No article about Montreal's 96,545 fans for two exhibition games this weekend drew as much attention as Jon Paul Morosi's FOXSports.com column, "Tampa Bay fans, take note: Passion for baseball is greater in Montreal."
Based on my firsthand experience, I can tell you -- unequivocally -- that there is greater passion for baseball in Montreal than Tampa Bay.Here's the shocking thing - I think Morosi's column is largely on-the-money. Compared to Tampa Bay, Montreal holds advantages in transit, corporate support, and 30- and 40-somethings with disposable incomes that grew up watching the team.
Does that mean the Tampa Bay Rays are about to become the Montreal Expos? No. The Rays have a lease with the City of St. Petersburg to play at Tropicana Field through 2027. An agreement with the city and/or a lengthy, expensive court battle would be required for the Rays to leave for a new market before then. Neither process is afoot.
But another extraordinary turnout at Olympic Stadium this weekend should be noted for what it is: a clear demonstration that Montrealers feel a greater connection to the team they lost than Tampa Bay fans do for the team they still have.
There are good Major League Baseball fans in Tampa Bay, but there aren't enough of them. It may be that the Tampa Bay region -- with plenty of families and retirees who love the game -- is best suited for spring-training afternoons and inexpensive minor-league games. There is no shame in that.
However, it's a moot point right now because Tampa Bay has a team. And a contract.
Because of the legal issues, there's no chance the Rays leave Florida in the next five, six, seven, or eight years. Maybe longer.
Eight years. Do you realize how more Montreal columns Morosi will be able to milk out of this?!?
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The question isn't which market would be better right now; the question is, which market would be better for MLB in 2026, 2027, or 2028? And how long it would take MLB to recoup relocation investments?
There's plenty of indication that leaving prior to 2027 would be costly for the Rays; the city of Seattle got $45 million from the Sonics after they left for Oklahoma City with two years left on a lease (which nearly became $75 million), and Minneapolis got an injunction blocking the contraction of the Twins since the team still had one year left on its lease at the Dome.
So you're plunking down money now for those 2022 Montreal Rays season tickets....I've also got some submerged land in Tampa Bay to sell you.
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Morosi acknowledges an MLB return to Montreal is - at best - a long way off, but an even better handicap of the situation in Quebec actually comes from British Columbia, where The Province's Ed Willis writes the strong showing may be all for naught:
So it has the endorsement of MLB. But what does that mean? Montreal might have value as a potential market, but it has more value to baseball as a stalking horse. Selig’s comments were made as the Oakland A’s continued their interminable search for a new park in the Bay Area. Manfred spoke as the Tampa Rays were trying to leverage a new ballpark in their town.Willis' conclusion that it all comes down to money is spot-on...which is why a potential hostile departure from Tampa Bay would be at least a decade away. It would just be too damn expensive otherwise.
Hate to be cynical, but we’ve all seen this game played too often in too many places to buy the story MLB is selling.
In the end, it would be like the Jets’ return to Winnipeg. Maybe it isn’t the ideal market, but there’s enough history, enough pride and enough love to sustain a franchise. Montrealers can see it. The question is, can anyone with some real dough see the same thing?
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