Sternberg: Rays more surprising than in 2008

ST. PETERSBURG -- In the rear-view mirror, the Rays organization can see a departed manager and general manager and countless players on the disabled list. Yet they are at the top of the pack in the American League East.

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That reality that seems more like a fantasy prompted Stu Sternberg, Rays principal owner, to tell reporters that what the the 2015 team has done has been more surprising than what his 2008 AL champion team did.

"The season's not going to stop today, unfortunately, or fortunately, because it's a great ride," Sternberg said. "We have no expectations about where we're going to be at the end of September or October, but I would say the way I look at things and view them in my unique spot in all of this, is that this is more surprising than 2008, by a good amount."

Sternberg cited the level of competition "especially in the American League East and all of baseball" for having made the road the Rays have traveled even more difficult.

"To be where we are with people's expectations of the type of team we were expected to have [plus an] almost unimaginable amount [of players] on the disabled list, it's beyond improbable," Sternberg said.

Despite the team's success, the Rays' attendance at Tropicana Field continues to lag. Sternberg kept a poker face when asked about "nobody" coming to the ballpark.

"TV numbers are similar to what they've been in the past," Sternberg said. "And 'nobody' is an absolute term. I think of it in relative terms. And we still have a lot of people coming out, and the fans that are coming out are incredibly grateful and incredibly supportive.

" ... We'd obviously love to see more. Any team in baseball would love to see more. But we play for the fans who are here, and we play for the fans who watch on TV and listen on the radio and follow us."

Sternberg said he didn't know how much the Tampa Bay Lightning's run through the National Hockey League playoffs has affected the attendance. When asked if he expected the fans to start showing up given the way the Rays are playing, he smiled.

"This is just great baseball," Sternberg said. "It's just been a wonderful brand of baseball. I don't know what to think. Last night was a Monday night. Clearly a large hockey game going on [Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final]. And there was a storm. To be sitting here and seeing many, many thousands of people sitting here just really getting into the game is what it's all about."

Sternberg allowed that overall the attendance has been "a bit lower than I thought it would be," but he added: "First place gets people's attention."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.