Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sternberg Holds Pre-Season Court

As hope springs eternal across the Grapefruit League, Tampa Bay is preparing to embark upon its fifth season in the Stadium Saga. In fact, the Rays' original plans in 2007 called for the infamous sailboat stadium to open in 2012.

It's become a ritual for reporters to ask Rays' owner Stu Sternberg for his newest take on the stadium impasse at the start of each season. And much like he did at the start of 2011, Sternberg kicked off this season by toning down the rhetoric that had angered so many the previous year:

Times - Sternberg 'pretty certain' area can be viable long term
Trib - Payroll bump reflects faith in Tampa market
MLB.com - Sternberg has faith in Tampa Bay market
ABC - Sternberg appears to have called off the MLB dogs

Most of the analysis was complimentary, and, why not? Sternberg has managed to create the most successful team in baseball based on salary spent-per-win. He re-signed his much-wanted general manager and manager on "home"town discounts and heads into 2012 with one of the most respected teams in baseball.

All with one of the worst revenue streams in the bigs.

The success is not lost on the fans of Tampa Bay either, but Sternberg still risks leaving a Naimoli-like legacy on the region if he returns to his hard stances on the stadium talk. He toed a fine line Wednesday:

"We're sustaining [financial] losses," he told MLB.com's Bill Chastain. "That's got to end. The money we're putting toward [the team and this year's payroll] shows the faith we have in this market. I'm optimistic, and my belief since Day 1, was that it can and will work in this market, but we've got more challenges ahead of us and we've got things to do."

Sternberg seemed to then tip his hat to fans and acknowledge some of the team's responsibility in the revenue dilemma. But he also did the same thing last February, six weeks before he made his next set of frustrated comments:
"[B]aseball is just not going to stand for it anymore. And they'll find a place for me. They won't find a place here though. So it's up to us, to everybody, to figure out how to get it right."
The Rays and their owner deserve credit for taking the high road here, but they've also learned there's no way to sour fans on a successful season faster than expressing their frustrations over the Stadium Saga.

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