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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
ST. PETERSBURG - The new principal owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is a baby boomer with a passion for rock 'n' roll. He has seen Bruce Springsteen in concert "40-45" times and likes to quote from a Bob Dylan classic, The Times They Are A-Changin'. That may well be music to the ears of Rays fans.
Stuart Sternberg's opening number as the Boss was a hit Thursday, as he delivered an optimistic vision for the downtrodden franchise.
"The first one now will later be last," he said with a smile following his introductory news conference, referencing a line from the legendary Dylan tune.
Whether that means the last one now will later be first in the American League East remains to be seen. But Sternberg, 46, says he is intent on trying to make it happen.
He spoke comfortably to the media and city officials at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, working in an allusion to President John F. Kennedy: "We will not ask what you can do for the Devil Rays; we will ask what the Devil Rays can do for you."
He is a busy father who, until recently, coached the Little League teams of his two sons, ages 15 and 13, in Harrison, N.Y., for nine years. "I'd like to say we always won, but we did quite often," he said.
And he could get coaxed out of coaching retirement if his daughters, ages 9 and 6, decide to take up softball.
He has played centerfield for more than a decade in his hometown recreation league softball team named Second Chance. "I still manage and run the team," he said. "We've never won a championship, but we've made the playoffs quite often."
He's a pop culture connoisseur who can just as comfortably talk about The Godfather, Die Hard or even Wedding Crashers as the fine points of Wall Street and the financial securities industry in which he made a fortune over 25 years.
He loves to grill and treat those close to him to fun times, such as a trip this year to Yankee Stadium with his softball team, co-workers and family.
The handful of longtime associates he has brought with him as team investors paint a picture of an energetic, creative employer who gives his staff leeway to do their jobs without micromanaging.
And he's a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan.
"He's a great guy, an honest guy, a hard worker and he's been a baseball junkie all his life," said Randy Frankel, a venture capitalist who worked with Sternberg at the firm of Spear, Leeds & Kellogg and the Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
"Stuey's just a major sports fan. And if you asked him who was the starting five on the Rutgers 1976 basketball team, he'd reel off five names. That's what kind of mind he has. So you put the combination of being a huge sports fan and being a good businessman together, hopefully this is going to be a successful match."
Steve Levick, a Philadelphia private investor, has gotten to know Sternberg as a co-worker and friend over more than two decades. "Stu is a person who has the sensibilities of wanting to do the right thing in all situations, being very fair and knowing how to win," he said.
New team president Matt Silverman describes Sternberg's work style as confident and innovative.
"He's someone who is not afraid to challenge tradition," Silverman said.
"He likes to make decisions quickly. He likes to be very prepared. And he likes to make sure that you think thoroughly through a lot of issues. And it's been a great joy to work with him for a number of years."
Away from the office, Sternberg is a regular guy and devoted family man to his wife, Lisa, and four children, Silverman said.
"If you didn't know him as principal owner of the Devil Rays, he'd blend into almost any crowd - at a Springsteen concert, at a baseball game. We attend many Mets games together at Shea Stadium, and he just kicks back with his family. He wears jeans, has a beer ... and watches the game. And he keeps score."
Sternberg's love of the game goes back to his childhood in Brooklyn. The youngest of three children, he was born and raised in the borough's Canarsie section, becoming an avid fan of the Dodgers and later the Mets.
He played the game in the streets and on the neighborhood playgrounds, and later in organized leagues. But what shaped his feelings about baseball just as deeply was attending games with his father.
His fondest memory: going to his first game with his dad at Shea in 1965 and watching Dodgers great Sandy Koufax pitch.
Sam Sternberg, who operated a decorative pillow business in Brooklyn with his wife, Beverly, died last year at 81 after a heart illness. Not being able to share Thursday's joyous moment with his father hurt, he said.
"It would be great if he were here," Sternberg said. "But fortunately, he was aware of what was going on. We started discussions in December of '02 and had some significant discussions in the summer of '03, and I made my dad aware of it then. I was on a family vacation in St. Petersburg right before he passed away, and I flew back up and said, "Dad, we signed the deal; things will come out in the next few months.' He was just an incredibly proud father."
Sternberg made his parents proud before that, attending St. John's University, then parlaying a part-time Wall Street investments job into a full-time occupation.
His career soon soared as a managing director at Goldman Sachs and a partner at Spear, Leeds & Kellogg. He reportedly made between $300-million and $400-million when the firm was sold in September 2000 and has focused on private investing since then.
"He's wonderful," Beverly Sternberg told the Times last year. "And I'm not just saying that because I'm his mother. You ask whoever worked with him. He's very good to his family. He's crazy about his kids. He's a good father. He's a very caring person."
And he's a music nut who makes time to attend concerts of his musical favorites, such as Elvis Costello, the Clash and Neil Young. He estimates he has seen Dylan "15-20 times," including a show last year with Willie Nelson at the Rays' minor-league affiliate in Fishkill, N.Y.
"We sat on the grass, and it was a beautiful night," he said. "I just watched the (Dylan) documentary on PBS - it was spectacular."
And what's his favorite Springsteen song? "It always changes," he said. "Probably Jungleland."
A fitting choice for the man born to run a team that, after 10 years, is still trying to find its way out of the baseball jungle.