Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — There’s a healthy dose of trepidation. There’s a good amount of concern.
But mostly, what Evan Longoria felt after hearing about the Rays’ toe-in-the-water plan to play a portion of their games in the Tampa area and the rest in Montreal was disbelief.
“It’s not a real thing,” the Giants third baseman told KNBR before Thursday’s series finale at Dodger Stadium. “You know, at least not yet. Even if something like that did happen, it’s probably a ways out. But, you know, come back and talk to me if it does happen and I’ll give you a better answer.”
In some ways, Longoria is still the face of the Rays, two years after he was traded to San Francisco. He was around the team long enough to be drafted by the Devil Rays in 2006, rose to stardom quickly and signed a six-year, $100 million deal that could have made him a Ray for life. But as his numbers tailed off, the Rays sold him off.
He hasn’t played a game with Tampa since 2017, but he’s willing to fight again for a team that still houses several of his friends, including Kevin Kiermaier and Blake Snell. There were instances when he complained about an empty Tropicana Field, but those are forgotten.
“I loved it there. I loved living in St. Pete. I loved the community there. We still have our home there,” said Longoria, who is Tampa’s career leader in games, at-bats, home runs and so many other categories. “I think it would be a bummer for the fans there to lose that team. There would probably be some upset people if they had to give up however many games.”
The tentative plan, presented as a sort of trial balloon and approved for exploring by commissioner Rob Manfred, would entail early-season games in the Tampa area and the rest in Montreal. Both cities would get new stadiums, and Tampa ownership argues that by only playing earlier-month games in Florida, it would be cost-effective through not needing a roof.
Tampa has had chronic problems with drawing fans, and the total home attendance of 552,740 thus far this season ranks second to last in baseball (last being their Florida neighbors, the Marlins). The Rays have wanted a new stadium for years and have an agreement with St. Petersburg to play at The Trop through 2027.
It is difficult to envision free agents volunteering to uproot their lives halfway through the season, or the incumbent Rays being content with that arrangement.
“It would definitely be tough on families. It would definitely be tough for travel,” Longoria said. “There’s a lot logistically that would have to go into it.”
It’d be tough on the city, too.
“Hopefully it’ll work for the people of St. Petersburg,” Longoria said. “The amount of time that I spent there, the kind of love for my family, the love we have for that community living there.
“We made quite a few friends there that were Rays fans over the years. You don’t ever want to lose a sports franchise in a city.”