What’s the Plan? Tampa Bay and Montreal May Team Up on a Big League Baseball Team
Article by Adam Lague
These are interesting times for baseball in Montreal.
Anyone following the situation is familiar with what Stephen Bronfman and his partners have been trying to do, the acquisition of the land at Peel Basin, and the recent announcements involving a possible split team between Tampa Bay and Montreal. Here’s the latest.
On June 20, 2019, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported, the league’s Executive Council gave the Rays permission to explore a plan which would have them playing a portion of their home games in Montreal.
While the number of games each city would host is still unclear, the reports indicate the split-city concept could start as early as 2024 and that the plan would require two new open-air ballparks: One in Tampa, to replace the domed Tropicana Field, and one in Montreal, sans roof, on the land at Peel Basin the Bronfman-Devimco group acquired in May. There’s still a long way to go before this plan becomes reality, and many details remain unresolved. But we’re gathering more information by the day.
On Tuesday, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg held a press conference to explain his plan, which he considers a permanent solution to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay as well as bringing it back to Montreal. “We are focused on this plan,” Sternberg said on Tuesday. “We are focused on how the Rays can thrive here in Tampa Bay. This is about Tampa Bay keeping its hometown team – and Montreal having one as well. A permanent arrangement, a generational commitment to both communities, both communities secure that Major League Baseball will be played and thrive there for our and future generations.”
He suggested that the first portion of the season (including Spring Training) would take place in Tampa Bay during the cooler months. After a “summer send-off” the team would head north to Montreal to take advantage of beautiful summer weather. The schedule would allow each city to build a ballpark without a roof, and take advantage of a smaller commitment from fans due to fewer home games.
On Wednesday, Stephen Bronfman and Pierre Boivin held their own press conference to address the split-city concept and answer questions. Both men were very positive about the prospect of baseball returning permanently to Montreal, telling reporters there is still lots of work to do and still plenty of questions to answer. In response to concerns that fans may not respond well to a team that would only belong to us part-time, Bronfman replied: “It’s a full time team — it’s just played in two places.”
On June 20, following ESPN’s initial report, longtime radio host Mitch Melnick addressed fans on his TSN 690 show. “I know a lot of you are a little confused, not sure how to react,” Melnick said. “My own feeling as a long-suffering orphan baseball fan is, once you get Major League Baseball back in this city and the games count, and you are in any way, shape, or form part of a franchise, I don’t see how anybody could want to nix this or be reluctant to embrace it.”
You couldn’t be blamed if part of you feels a little guilty about this, like you’d be partially responsible for a fanbase “losing” their franchise the way we did back in 2004. But look at it this way: We’re not taking their team away. Instead, consider that under this plan, we would not only be getting a big chunk of regular season Major League Baseball games, we would be partnering with a franchise that operates one of the best young teams in baseball — they are in playoff position as of this writing — with one of the smartest, most progressive front offices in sports. Their division, the American League East, promises 20 games a year against instant rivals in New York, Boston, and Toronto — and that’s where a Montreal baseball team belongs. Sorry old school National League fans, it’s true.
The plan Sternberg just put forward — and Bronfman backed — is a great opportunity for Montreal to get baseball again. Shared team or not, this is exciting. Time to embrace any team who wants to call Montreal home.