not the worst place to be in the summer, or 12 weeks -- and I think we'd get even more year-round residences from our ballplayers."

Sternberg said early conversations with players haven't given him enough of an indication of how negotiations would be affected, but he doesn't believe it would be an issue with the players or the MLBPA.

In a proposed plan, which city would get postseason baseball?

This has been a popular topic of discussion regarding the sister city idea, and Sternberg said they would still need to sort out the plan in the case that the team makes the postseason.

Sternberg said there are a couple different ways that the team can approach the situation, with alternating cities in the postseason being the most likely, according to Sternberg. In a perfect situation for the proposed plan, the team would play one postseason series in one city before moving on to play the next series in the other city.

"In baseball, you don't even know [where you're going to play] until sometimes the night before," Sternberg said. "It's possible that you just choose to play the first series in Montreal, the second series in Tampa Bay, or you play them on through. One thing I do know, we couldn't play the same series in both [cities]."

Sternberg admitted that they would need to sort those things out if a sister city plan is ever agreed upon, and it would also need to run through the MLBPA.

So, what are the remaining hurdles?

In order for the plan to work, both cities would need to agree to build a new stadium in their respective areas. Sternberg believes that Montreal is already in position to do so, but the Tampa Bay area remains hesitant in building a new stadium for a part-time team. The area and Sternberg have already had issues trying to find a full-time home for the Rays.

"Oddly enough Montreal is sort of a place already -- we don't know where we are going to be in Tampa Bay -- but Montreal's like, 'Oh yeah, we got a spot.' They don't have it under lock and key yet but I can get that done pretty easy."

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.