Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg still expects to conclude the search for a new stadium site in the Tampa Bay area this year, but revealed Thursday that they have been denied their top choice, or even top two.
"We had some ideas on locations that just weren't available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they're off the table,'' Sternberg said in Port Charlotte. "So we're sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4. It's like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1. The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.
"We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we're working and trying to find out what will be next best.''
Sternberg would not say where that site was, or even whether it was in Pinellas or Hillsborough.
Asked how confident he was their years long search would conclude with a workable site in the Tampa Bay area, Sternberg said: "It's unknown at this point.''
Sternberg said several times that the search process is "not being done in a vacuum,'' and involves participation and cooperation from land owners, city and county officials and MLB, which he updates through commissioner Rob Manfred.
"We have to work with Major League Baseball to show them we have a pro forma that actually makes some sense to spend the next 50 years,'' Sternberg said.
Sternberg said there is no deadline, except the deal with St. Petersburg to be allowed to look elsewhere. He said in February he expected conclusion by August, but said Thursday it could take until the end of the year.
"Nobody wants this process to move quicker than we do," he said. "Because the sooner we are able to get something done the quicker we're able to ramp up our revenues and know where our future's going to be for the next set of generations to come, but it's an important process and we're not doing this in a vacuum. We're working with various cities on both sides of the bay, we're working with the different counties on both sides of the bay, we're working with MLB to a point as well, landowners sometimes in some cases. It's a complicated process.''
Sternberg has been optimistic something can be worked out in the Tampa Bay area.
Sternberg said one reason for optimism is that their fan base will continue to grow over time, that fans who were kids when the Rays emerged as a contending team in 2008 and just getting to adulthood.
"That's been my mantra all along, a fan base is built generationally,'' he said. "That's been my plea to MLB
... is that the generational thing can take some hold. That's the case I'm making to baseball and to others why MLB will work here if you give it a reasonable enough time if you give it a reasonable enough time, another generation and we're halfway into this generation.''
Manfred last month said he was optimistic a solution would be found in the Tampa Bay market; Stemberg said Thursday that is based on what he has told Manfred.
"Most of what they know about the area is what they see in the data and the numbers, which are not pretty, and in the way I portray our situation anecdotally and what I'm hoping to accomplish, which I think is very optimisitic,'' Sternberg said.
"And Rob is trusting me and trusting our judgement that when we come with a plan with somebody or some group on one side of the bay that it's going to be a good plan and something that wull pass muster with him and with the rest of the owners in MLB.''
Interestingly, Sternberg noted how Braves officials "surprised everyone" by working out a deal in relative secret - "in the middle of the night, where there is this huge tract of land and discussions have happened. ...
"You need a big chunk of land for that and you need to be working with a municipality that has got their stuff together and ready to go and is really looking to get something done.''