If the owners get their way, there’s a chance that St. Pete may lose the Rays and the Rowdies. Owners want two new stadiums, one in Montreal, and another across the bay, most likely in Ybor City. That would mean a split season for the Rays, which few fans say they want.
St. Pete has become a great city since the Rays arrived in 1998. Truth be told, we no longer need the team to build our progressive and creative profile. Team or no team, the redevelopment of the Trop site is full of promise.
In 2008, I finally converted my loyalties from the New York Yankees to the Tampa Bay Rays. That year, our team changed its name and image from the Devil Rays, exorcising the Devil and taking advantage of our reputation as a Rays of Sunshine City. As a word person, I know good editing when I see it. I own countless TB hats and shirts with the shining sunburst icon.
As a word person, I know that names count – a lot. Some team names have been deemed offensive. Ask the baseball team in Cleveland and the football team in Washington, D.C. Some names – Red Sox and White Sox – derive from uniform colors. Animal names dominate, from ferocious beasts like Lions and Tigers and Bears (Go ahead, finish that sentence). To bird names galore, especially in baseball: Orioles, Jays, Cardinals. To fish: Sharks and Marlins. To mythological beasts: Kraken and Dragons.
The Dragons was the name of a short-lived basketball team in Montreal (our potential sister city). The Montreal football team is the Alouettes, which may be the only team that shares a name with a children’s song. (An “alouette” is the songbird we call a lark.)
One of the greatest franchises in sports is the Montreal Canadiens, a proud French-Canadian name, bested only by their other name Les Habitants. Often shortened to Habs, it refers back centuries to French settlers of Quebec, the “inhabitants.”
When franchises move from one city to another, they often, incongruously, keep their original names. The Jazz fit perfectly in New Orleans, but discordantly in Utah. The Lakers made so much sense in Minnesota, but not so much in LA, except for those first two letters. A once great baseball team, the Philadelphia Athletics carried that name to Kansas City and now to Oakland.
If eight years from now the Rays play half their games in Montreal, could I maintain my current enthusiasm as a fan? (Full disclosure: Exactly 50 years ago, my wife and I enjoyed our honeymoon in Montreal and fell in love with the city.) I believe that I could uneasily root for a team still called The Rays. It would take me more time to recalibrate my allegiance if the bilateral powers that be opt to rename us The Dragonflies, as has been suggested.
Did I mention that I am a word person? I think I have a solution. Remember Les Habitants? Let’s focus for a minute on the first word in that team title. “Les” is the French word for “The.” In French it does not rhyme with “mess.” It is pronounced as either “Lay” or “Lays.” If the next word begins with a consonant sound, the letter ‘s’ is silent, as in the title of the musical “Les Miz.” If the next word begins with a vowel sound, the ‘s’ is pronounced.
This leads me to this proposal. Keep the name of the team the Rays. When they play in Florida, they will still be known as the Tampa Bay Rays, encouraging the continuity of fan recognition and attachment. When they play in Quebec, they become the Montreal Rays, an elegant name, I think, better than the former Expos, named after a world’s fair.
But they need a nickname, n’est pas? How about Les Rays? Pronounced, remember, Lay Rays. It rhymes!
None of this would be my preference, of course. I love Tropicana Field and the Rays presence in St. Pete. But if it means I may get to schedule a second honeymoon in Montreal and watch my favorite baseball team, then put me in coach, I’m ready to play.