Rays change plans, won’t post sign about Montreal at Tropicana Field

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HOUSTON — The Rays have dropped plans to post a sign at Tropicana Field during the postseason that would tout their proposal to split future seasons between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the change on Tuesday’s Rays radio pre-game show, apologizing to the fans for making “a big mistake” with the idea to put a sign on the back wall to serve a “visible symbol” of the sharing plan.

“I’m really here to speak directly to our fans today,” Sternberg said. “And to apologize, quite frankly. I’ve always said that baseball is meant to be fun and engaging and exciting. Brings a community together.

“I made a big mistake, a real mistake, in trying to promote our sister-city plan with a sign right now in our home ballpark. I absolutely should have known better. And really, I’m sorry for that. I’m here to tell ... the fans that the sign is not going to go up.”

A major part of the negative reaction to the sign plan, which the Rays made public Saturday and said was designed to get media coverage for the split-city concept, was that it would take attention away from the team competing in the playoffs. The Rays will host American League Division Series games Oct. 7 and 8, with tickets going on sale to the public Thursday.

Sternberg acknowledged the volume of the reaction.

“There’s been a lot,” he said. “There’s been a lot written about it nationally, locally, in blogs and on sites. I know we have passionate fans who love this team. And I’m forever grateful for that. And that passion shows itself in many ways.

“The last thing I want to do is discourage any of that passion. The mistake I made here is directing that passion away from the field. Our fans deserve to be focused on Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena, Brandon Lowe. This has been an absolutely wonderful season. And it’s not over yet, obviously. There’ll be time to discuss and debate the future of Rays baseball. Right now it’s time to enjoy Rays baseball.”

Further, Sternberg said: “I knew that a sign would bring us attention. And we do want the attention. I just didn’t completely process that now isn’t the moment for it. Postseason is a special time. October baseball is a special time for a team and its fans, and nothing should take the attention away from the games.

“It’s a time for the whole community to come together and rally as one. By suggesting we have a sign that I knew could be controversial, I put much of that at risk. Plain and simple, it was a bad decision. And that’s why we aren’t going to go through with it.”

But dropping the sign doesn’t change the Rays’ efforts to implement the plan, in which they would play the first part of the season in a new open-air ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, then shift in June to Montreal and play in another new open-air ballpark there, starting in 2028.

“Look, I love this team, and I love baseball,” Sternberg said. “And I’d like to think anybody who follows the team knows since we’ve been at this, the future of the Rays organization and keeping this team in Tampa Bay for generations to come is something that constantly weighs on me. And it has for years.

“With the sister-city plan, I know we found a way to do that exactly. I’m excited about it. I’m enthusiastic about it. And our fans deserve to know how serious the situation really is.”

Team president Matt Silverman said Saturday that with their Tropicana Field lease expiring after the 2027 season, the time to resolve the future of the franchise “is now.”

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