Montreal, San Antonio May Hold Keys to Solving Athletics, Rays Stadium Problems
Fans who want baseball to return to Montreal have circled March 28 and 29 on their baseball calendars, the two dates when former MLB ballpark Olympic Stadium (using the ballpark term loosely), will once again play host to the great game which was last on display on its artificial surface for the final Montreal Expos home game on Wednesday September 29, 2004, a loss to the Florida Marlins. Nine and one half years will have passed between that final Expos game and the two-game exhibition series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. For its criticisms, at least the Big Owe did not turn into a sewage dump like the Oakland Coliseum and if the Athletics ever did leave the Bay Area, the one city that thinks it has a suitable temporary stadium big enough for Big League ball is Montreal. Of course such a relocation would be tied to a new stadium that would eventually become home to the new Expos and sadly one of the great logos and team names tied to the long and glorious history of the Athletics would be lost. That is assuming that the Athletics moved to Montreal.
ON those same dates of March 28 and 29, San Antonio is trying to sell baseball on its viability as a future home to a Big League franchise such as the Athletics. San Antonio managed to transform its white elephant known as the Alamo dome into a temporary baseball park, as the stadium built in 1990 was intended to bring football and keep the NBA Spurs in town, but it was never even considered for baseball. IN fact, baseball was the only major North American sport that the venue genuinely could not hold under its original configuration and design. Yet a year earlier in 2013, the stadium hosted a two-game exhibition series between the Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres, a series that drew 35,000 the same night the Spurs were in town and then pulled in another 40,000 the next afternoon. This year while the Jays and Mets are playing in Montreal, San Antonio plays hosts to the two existing Big League teams from the Lone Star State as the Rangers face the Houston Astros. The Alamodome too would be just a temporary site if San Antonio were to obtain a team in Major League Baseball, as a stadium designed truly for baseball would have to be built.
A second franchise though will closely be watching the unfolding of events in Montreal and San Antonio; the Tampa Bay Rays WHO HAVE PLAYED IN A LESS THAN IDEAL BASEBALL SETTING SINCE THEIR 1998 INCEPTION. From almost the beginning, the Rays ownership groups found out a hard lesson in baseball real estate, its location stupid and it’s also about having a truly available local fan base that didn’t already have a team to call its own. Tropicana Field when it was built was supposed to be the modern baseball domed stadium, only it was built before the region even had a chance at a team, built before the new modern take on ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland, Arlington and Denver forever changed the way a ballpark is designed. Worse, the stadium was built in a location that lacked desirable fan experiences outside the ballpark and it was a night mare to travel to the facility from Tampa by public transit. Even with its problems though, fan attendance more than anything showed how the Tampa area was not ready for Major League Baseball. Average attendance in the expansion season of 1998 was around 30,000, dropping sharply to 18,000 the next year and average attendance has never again touched even 20,000 despite the Rays posting winning and contending seasons now for six straight years. Montreal averaged more than 25,000 a game during its high point from 1979-1983 and for several other seasons between 1984-1997, the Expos averaged more fans than what the Rays have drawn since their second year in St. Petersburg. As much as Florida fans are rightly criticized, Miami had an excuse in that the stadium was not truly built for baseball when the Marlins moved into Joe Robbie starting in 1993. Miami drew 37,000 that season, 32,000 in 1994 and even after the strike, they drew over 20,000 in 1995 and 1996, peaking at 29,000 in 1997. If ownership didn’t tear down a championship franchise, Marlins attendance would not have been ruined as it would be for years to come, a situation only further inflamed by the breaking down of the 2012 team after the new ballpark opened in south Florida. The Miami fans can be forgiven for not trusting their local team’s ownership to do right by the fans, the same cannot be said for Tampa. Miami for its first 19 years had a genuine issue of not knowing if the rain would wash out the game, Tampa fans did not have that problem to deal with either. Comparing the Rays fans to the Diamondbacks and Rockies fans in their franchise history is an insult to the fans of the Rockies and Diamondbacks, though one can argue with some truth that those teams both quickly rose to successful heights.
What the Rockies and Diamondbacks have though is something the Marlins lacked and something the Rays truly lack, a genuine local fan base with local roots. Many Arizona and Colorado fans did not have teams of their own to cheer on growing up, they watched and listen to games play by teams far away. Many of the fans in Florida though did not grow up in Florida, but rather in cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, and thus those fans cheer for their favorite home town nine when their heroes pay a visit to Miami and especially to St. Petersburg.
Could baseball expand again to 32 teams and perhaps give those franchises to San Antonio and Montreal, sure it could, but this season marks 16 years since the 1998 expansion and next season will be year 17; 16 years was the previous record time between new franchise additions from 1977-1993. Thus, the more likely result for San Antonio and or Montreal is to obtain and relocate an existing franchise and the Athletics and Rays are both primed picking.
The loss of the original Athletics name would not of course be a new thing for baseball, because while the Braves, Giants, Dodgers and Athletics have maintained their team names following relocation, the Browns changed to the Orioles when they transferred from St. Louis to Baltimore and both of the franchises that left Washington took on new names as the Twins and Rangers. So while Montreal could bring back Le Expos, San Antonio’s team would also probably take on a local flavor in its identity and the top candidate would be Missions, in honor of the long time minor league team name that is inspired by the cities long history with the old Mexican missions and presidios.
How would this impact alignment? Montreal would be a natural fit in the AL East with Boston, the Yanks, Baltimore and Toronto. If the Rays go to Montreal, it is just a natural progression, while if the Athletics went to Quebec, the Rays would be moved to the Central and the Royals would have to shift west. An Athletics move to San Antonio would require no change in division alignments and Texas would have three teams in the same division, I would recommend a flip of Houston or the new San Antonio franchise to the NL and a transfer of Arizona or Colorado to the AL. If Tampa moves to San Antonio and Oakland stays put on the west coast, that franchise would have to move into the AL West with Texas and Houston, thus pushing the Astros to the NL Central, moving the Brewers to the AL Central and moving the Tigers back to the AL East, so that your divisions would be as follows: AL West: Seattle, Oakland, LA Angels, Texas, San Antonio…AL Central: Kansas City, Minnesota, Chicago Sox, Milwaukee, Cleveland…AL East, Detroit, Toronto, Boston, New York Yankees, Baltimore…NL West, San Francisco, LA Dodgers, San Diego, Arizona, Colorado…NL Central, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh…NL East, New York Mets, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Miami.
March 28-29 will mean a lot to observers in many cities, in New York at the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, in Oakland, in St. Petersburg. But it will mean more perhaps to those in Montreal and San Antonio than anywhere else, as they make their case for expansion or relocation into Major League Baseball. They won’t have Spurs basketball or Canadiens hockey to compete with, the former plays a road game on Friday and will be home Saturday night after the 1:05 start for baseball in San Antonio, the ladder is off Friday and plays a Saturday night road game after the 1:05 start of baseball in Montreal.
Given the unlikely chance that two different franchises would relocate at the same time, Montreal and San Antonio will be competing in one major column that shows up in the boxscore and it is not runs, hits, errors, or runners left on base, no its that very last number on the page, ATT. Which stands for attendance.