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Rays have until December 31 to get someone to pay for new ballpark


Three years ago the city of St. Petersburg gave the Tampa Bay Rays a three-year window in which to negotiate with municipalities other than St. Petersburg for a new ballpark. If the window closes with no agreement the Rays are stuck in Tropicana Field for their full lease, which runs through 2027.

Earlier this year the Rays announced a tentative agreement for a new stadium across the bay in Ybor City in Tampa. The “tentative” part is that there was no funding in place for the ballpark and, of course, the Rays don’t really feel like paying all that much of the cost for their own facility.

As Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today, that three-year window is almost up, ending on December 31. Which means the pressure is on:

But the team and elected leaders have yet to publicly reveal how the community would help pay almost $900 million to move the team to a new ballpark in Ybor City.

With elections now out of the way, negotiations between the team and city and county officials on a ballpark financing plan are expected to kick into high gear. That included meetings last week between recently re-elected Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Irwin Raij, the county’s outside counsel on stadium issues.

Isn’t it funny how there was not much activity regarding how to give a professional sports team money from “the community” before the elections but now that the elections are over, things are about to kick into high gear? It’s almost as if everyone involved knows that it’s unpopular for “the community” to pay a baseball team’s way into a new ballpark that will benefit the baseball team almost exclusively.

Hunter Pence is mashing for the Rangers

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Hunter Pence was thought to be on his way to retirement after a lackluster 2018 season with the Giants. As he entered his mid-30’s, Pence spent a considerable amount of time on the injured list, playing in 389 out of 648 possible regular season games with the Giants from 2015-18.

Pence, however, kept his career going, inking a minor league deal with the Rangers in February. He performed very well in spring training, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Pence hasn’t stopped hitting.

Entering Monday night’s game against the Mariners, Pence was batting .299/.358/.619 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 109 plate appearances, mostly as a DH. Statcast agrees that Pence has been mashing the ball. He has an average exit velocity of 93.3 MPH this season, which would obliterate his marks in each of the previous four seasons since Statcast became a thing. His career average exit velocity is 89.8 MPH. He has “barreled” the ball 10.4 percent of the time, well above his 6.2 percent average.

What Pence did to a baseball in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

That’s No. 9 on the year for Pence. Statcast measured it at 449 feet and 108.3 MPH off the bat. Not only is Pence not retired, he may be a lucrative trade chip for the Rangers leading up to the trade deadline at the end of July.