Tampa Bay Rays get MLB's OK to explore playing some home games in Montreal

Will Tampa Bay Rays fans be saying "au revoir" to their team for parts of upcoming baseball seasons?

That question was raised Thursday when MLB gave the Rays the go-ahead to explore the idea of playing half their home games in Montreal, a city that has gone without the game since the Expos became the Washington Nationals after the 2004 season.

The Rays' perennially poor attendance figures at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., were a large factor in the decision, according to reports.

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One scenario calls for the Rays to play early-season games in Florida, then play in Canada when the weather gets warmer.

After years of attendance problems, MLB's Tampa Bay Rays may explore the idea of playing some home games in Montreal.

After years of attendance problems, MLB's Tampa Bay Rays may explore the idea of playing some home games in Montreal.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that the executive council had granted the Rays "broad permission to explore what's available."

Still, Manfred said, it's too soon to detail the particulars -- like where the team would play postseason games, or in what stadiums. He did not address whether this would be a step toward a full relocation of the team, nor was a timetable for a start of the possible plan announced.

But the news has sparked excitement in Canada, where the Expos played from 1969 until their departure to D.C. The Expos then, like the Rays now, operated with a small payroll, often losing stars to big-market clubs.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to reporters in New York City on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to reporters in New York City on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg, released a statement saying: "My priority remains the same, I am committed to keeping baseball in Tampa Bay for generations to come."

"I believe this concept is worthy of serious exploration," he added.

But Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg, was less optimistic.

Large crowds at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., have been rarities for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Getty Images)

Large crowds at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., have been rarities for the Tampa Bay Rays. (Getty Images)

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"[U]ltimately such a decision is up to me, and I have no intention of bringing this idea to our city council to consider. In fact, I believe this is getting a bit silly," he said.

Tampa Bay -- which joined the American League as the Devil Rays in 1998 and then shortened the nickname to Rays a decade later -- is averaging 14,546 fans per home game, ahead of only the Miami Marlins. The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since their inception and drew their smallest home crowd of 5,786 against Toronto last month.

The Rays had looked into building a new stadium for years but in December abandoned a plan to build across the bay in Tampa's Ybor City area. They are committed to playing in the Tampa Bay area through 2027.

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"You hear the passion from the fans there, that when the Expos played there, you recognize that they're in the mix now, there's been a lot of talks. I think baseball wants to go where baseball's wanted," Rays manager Kevin Cash said, adding, "I think the intention of it is ultimately to do the best that we can do to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay area."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.