It appears the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal is about to take one step closer.
Tampa Bay Rays president Matt Silverman said Saturday during an appearance on This Week in Rays Baseball that the team plans to unveil a sign on the back wall of Tropicana Field showcasing a plan to split Rays games between Tampa-St. Petersburg and Montreal.
“We’re going to add a sign in the right field foul territory with a very simple Tampa Bay-Montreal graphic,” Silverman said. “Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it.”
In June of 2019, MLB gave the Rays permission to explore playing some of their season in Montreal, a city that has been without a team since the departure of the Expos to Washington D.C. following the 2004 season. The plan involves the Rays holding spring training and the early part of the season in Tampa and the rest in Montreal, with postseason play likely alternating between markets each year.
Silverman said Saturday he was "optimistic" about the plan as talks have progressed away from the public eye and added it is the only viable way to keep baseball in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area long term.
“It’s the best and possibly only chance for baseball to be here for generations. That’s been our sole focus. It’s never been about other markets and relocation overtures. It’s always been about how we can make it work here," Silverman said.
The plan involves new stadiums being built in each market, neither of which have been approved by either city. Any potential move or stadium change would take effect no earlier than 2028 as the Rays' lease at Tropicana Field does not expire until the end of the 2027 season.
There was much opposition to the plan when news initially broke two summers ago.
St. Petersburg, Fla., mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement in 2019 that he told the team he would not grant permission for talks with Montreal considering the Rays have a use agreement with St. Pete until 2027.
"The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding with the City of St. Petersburg," he said in a statement. "Ultimately, such a decision is up to me. And I have no intention of bringing this latest idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly.
"Major League Baseball may have given the approval for exploration of this concept, but for us in St. Pete, sharing this team with Montreal is not an option on the table," he added.
But that opposition appears to be changing, at least according to Silverman.
“There’s been an encouraging shift among our fans and community and a real openness about the plan,” he said Saturday. “[Tampa Mayor Jane Castor] was the first official who spoke up and expressed openness, and more voices are joining that chorus.”
The Rays currently rank 27th in MLB in average attendance per game at 9,370. Tropicana Field has been the home of the franchise since its inception in 1998.