When you read this story, the first thing that comes to mind is the call of Bartolo Colon hitting his first major league home run. “The impossible has happened!” Well, that is how many baseball fans feel when they hear this news: The Tampa Bay Rays are actually close to getting a new stadium. Now, I have never been blessed to visit what can only be described as a concrete sarcophagus known as Tropicana Field. A place where things like this can happen:
The Rays moving to a new stadium does a few things. First, it gets them out of Tropicana Field. Any stadium that is not Tropicana Field is an upgrade. Second, it helps them actually build a culture around this organization. Third, it keeps this team in Florida. Now, the Rays have always been the butt of jokes about attendance. As an Indians fan, I empathize with Rays fans since we get some of those too. But a new Stadium may help with that.
Let’s take a look at the new proposal:
The new stadium would be located in an area in Tampa known as Ybor City and would cost nearly $900 Million to build. At a capacity of just under 31,000 seats, it would be the smallest Major League ballpark. It would still be a domed stadium (shocker! You’d think they would have learned their lesson), but the roof would be fully translucent and allow for natural sunlight to enter. It would be interesting to see how a ballgame would look with a translucent dome during a Florida thunderstorm.
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said that this new ballpark was “a dramatic break from the past” and would greatly enhance the Tampa Bay area. He also said that this was the organizations pitch for a long term commitment to the region. Sternberg believes that they could have an Opening Day at their new ballpark by 2023.
So, besides this being a great thing for the Rays if it happens, why does this matter. If this plan goes through, it will dramatically dictate what Major League Baseball does next. If the Tampa Bay Rays can get this stadium deal done and the Oakland A’s can figure out their stadium situation, then all 30 teams would be in a stable stadium situation for the foreseeable future. There wouldn’t be any more threats of owners moving teams to other cities to get their new stadiums funded. There would be the stress on the fans about the risk their team moving, but it would also kills any hope of teams coming to new cities. The last team to change cities was the Washington Nationals when they left Montreal in 2005.
This puts the league in an interesting position. It is no secret that Commissioner Manfred would like to expand the market for baseball. He has a choice to make: does he leave the league as is or does he expand Major League Baseball? Now, we can get into the whole argument of the practicality of realigning the divisions or if an expansion is good for baseball another day. My point is with the Rays new stadium marching its way closer to completion and the likelihood of the A’s staying put, it makes expansion more likely that relocation. If Rob Manfred is serious about expanding the reach of baseball, he is more than likely now to consider expansion than relocation. With the success of the regular season games in Mexico and exhibition games in Montreal, it would not be shocking to see Major League Baseball look at these two markets first.
This stadium may be one of the most historic to date. No, not because the Rays owner is touting that it is going to be a “game changer.” No, not because it gets them out of the most horrible stadium in the history of Major League Baseball. It may be significant because at the end of the day, it may lead to the expansion of Major League Baseball far beyond 30 teams. For now, we can only hope that the Rays and A’s can get the new stadiums that their fan bases rightfully deserve.