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Pandemic go-to’s for Stuart Sternberg? Chess, Milanos, IKEA

Tampa Bay Times logo Tampa Bay Times 3/26/2021 Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times
a man wearing a suit and tie: Mayor Rick Kriseman, local celebrity. © Boyzell Hosey/Times Mayor Rick Kriseman, local celebrity.

Stuart Sternberg heads into his 16th season as principal owner of the Rays, still seeking a World Series championship and resolving the quest for a new stadium. He did have answers for our annual spring training Q&A, done, fittingly, over Zoom from his St. Petersburg home.

Now that we’ve been through more than a year of essentially quarantining, what is something you do now that you didn’t do in the before times?

“One is run. Pretty much a few miles on a daily basis, which I never did consistently. The other is eating a lot of double (dark) chocolate Milanos (cookies).”

Anything you learned how to do during this time?

“I’ve learned how to Zoom. I think we all did. I’ve learned how to use these things (wireless AirPods). I was always a wired guy for the phone, and now I’m a wireless headphone guy. Huge strides, right?”

“What have you missed most during the quarantine?

a sunset over a body of water: The sunrise alongside the St. Petersburg Pier. © Dirk Shadd/Times The sunrise alongside the St. Petersburg Pier.

The ability to just sit down with friends, co-workers, family, when you want to and be with them. That’s so far and away the most important thing that I’ve missed.”

What is the first thing you’re going to do when it’s all over?

“It’s not going to end with a bang, because it’s not a binary thing where it’s done. I’ll have been vaccinated by the time the season begins. Do you wait a week? Two weeks? Three weeks? So I have to sort of pick a date in my mind. I’m not going to go rushing into a steam room with 20 people. But just to sit in close range with my friends at the ballpark (not having seen a game at the Trop since October 2019), being able to talk to people, to go up to a concession stand. I don’t want to make it about baseball only but it’s of the moment because that’ll be April. If it was January, what would I do? I’d probably go somewhere and have a really nice dinner with eight people sitting around a table.”

a screen shot of Stuart Sternberg: Learning to use Zoom was one of Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg's quarantine accomplishments. © Times Learning to use Zoom was one of Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg's quarantine accomplishments.

What was the oddest or weirdest meal you had via takeout?

“We’ve flown some things in, lobsters from Maine, deli (items) a few times, bagels and lox from a couple places in New York. So it’s actually been a kind of neat experience as far as that. But I have found myself cooking a dramatic amount more. And being a resident now, being here most of the last year, the amount of fish I’ve eaten is just off the hook. It’s as much as I’ve eaten in the last 10 years combined.”

Having not gone anywhere for the last year, is there a place you want to go visit?

“I definitely have more of a yearning to go back to a place I’ve been to before, like Kyoto in Japan or back to Modena in Italy. I don’t need to go like explore anything just yet, but I’d like a tried-and-true, dramatically wonderful experience.”

Since you’re officially a St. Petersburg resident (team media guide official), what has been the coolest thing about living in St. Pete? When friends from New York ask how it’s going, what do you say?

“I say it’s going a little too well, and don’t shoot the messenger. It’s been a wonderful place. ... Obviously, the weather. The days are longer. The seafood has been a huge thing. At the end of the day, it’s really about the ability to be outdoors a lot.”

Is there a myth about St. Pete you found to be untrue?

“We’ve been here around St. Petersburg since ’05 (when he bought the team) and the city has done, I wouldn’t say a 180, it’s been like a 150 in that period of time. People think it’s old here — it’s lot younger here than people would anticipate. There’s just an energy and a youthfulness of the people here.”

What things do you miss the most about living in New York?

“There’s a couple. One of the great things about being here is not just the flowers, but the green and everything, but there’s no real change of season. Mostly the topography — I’ll go out running or walking and it goes up 3 feet and it feels like you went up a hill. The bagels. I found one pizza place that is as close to or as good as New York pizza — Old Northeast Pizza. One more, I miss Chinese food — it’s a vast wasteland.”

Some of our annual questions: any recent celebrity sightings?

“How about the Mayor of St. Petersburg (Rick Kriseman)? That’s as close as I have.”

Financial advice in this economic climate?

“Please, please resist the temptation for fear of missing out. If you’re not a bit concerned about making the investment, you probably shouldn’t.”

Three singers you’d like to see — on video or in person — at the Trop this year?

“The newest I really like is Angel Olsen. Certainly Tom Waits. And Lana Del Rey.”

Your latest favorite TV show?

“Needless to say, we’ve watched a lot of it. It’s an old show, but I just watched it: Party Down (a 2009-10 sitcom about actors moving to LA).”

Favorite new music you’ve downloaded?

“It’s also been a lot. Maybe Tame Impala (progressive/alternative rock).”

Read a good book lately?

“I’m in the midst of one, it’s called Mine! (How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives).”

Favorite new website?

atlasobscura.com (featuring curious and wondrous travel destinations).”

New snack food obsession?

“These date almond cakes, they’re great (at Gracie Pasta & Provisions in downtown St. Pete).”

Time killer on your phone?

“I play chess with Ella (the soon-to-be 21-year-old who is the youngest of his and Lisa’s four kids) and she wins all the time.”

What’s the coolest thing you’ve bought online lately?

“I don’t think I’m allowed to get cool. Anything that shows up better have a use. This Anker PowerConf (bluetooth speakerphone) has been cool and useful.”

How about the largest thing?

“It’s kind of hard to get furniture, so we’ve ordered furniture and put things together. The greatest resource has been IKEA. We’ve ordered a bunch of things from IKEA online, and then go pick them up. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve put a lot of time in putting IKEA furniture together. We’ve also ordered mattresses (from Saatva) online.”

Our usual wrap up: the Bruce Springsteen song that best describes last season?

“I’ve thought about this, can we do a couple? For the beginning and then the middle, My City in Ruins. That and Ghost Town, by The Specials, I had on a constant loop back in March and April, they were the two most fitting songs. The other one was Dancing in the Dark, because we were were playing baseball, but they were no fans. Everybody’s watching on TV, but it was like you’re doing it and nobody’s there.”

And for this year?

“American Land. I’ve been playing the Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger stuff he did a lot more, and that comes across, you feel the optimism and everything, especially after the election.”

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