Rays change course, won't display Montreal sign at Trop during playoffs

Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

The Tampa Bay Rays sent shockwaves through baseball communities across the United States and Canada over the weekend when they announced they would begin promoting a two-city partnership with Montreal during the upcoming post-season. Now, the team is walking back that plan with an apology.

“I’m really here to speak directly to our fans today,” principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in a radio interview Tuesday, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “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.”

On Saturday, team president Matt Silverman announced the new marketing campaign, which would feature a "very simple Tampa Bay/Montreal graphic" displayed at Tropicana Field during the Rays' upcoming playoff run. The plan would see the Rays open the season in Florida but finish the season in Montreal when the team's current lease at the Trop expires after the 2027 season. While virtually unheard of in professional sports, Silverman said in a radio interview Saturday that "it's the best and possibly only chance for baseball to be here for generations."

"Especially with the eyes of baseball on us this October, we want that visible symbol of our plan and our excitement for it," Silverman said of the sign. "It'll mark the effort subtlely and keep the focus on winning and winning games in October."

However, the plan was widely panned by Rays fans, who said the sign and potential move would distract from the team's playoff run. Speaking Tuesday, Sternberg acknowledged those critics in his apology.

“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," he said. "Post-season 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.”

Montreal's former team, the Expos, was relocated to the D.C. area and rebranded as the Washington Nationals in 2004.

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