Rays owner Stuart Sternberg eager to embrace excitement of another season

Stuart Sternberg, the principal owner of the Rays since 2005, says he still gets butterflies on Opening Day.

Jonathan Dyer/Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — His feelings never change, and that’s what makes Opening Day special. The excitement, anticipation, possibility — the spectrum is all there for Stuart Sternberg, his tingle constant.

Sternberg, who has served as the Tampa Bay Rays’ principal owner since fall 2005, renewed that sensation Monday when the Rays hosted the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field to start another season. It was another Opening Day, another reason to remind himself why he treasures this game, this summer-long love affair with the national pastime. It never grows old.

Sternberg spoke on a variety of issues before first pitch. Here are some highlights.

On changes to Tropicana Field …

"Better and better. I was very pleased with the way things worked out there. In a perfect world, the batter wouldn’t need to see anything in center field, and we could just have full circulation. But we need people to bat."

On his emotions changing on an Opening Day …

Series primer

"When they do, I shouldn’t have this team anymore. So no, the answer is they don’t change. I pinch myself. Butterflies. And just smile ear to ear."

On memories of Opening Day growing up and with the Rays …

"Opening Day growing up was wishing that I would not be in school, that I could be at Opening Day and rushing home to try to catch whatever couple of innings there were, and having a transistor radio and walking home listening. My best Opening Day memory with the Rays was lifting the banner in 2009 (for the 2008 AL East title and the 2008 AL championship) because of the permanence of that. And every banner since. But that one was special."

On if this feels like a bigger season on the field or off it …

"I wouldn’t say off the field it’s any different than the others. There’s nothing that pressing right now as might have been in years past. The thing is, we know what it’s going to be. There’s no expectation of a traumatic change. But on the field, I cannot imagine a year that we’d be in better shape on Opening Day than we are right now."

On grand expectations surrounding the team …

"Scare the crap out of me. I’m not happy about it. We’re basically bringing back the same team that we finished with last year. And yes, we’ve added a different second catcher, and we’ve added a different utility player. And we traded one closer who had a legendary year a couple years ago for another closer who had a tremendous year last year. But other than that, it’s basically the same team. And it wasn’t like we won anything going away last year, as you remember. So why everybody is feeling that way is a little bit beyond me.  … This unanimity of it is quite surprising."

On if those expectations are good or bad …

"Well, it’s better than the alternative, certainly. But I’ll let you know in July. How’s that?"

Tampa Bay Rays on FOX Sports Sun

On if he has met with St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman since the spring …

"No. No, I have not. I hope to see him today. I’d like, if he’s here, just to say ‘hi.’ Progress isn’t going to happen with one meeting or another. It’s going to happen with the right minds coming together and trying to figure out what’s best for the citizens of St. Petersburg and of Tampa Bay and Florida in general."

On if he plans to meet with Kriseman within the calendar year …

"Yeah, absolutely. I enjoy speaking with him, and I know we’ll speak. And I do think that things will happen. Where it leads, I don’t know. None of us can. We’ve been at this now seven years, a few different mayors. I feel most confident in what the mayor has done so far, and I think the city is poised for some incredible things — both on the council and the mayor side. I would like to be a part of it. I think we can help move things along dramatically in the city."

On the interest of the Rays in the region …

"My focus is really on two things. When you look at the interest, I focus on the people who are here — not the ones who are not here. And I focus on the people who are engaged on television, on the radio, on the Internet, reading the papers, reading the blogs. The TV side of it — the ratings are nothing to scoff at. If you want to use the word — I’d use the word. And it’s something that has continued to give us the belief that Major League Baseball can thrive in the region."

On consistency of the franchise …

"A stopped clock can be right twice a day. Any baseball team can sell its soul for a season or maybe two by giving away your future — both with players and money. But the fact that we’ve been able to do it this consistently even amongst all the other baseball teams. On its own, it’s tremendous. But relative to the other teams, it’s an incredible job that’s been done all around, and we’ve done it without truly mortgaging the future. If you said this in 2011, 2012, you would have thought there was no way we could have pulled this off in 2013 and ’14. To be able to raise another banner today and have it stick there for a long time, there’s nothing to be more proud about."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.