The prospects of Nashville getting its own Major League Baseball franchise seem to be improving by the day, despite the Commissioner’s recent decision to shelve expansion talk for now. But the good news is that Nashville is considered one of three top sites, the other two being Charlotte and Portland, for possible expansion teams. However another development now offers yet another possible means of Nashville getting a team sooner rather than later – relocation.
The Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East are currently contending for the division title despite lacking the resources of top rivals defending champion Boston and perennial contender the New York Yankees. Going into the weekend’s games, the Rays were only four and a half games behind the Yankees in second place and were two and a half ahead of the Red Sox. The Rays continue to do a lot with very little in terms of star power, and they’ve been quick to adapt and adjust with constant lineup changes and such innovations as using a group of relief pitchers for games instead of having a four or five man starting rotation. However the fact they are a contender for the division title hasn’t generated the kind of reaction in their home city that makes either MLB or the Rays very happy.
In fact Tampa Bay is last in attendance in the American League, and ahead of only the Miami Marlins. A recent home game drew only 5,000 fans and for the season they are averaging less than 10,000. A proposal for a new stadium in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg area has fallen through and now the Commissioner is trying to generate interest in a plan to have Tampa Bay split its home games between Florida and Canada, playing half of them in Montreal. The mayor of St. Petersburg has already thrown cold water on that proposal, calling it “silly.”
But while the Commissioner maintains no expansion can be done until the matter of a new stadium is resolved in both Tampa Bay and Oakland, that doesn’t mean one or other or both can’t relocate. Both those teams are playing in decrepit, old stadiums that are deemed worthless in the current environment. With MLB having a temporary problem with declining attendance, the possibility of having new expansion teams which would then generate huge entry fees is a quick solution to that problem.
The biggest obstacle facing a Nashville team is the fact the current First Tennessee Stadium, while ideal for a Triple A franchise, doesn’t come close to the attendance or logistical requirements for an MLB team. So a new ballpark will have to be built, which means deciding on a site, who gets the contract, and most importantly who pays for it? Whoever comprises the ownership team should have the responsibility of paying for it, and the taxpayers certainly shouldn’t have to foot the bill for yet another sports franchise.
Given the popularity of the Sounds, and how well an exhibition game between them and the parent Texas Rangers did in the preseason, there is without a doubt a big appetite for Major League Baseball coming to Nashville. It won’t happen anytime soon, if ever, and if/when it does a lot of questions must be answered and issues addressed. But the developments of the past few days and weeks are a good indication that MLB is looking at Nashville as a possible future site, and that one day there may indeed be a major league team playing in Music City.