Hillsborough County prepares to pitch to Rays, again

A day after St. Petersburg's mayor said the Rays' idea to split the season with Montreal before 2028 was dead, Hillsborough negotiators pledged to pitch another deal.

As the team's general manager prepared to pitch to new players at baseball's winter meetings, Hillsborough's top negotiator, Commissioner Ken Hagan was getting into his own kind of batter's box.

"After the winter meetings that are coming up here shortly, we will sit down with the team and start to have serious discussions about a ballpark in Tampa," said Hagan.

Though he said he wasn't overly thrilled about a split-season idea, Hagan said it might be a way to start a dialogue, especially because the ballpark would likely be small.

He considers the proposed Ybor City site - explored last year - the team's first choice.

"I am still hopeful that we will be able to work out a deal for the team to be here for the entire season," said Hagan. "If not, a shared-cities concept should be something we should at least consider."

Indeed, the Rays said Thursday that they asked Mayor Kriseman for the right to negotiate with Tampa for a split-cities deal. Kriseman said the team turned down his offer to let them negotiate with Tampa for a full-time stadium before 2028.

"There are some decisions that the team is going to have to make," Kriseman said Thursday.

Both sides of the bay agree, though, that the Rays will eventually decide the Bay Area is still its first choice, especially because of the size of the TV market and the region's growth.

In the meantime, St. Pete city councilors are itching to redevelop at least parts of the Tropicana Field site, which they call prime real estate for restaurants, hotels, homes, and stores.

"While there is a strong development market, and while the energy and vibrancy of our city is so strong, now is the time to do that," said council chair Charlie Gerdes.

Ken Hagan did reiterate that a starting point for a Rays contribution to a ballpark should be half of the cost.

He says meetings with the team could begin after the new year. He also says the league considers the Bay Area its first choice as well.