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Q&A With Stuart Sternberg
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 2, 2006
New principal owner Stuart Sternberg, accompanied by sons Sandy and Jake, sat down with Times baseball writer Marc Topkin for an hour recently to discuss everything from what kind of fan he'll be to what he likes to eat to what Bruce Springsteen song he'd love to hear to whose autograph he'd pay for and the details of his secret late-night snack. Here are excerpts:
MT: So, are you having fun yet?
SS: Not yet. I wouldn't term it fun. There's a lot of adjectives to use, but fun isn't the first thing that comes to mind. We're setting things up to where it will be fun.
MT: What is the coolest thing the privilege of ownership has allowed you to do?
SS: Attending the owners meetings.
MT: What's been the biggest hassle or drawback?
SS: The public persona. No question. It'll wear on me a bit better eventually. I enjoy interacting with the fans. It's been wonderful. But the spotlight on me and the family doesn't quite work well with me.
MT: Why should fans who've given up on the Rays and been disgusted by the Rays come back this year?
SS: Although we use the term reconstruction, I really look at it as just the beginning. It's not a new beginning. It's not a redo. It's just a fresh approach, and as far as I'm concerned, Day 1 began in October. Having said that, it's fortunate we can look to the past to learn from mistakes, but hopefully not be held back by it.
MT: Of the initiatives you've put forth, which are you most proud of, most pleased with?
SS: There are two steps to it. One is the reorganization of the organization. And the thing I'm most proud of is the pride that the people in the organization now carry.
MT: You've said you don't know yet what kind of owner you'll be, but what kind of fan are you?
SS: What kind of fan am I? (My sons Sandy and Jake) could probably answer better.
Jake Sternberg (age 14): A dancing fan.
SS: That's fair.
MT: What's your favorite place to watch a game from?
SS: I'm probably a little biased. I've been everywhere. I saw the 1973 Mets-Reds game when Pete Rose got into it with Bud Harrelson and I was sitting in the next-to-last row behind the foul pole in leftfield. But I spent the last 20 years as a (Mets) season ticketholder 10 rows behind the visiting dugout. I like that view a lot. But given my greatest choice, it would be the second level, right behind home plate, a little elevated. Basically where the press box is.
MT: What's the most memorable game you've attended?
SS: It was Sandy Koufax night in 1967 at Shea Stadium. My dad took me.
MT: What about the '69 and '86 Series?
SS: I was at the '86 Series. I didn't go to the '69 Series. I was at the '73 Series. They get credit even though they lost. And being a Dodgers fan at the time, I was at basically every Yankees series in the '70s and early '80s.
MT: You're sitting at a game. Is it popcorn, peanuts or pretzel?
MT: Hot dog or hamburger?
SS: Hot dog.
MT: Do you stand in line at the concession stand?
SS: Yes, absolutely. I like it. It gives me a chance to talk to people and kibbitz. And we'll have (TV) screens up this year so you can watch the game. ... Hopefully there won't be much of a line because we'll move people along. What got me was one of the games we attended last year, we went up to get Dip N Dots and it was a long line.
MT: If you kept playing baseball, what major-league player would you have been most compared to?
SS: Ummmmmmmmm. Present or past? Steve Finley. A right-handed Steve Finley.
MT: Who plays you in the Stu Sternberg Story?
A. Tom Hanks.
MT: Who plays team president Matt Silverman?
SS: Let's see. ... Matt Damon? How about Matt Dillon?
MT: What makes the 2006 season a success?
SS: The level of interest. And I'll know it. We'll be able to feel it.
MT: How would you handle a 15-game winning streak?
MT: How about a 15-game losing streak?
MT: 100 wins or 100 losses?
SS: I wouldn't accept responsibility for either.
MT: What chore around the house would you do anything to get out of?
SS: Bill paying.
MT: What domestic skill are you the best at in your house?
SS: I take out the garbage. I'm the best garbage manager there is, between all the recyclables and everything else. Overseeing all the garbage needs and sanitation needs.
MT: And what would your wife say to that question?
SS: She thinks I do a good job at that. That's about the only one. I try but don't succeed at many of the others.
MT: Bruce Springsteen walks in and says he'll play one request for you live right here, right now. What is it?
SS: Well, is he alone or with the band?
MT: He's alone?
SS: Wild Billy's Circus Story. It's on the second album.
MT: So you're not going to waste your shot on the obvious?
SS: No. If he was with the band, probably Jungleland.
MT: What's the longest you go in a day without getting an update on the team from someone via e-mail, text message, instant message, voice mail or phone call?
SS: Does sleep count? During waking hours, probably half an hour.
MT: I just got a BlackBerry and I can't even figure out how to answer the phone. How long would it take you to show me how to use it?
SS: 5 minutes? 10 minutes? You, maybe 15.
MT: What Wall Street tactics are an applicable comparison to what you are doing with the Devil Rays?
SS: Know your market, and believe in your convictions.
MT: You run into someone who likes all the changes but wants to know why you didn't spend more on payroll; what do you tell them?
SS: We're spending what we can. People always want more. Even Yankees fans want more.
MT: How do you view the relationship with the Bucs and the Lightning?
SS: There's so much I need to focus on that that hasn't even been an issue. The Lightning, (president) Ron Campbell especially, has been very open and supportive. I don't see us as being in competition at all. I would see it as a partnership. I would think we've all got the same interests. I'd probably compare it to Chinatown in New York City; there's hundreds of Chinese restaurants, and what makes somebody go down there and open another one? Because the others are succeeding.
MT: What about George Steinbrenner? Have you met him?
SS: I've spoken with him. He's very cordial, very supportive and very welcoming.
MT: He's probably a good friend to have?
SS: Any friend is a good friend to have.
MT: Whose autograph would you pay for?
SS: I've paid for Sandy Koufax's, and I've also gotten it for free. Mostly historical figures - Benjamin Franklin, John F. Kennedy, Roosevelt.
MT: What celebrity would you just have to meet if you saw him out?
SS: There probably isn't just a few. One person I would really like to meet is (noted author) Roger Angell. That's somebody to have dinner with. As far as interrupting? I've done it to (actor) Oliver Platt. There's probably a number of comedians and actors.
MT: So who do you think is funny?
SS: Jeffrey Ross. Sorry to keep going with the oddballs. The rest of them have all passed away, like Buddy Hackett.
MT: Is there a TV show you have to DVR or tape and can't miss?
SS: Curb Your Enthusiasm.
MT: In the morning, is it coffee or tea?
SS: Green tea. From China. King's Tea. From the Ten Ren Tea company.
MT: Full breakfast?
SS: Greek yogurt and Grape Nuts. That's as healthy as I get, because at night it's the Yodels and Yankee Doodles and chocolate chip cookies.
SS: My favorite cookies? Oh yes, Mallomars. (A combination of graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate.) They're so special I can't even mention them.
MT: What's new with the process of changing the team name and logo?
SS: We're actually looking at it. It's in the background, but we've started to do some work on it. We've got thousands of names, literally, thousands of names to choose from, and we'll have to choose a direction that we're going to head into.
MT: So it won't be Devil Rays - is that fair to say?
SS: Yes, that's fair to say. If the name, in fact, changes, it won't be Devil Rays.
MT: So if it doesn't change, it would be Devil Rays?
SS: I thought I could get that one by you. That means it's not definite it will change.