Hello again Rays fans, this is the aftermath of Rays FanFest 2008. I’ve returned with pictures and a few autographs that highlighted my time at Tropicana Field. This was easily the largest Rays FanFest they’ve ever had, as almost 30,000 fans reportedly showed up for the event. The doors for non-season ticket holders opened at 10:00, and I got there just after 8:30. I had a nice spot in line, as seen by these photos, taken without the aid of zoom:
I did finally get into FanFest, which got off to a bit of a slow start because many of the big things weren’t really happening yet, and those that did had huge lines. Images like these were the first sights upon entering the field:
I found the sights interesting, but the lines to be massive. The waiting times were the only negative part of having such a large turnout. The first people I talked to were from http://www.majorleaguedowntown.com, the people for a new downtown St. Petersburg Waterfront Stadium. They gave me information and a brochure about the new stadium and development that would take place on the current site. Next, I briefly met Rays TV commentators Dewayne Staats, Joe Magrane, and Todd Kalas. After buying a drink, I checked out the autograph lines and found some of them to be far too long to get through in an hour’s time. I tried to get into the James Shields line, but I wasn’t even guaranteed getting to him, so I walked out. Maybe next year for him. I stood around for some time just observing, then I figured that I had to jump into a line sometime soon. At Stage 2 (of 5), Scott Kazmir was up at noon, Akinori Iwamura at 1:00, and Cliff Floyd at 2:00. So at 11:55, I entered the back of that line–and to say it was longer than the Shields line would be an understatement. The line looked like the world’s largest snake, more like a dinosaur, from the back. It weaved around several times and easily had several hundred people in it. I figured that it would be Iwamura signing by the time I got up there, which was perfect for me because it was his 1997 BBM Rookie Card that I wanted signed the most. If not, I had Floyd’s card too, but I didn’t think it would go all the way until 2:00. Even when I got way up in the line, it still looked like this:
In total, I waited in that line for a long hour and 45 minutes. I showed a few people my Iwamura card (someone else had not only his, but even his brother Takashi’s card) and looked around for entertainment. I also caught myself a foam ball that people were throwing out to people in line. Here I am during my painful wait, courtesy of pictures taken by a devoted fan of mine:
I finally arrived up at the front of the line, where I first got my foam ball signed my minor league infielder, ex-Yankee Andy Cannizaro. I briefly talked to him about playing behind Derek Jeter and guys like him, then moved on to Iwamura. I gave him my card, and he said "Rookie!" and then turned over to Cannizaro, to whom he said "12 years ago, 12 years ago!" I just had to laugh. You probably would have too. Then he helped secure my financial future, not to mention make my FanFest complete, by autographing the card. Next, I exited through center field and got some lunch. I was in such need of food at this point that even Papa John’s in small doses was good. After I dragged down the rest of my Souvenir Size Pepsi, I looked for Centerfield Street and found it thanks to the distinctive voice of Dewayne Staats. He, along with Joe Magrane and Todd Kalas, was just opening up a panel discussion with a group of fans (which now included me) where they would answer questions and comments.
I had the honor of asking the first question, which was about the expectations of Matt Garza, our projected new third starter. Magrane went in depth on this topic, comparing Garza to Shields and Kazmir as a guy who has a fastball and a slider as out pitches, but will also throw smarter and not harder to get guys out, and can go up against anybody’s first and second starters. Brief shots about the man traded for him, Delmon Young, followed. They produced a few funny moments, such as Todd Kalas ******* up to his boss for a free beer and Staats doing a picture perfect Harry Caray voice plugging his own beer. The commentators said such things as Shields could have won 18 games last year (Kalas), Barry Bonds was far too much baggage to sign (Magrane, to the cheers of the crowd), Evan Longoria should be called up now (Staats), and the bullpen is much improved (everyone). An elderly fan said that not only was Cliff Floyd better than Barry
Bonds, but even went as far as to predict 93 wins for the Rays this
season. After they exited stage left, radio commentators Dave Wills and Andy Freed, in their fourth year with the Rays, took the stage to speak on many of the same topics (Longoria, pitching), and some different ones (Baldelli/Floyd, Dioner Navarro).
I asked the first question here too, which was about B.J. Upton and whether or not to expect a .300/20-20 season again this year. They mostly talked about his defense, at which he had serious problems for years before his 2007 move to center field. I later asked about Carlos Pena’s power (they expect 30-35 home runs this season) and kayak rental in right field at the new stadium (most likely). They spoke honestly about Dioner Navarro’s disappointing season, whether or not to call up Longoria, and the hardships faced by Rays starting pitchers. I thought it was great to see these guys come into this market and actually care about it like they do, and they turned out to be a highlight of FanFest. After they finished, I returned to the field one last time and found short autograph lines. So I pulled out my previously signed foam ball and headed into Stage 3. Pitching coach Jim Hickey was first–I told him his job should be easier to this year, and he replied that it may be more fun, but may not be easier. He seemed like he wasn’t overly excited to be there, but at the same time, he appeared willing to sign my foam ball. Then I talked to former Mets and Astros infielder Tim Bogar. I told him I used to play as him in my video games, to which he said that he probably got a lot of hits, but couldn’t hit the ball very far. I concurred, telling him he was a singles hitter who played good defense. He confessed that he probably made a lot of outs as he laughed and added his name to the ball. After this, I was out, relatively satisfied.
Rays FanFest 2008 wasn’t exactly perfect, but was indeed a very nice place to be, with tens of thousands of actual optimistic Rays fans. Everyone believes that our best year is ahead of us, with even greater success to follow. The team is finally coming together at the right time, and the image makeover and trades of Young and Elijah Dukes helped improve the team’s attitude. The insiders said so themselves. I’ll be back soon with more Spring Training updates, including pictures from the March 15 Braves-Rays split squad game in Kissimmee. Until next time, go Rays.