Tampa leaders, Tampa Bay Rays want to make Ray-bor a baseball thing

A 14-acre site just off Adamo Drive would be, as they don't say, fetch, to a team that has long expressed discontent over its current home at Tropicana Field.

click to enlarge Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

News cameras lined up as chatter permeated the air in the historic Ybor City casita that was the childhood home of baseball legend Al Lopez, which now houses the Tampa Baseball Museum.

Dignitaries milled about, as dignitaries do. 

At long last, the din fell away and blue, muppet-esque Rays Mascot “Ray” opened the Friday press conference, whistling “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Then, the suit-clad men behind the big announcement stepped out to occupy the space behind the podium.

As was expected, the Tampa Bay Rays and city business and civic leaders announced their support of Ybor City as the site of the baseball team's new home.

Any fan of baseball colloquialisms in everyday speech would've gotten his fill as they described the process of moving an entire baseball outfit from one side of a massive metro region to another while haggling over who pays for a new stadium.

“Today, with our next hurdle before us, we are again stepping up to the plate,” said County Commissioner Ken Hagan, who helped lead the Hillsborough side of the stadium search.

(Okay, "hurdle" is not technically a baseball term, but there were plenty more where that came from.) 

The big hurdle?

click to enlarge Fans crowded outside the Tampa Baseball Museum in Ybor City ahead of the announcement on February 9, 2018. - Ray Roa
Ray Roa
Fans crowded outside the Tampa Baseball Museum in Ybor City ahead of the announcement on February 9, 2018.

The question of who is going to pay for the thing.

Business leaders Chuck Sykes and Ron Christaldi announced the formation of Tampa Bay Rays 2020, an entity aimed at helping the team figure out how to make the team's preference a reality — ostensibly, they said, through buy-in from area businesses and corporations.

Though their tone was optimistic, they acknowledged that there's a long way to go.

“Today is really the kind of demarcation line,” Sykes said. “This will be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I hope we take it.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the Rays belong in Tampa and that "baseball is in Tampa's DNA." And what better place to put a baseball stadium than the city's most iconic neighborhood?

“Ybor City is what makes this community authentic," he said. "It is our heart, it is our soul, it is the story of Tampa in every ethnicity and gender.”

He acknowledged that St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to allow the team to look at potential sites in Hillsborough County — which he didn't have to do — was an important aspect of the process, and it took a lot of guts.

“I will tell you that we owe a great debt of gratitude to Mayor Rick Kriseman for having the intellectual […] and the fortitude and the courage to do the right thing for the right reasons. To give this region — not just St. Pete, but this region — the opportunity to compete to ensure that the Rays stay in the bay area,” Buckhorn said. “That took a lot of guts and he deserves a lot of credit.”

Kriseman has, at least publicly, maintained that the team will eventually realize that the Trop site is still their best option, given the potential stumbling blocks for the Ybor site when it comes to funding and other issues.

But on Friday, Tampa Bay Rays principal Stu Sternberg said that part of the appeal on the east side of the bay is that there appears to be more potential for corporate investment in a new site and more potential to drive up game attendance — something that's been lagging at the Trop for years.

“The Ybor site was chosen through a collaborative, cooperative process with Tampa and Hillsborough County leadership," Sternberg said. "It represents the finest opportunity for Major League Baseball to thrive in this region for generations to come. This is where we want to be playing baseball and the possibilities are very, very exciting to me.”

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