Baseball in 2028 – Part 2: Relocation

Eric Urbanowicz
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In part one of our “Baseball in 2028” series, we examined the idea of a league expansion from 30 to 32 teams. In addition to the 10 cities named in the article, there’s various others making a case for a team. Those same cities are also keeping an eye on one of Florida’s baseball teams as well.

In 2027, the Tampa Bay Ray’s current lease at Tropicana Field expires. While the city of Tampa Bay has remained committed to keeping the team in the stadium, the team has expressed interest in a new stadium and possibly even relocation.

If this interest is maintained, then the Rays may no longer call Tampa Bay their home after 2027. If that ends up being the case, where will they go? In the second part we’ll take a look at five cities that could make a case to be the future home of the currently named Tampa Bay Rays’ organization:

 

5. Orlando, FL

The last time a Florida team “moved” in baseball, it was the Miami Marlins from a suburb outside of Miami to the city of Miami. Parts of the agreement of the move were new colors, a new logo, new uniforms and to take on the city’s name, instead of the “Florida” name they had for nearly two decades. That could happen again except instead of Miami, it could be Orlando.

Home to the Walt Disney World and Universal Studios theme parks, Orlando has been a tourist destination for the last 50+ years. With Walt Disney World alone reportedly making over twenty billion a year (except 2020 when they had to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic), they easily could help finance a move. Given Disney’s previous sports ventures such as owning the Anaheim Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels) from 1996 to 2003, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks) from 1993 to 2005, and their association with the Orlando Magic, they could be a huge proponent.

The one thing stopping this, believe it or not, could be attendance. The Magic were amongst the bottom half of attendance in the NBA last season prior to the bubble. While the area can bring more people in than most, if baseball can’t catch on, it will be deemed a failure.

With Orlando Magic cofounder and Vice President Pat Williams launching a campaign to get a team in Orlando, it’s very possible this could happen. Given his experience in the sport, it looks more tempting as he was a minor league baseball player. If it does happen though, please don’t rename the Rays to the Dreamers.

 

4. Montreal, Quebec, Canada

From 1969 through 2004, Montreal had the Expos, the first Major League Baseball team located outside the United States (the Toronto Blue Jays formed in 1977). Despite a lack of success and even an attempt to disband the team in 2002, baseball stayed prevalent. However in 2003, Major League Baseball bought the team and relocated them to Washington D.C. under the name the Nationals before the 2005 season.

For the last 15 years there’s been no baseball in Montreal. However, the Tampa Bay Rays have expressed interest in playing in Montreal, even to the point that commissioner Rob Manfred seems interested. Though it was halted by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, it seems like the Rays could make the jump.

The one major issue standing in the way of this happening is that Montreal’s attendance prior to the move in 2005 was abysmal. In 2001, they only drew 642,748 fans, a low that hadn’t been seen in decades. The next years it went up by quite a bit but lack of success also capped it.

The one big thing that this move would have, other than team backing, is the nostalgia factor. Younger fans may not know they existed other than by the logo being on memorabilia, but older fans don’t forget the Expos at all. That won’t go away for a while, but if MLB is going to capitalize on it, 2028 would be a good time to pull the trigger on a full on relocation.

 

3. San Juan, Puerto Rico

Baseball is the most popular sport in Puerto Rico and is seen as the premiere sport on the island. Over a hundred active players in the MLB were active in the Puerto Rico Baseball League and quite a few have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. So why not put a team there?

After seeing the success of the exhibition game between Tampa Bay and the Cuban National Team in 2016, as well as the multiple games played in Puerto Rico in 2003 and 2004, there’s a lot of promise in the Caribbean to be had. With baseball attempting to get more fans, including internationally, this could be the gateway that opens that door. It’s just a bonus that the weather is normally beautiful.

There’s two major problems that this idea would face this idea: travel and finances. Puerto Rico is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, so flight is something that would have to happen. From Tampa, Florida to San Juan, the flight is a little over three hours. While that may seem like nothing, factor in states like California and Washington and you’re talking around nine to ten hour flights. Baseball would have to plan frequent off days for travel, causing stoppages of play in some instances.

Financially, Puerto Rico is in bad shape. Following a financial crisis that started in 2014, they’ve tried to find ways out, including freezing on creditor collection and going into Title III, a territory-specific form of bankruptcy. Then in 2017, Hurricane Maria hit and caused around $91.61 billion worth of damage. While Puerto Rico reached a deal with bond holders to restructure some of its debt, it’s going to be a while before the island sees any form of financial stability.

While it makes sense from a baseball fan’s standpoint, it wouldn’t from most others. The idea would be great as a celebration of baseball but potentially a burden on the citizens of Puerto Rico. However, it could potentially open up the island’s case to lose its territory status in favor of becoming a state. If that happens, it would possibly make it easier for financial help to reach the island.

 

2. Buffalo, New York

Following the success of Buffalo hosting the Toronto Blue Jays due to the Covid-19 pandemic, maybe it’s time to discuss putting a team there permanently. The home to the Bills and Sabres, Buffalo may have some of the most hardcore and crazy fans in all sports. Once fans are allowed back into stadiums, the team would be welcomed with open arms.

With all the changes and upgrades to Sahlen Field, it would be wise to strike while the iron is hot, as to not let the field go to waste. When modifications are made to turn a minor league stadium to a major league park, to go back to housing a minor league team there for the foreseeable future becomes a tad questionable. It will happen when the Blue Jays return to Toronto but it should serve as temptation when it’s time for the Rays to make a decision.

The problem here could be spacing. Toronto is around a two hour drive to Buffalo, meaning they’d share their market. Considering that Buffalo is also the home to the Blue Jays’ minor league team, the Buffalo Bisons, that could cause conflict. Simply put, Toronto would put their foot down and say no.

The other issue is they’d become the smallest market in baseball. In the last census, their metro area was 1,130,152 people. The current smallest market in baseball is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, home to the Brewers: 1,559,667. With their population trending downwards, it’s not a good look.

We could be wrong but who wouldn’t want to see the crazy pregame rituals those fans would come up with before those games?

 

1. Richmond, VA

Back in 2018, a firm hired by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney did a study on how Richmond ranked as a city to host a major league franchise. They finished tied for fifth with Norfolk-Virginia Beach for being able to host an expansion or relocated team. While beach areas are nice, MLB may be better off in the city.

Since 2010, their population has grown nine percent and is seemingly still growing. There’s also enough distance from Washington D.C. to make the team their own thing. It’s area also starting to become known for some of the players that are coming into the league. To add a team there could potentially inspire more kids to play and help keep the sport alive.

But like Buffalo, it’s still kind of a small market. Yes they have the areas around it, but their citizens and residents generally support the Washington D.C. teams. It also doesn’t help that Richmond is home to a NASCAR track that could see sponsors unwilling to invest in a baseball team and NASCAR racing.

If Richmond can’t drum up fans, then the relocation may be for nothing. While definitely a worthy host, there’s also some major reservations about moving there.

Eric Urbanowicz

Connecticut

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