The Tampa Bay Rays have received permission from MLB's executive council to explore a plan in which they would play home games in both St. Pete and Montreal, returning baseball to the Canadian city for the first time since 2005.
The dual-city plan has already been embraced by the Rays, who have been struggling for years to build a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area. The solution would see the Rays play early season home games at Tropicana Field before heading north of the border to Montreal for the remainder of the year, with both cities receiving new stadiums.
The two-city Rays team plan is still in its infant stages and is considered a long-term project.
It's an interesting kind of idea, Rays outfielder/infielder Brandon Lowe shared before taking the field at Oakland on Thursday night. "It's in the future. It's so far ahead of us that it's going to be big news right now, but I feel like a lot of us are just kind of, 'it happened, we saw it,' but that's really all it is."
The Rays have been attempting to build a new stadium in St. Petersburg for over a decade, where they currently play at Tropicana Field. Their lease is set to run through 2027, meaning the dual-city plan would require finding a Florida stadium as well. Any potential move relies on whether the Rays will be able to make a deal in the Tampa Bay area for a new stadium, sources say.
Montreal lost the Expos when the team moved to Washington, becoming the Nationals before the start of the 2005 season. The return of baseball to the city has long been contemplated with significant support from local power brokers, including Stephen Bronfman – son of the Expos’ original owner Charles Bronfman – who reached an agreement with a developer on a site in Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighborhood for a new stadium about a month ago.
The deal with Montreal would keep the Rays in Florida while potentially adding major revenues to the franchise, with Montreal offering a healthy corporate base for sponsorships and an enthusiastic fan base that could support what would amount to a half-season ticket plan.
"I was fortunate enough to have played there when it was in its halcyon days," said Steve Rogers, who was a five-time All-Star pitcher for the Expos from 1973-1985. "It was a destination spot; I have no doubt that the city of Montreal would go over the top now to embrace a major league team. I do believe that."
While other MLB teams might object to the Rays occupying two geographical territories, the support of the executive council to explore these plans seems to be a significant step forward.