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2007 MLB Preview
He's just waitin' on a sunny day
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 1, 2007
With a season behind him, principal owner Stuart Sternberg is more comfortable in his role and more confident his team will be a success in the Tampa Bay market. He sat down with Times baseball writer Marc Topkin recently to discuss a little bit of everything: from Bruce Springsteen songs, to good burgers, to the players he likes to see, to his ringtone, to what invention he wished he'd come up with, to the benefits of being a rock star, and More Cowbell. Here are excerpts:
How are you a better owner now than you were last year?
You can't replace experience. While I think we've done all the right things and all the things we set out to do to this point, there's no substitute for experience.
Have you gotten more comfortable yet in the public spotlight?
On a one-to-one basis when I see people, yes. But when there are mentions in the paper, no, I haven't gotten used to that.
Of all the things you are doing to the Trop this year, what's the coolest change?
I'll give you a cool change, but there may be something way cooler. I think the (tbt*) Party Deck in leftfield - it will be dramatically different.
You said in February the "honeymoon was over." Did it last longer or shorter than you expected?
A good deal longer. I think the shelf life on something that's new just isn't naturally as long as something that's lasted. Especially when things are written (in the paper) on a daily basis. When we looked at it we were hoping it would be nine months until the real tougher questions started and I think it went a bit longer. I'm real appreciative of that.
What Bruce Springsteen song best describes last year?
From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)
(Key lyric: She ran down to Tampa in an El Dorado Grande, She wrote back home "Dear Mama life is just heaven in the sun, From small things mama big things one day come.")
And this coming season?
If I Should Fall Behind
(Key lyric: I'll wait for you, and if I should fall behind, wait for me.)
What was your first car?
A 1968 Buick deuce-and-a-quarter. An Electra 225. That was in 1976.
Who'd you take to your senior prom, and what did you wear?
I didn't go. Either we didn't have one, or if we did I was probably at a sporting event that night. That's the truth.
Do you have a special ringtone on your Blackberry?
Yea, my ringtone is an old-fashioned phone - bbbrrriiinnngggg!!
What's the most recent gadget you bought?
A cordless headset, a Bluetooth, for my wife.
How many e-mails do you get a day?
Counting text messages? It's just an estimate, but during the season probably at least 150.
If you hadn't bought the Devil Rays, what would you have spent your money on?
I wouldn't have spent it. I would have saved it. There was no Plan B.
The best burger you've found in the Tampa Bay area so far?
Yet to happen. But we are going to try El Cap and Chattaway. In New York, it's JG Melon.
Best breakfast place?
I haven't found a joint yet, but the pancakes at the Vinoy are spectacular. The blueberry pancakes are as good as I've eaten anywhere.
Three people you'd like to see sing the anthem at a Rays game?
Bob Dylan (below). Definitely Bob Dylan - that would be spectacular. My daughter Natalie (11). And maybe George Thorogood, who's coming into town (for the May 4-6 Bluesfest).
Best new music you've heard?
I like Citizen Cope.
Of the five papers you read a day, where is the St. Pete Times in the batting order?
Third. It's the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, St. Pete Times, Tampa Tribune and New York Post.
Do you karaoke?
Funny you should ask. No, until last week. I was singing We're All Alone by Boz Scaggs. So I have practice with that one. But if I did it again, I would do Jungleland from Bruce Spring-steen.
What would you say if one of your sons, Sandy or Jake, said he wanted to be a pro ballplayer?
Absolutely. Go for it. Although it would be extremely unlikely.
Would you rather be a star athlete, a movie star or a rock star? And why?
The rock stars get all the girls. The athletes have to work the hardest. And the movie stars have the most glamour and make the most money, and they can have the longest careers. So I would say a movie star because you have greater longevity. But if I could spend one year doing anything it would be a ballplayer.
What invention or business do you wish you'd come up with?
This is right up my alley. How about the paper clip? No, actually the safety pin. There's nothing greater than the safety pin. It's spectacular.
What about an actual business?
I think eBay. eBay is good.
Do you have a favorite Devil Ray?
And who is it?
Who are two or three opposing players you enjoy watching?
(Mets SS) Jose Reyes; he definitely stands out. (Yankees closer) Mariano Rivera, although can I say appreciate instead of enjoy? I can't enjoy it because it means they're winning when he's pitching, so that's not good. And (Phillies 1B) Ryan Howard.
Last year you said the coolest privilege of ownership was attending the owners meetings; can we assume there has been something a little more exciting?
Leaning on the cage during batting practice.
What road city have you enjoyed the most?
Cleveland. Because of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the restaurants and Jacobs Field.
As often as you travel, what kind of packer are you?
I consider myself a great packer. I travel very light. You can always buy something.
The most recent famous person you've run into?
Tom Brokaw. In a restaurant in New York. But it's funny - I didn't see him, I heard his voice first.
If you were commissioner for a day, what's the first change you make?
Does the union have to weigh in? I'd get rid of the designated hitter. It's got to go.
Last movie you saw?
Can it be at home? I don't get to the theaters much. Little Miss Sunshine.
Favorite baseball movie?
Favorite baseball book?
Boys of Summer.
What type of station is your car radio tuned to?
A college station, 90.7, WFUV. It's on the Internet - Fordham radio.
Who has the toughest job in the Rays organization?
I'd like to say Matt (Silverman, the team president) because he has to deal with me all the time. But it's Andrew (Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations).
How do you explain when people ask about your October 2005 statement that the payroll (which has gone down from last year) would increase 10-15 percent a year?
It will be 10-15 percent a year over a period of time. And no question about it.
What do you tell someone who asks why he should go to a game this year?
It's a wonderful place to spend a few hours, for baseball fans and for non-baseball fans.
Given that you plan to change the team colors and uniforms next season, what does all this blue that's showing up everywhere mean?
I like the color blue. Whatever we've done this year has no bearing on what's going to be in the future.
What goes through your head when there are more fans at the Trop cheering for the Red Sox and Yankees?
It makes it much sweeter when we win. The best game I've attended here, and one of the great games I've ever seen, was when we beat (Jon) Papelbon and the Red Sox last year, and they started playing Sweet Caroline at the end. That was spectacular. If it's all Devil Ray fans it's not as fun. Which will make turning this whole thing around that much more fun.
Last year you tried to make More Cowbell (which started as a Saturday Night Live skit) the Tropicana Field version of the Rally Monkey. Will there be more More Cowbell this year?
Yes. We've got to have More Cowbell. But I'm working on something else, too.
Your perfect meal?
Baked clams, a cheeseburger, fries and a diet Pepsi.
In this space last year, you revealed your unrequited love for Mallomars (a chocolate, marshmallow, graham cracker combo sold primarily in New York). So dare we ask, a Mallomar is better than ...?
Everything. But a Yodel.
Favorite real dessert?
I like ice cream. Chocolate chip. Or a black-and-white ice cream soda, which they do a nice job with over at the Don Cesar, at Uncle Andy's.
Are you having fun?
It's more fun now than it was a year ago at this time, because I am more certain of our ability to succeed.
And what's the name of the team going to be at this time next year?
Something different than it is right now. But most likely not dramatically different.