Good evening Rays fans everywhere…finally, I am here in the aftermath of the Rays home opener from Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. It turned out to be a bitter 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners, which may have been tainted–more on that later in this post. It was a fun and exciting experience to be there (could have been better with the Rays winning, of course) that featured home runs, standing ovations and many interesting personalities. Some notes from the April 8th game:
-The loudest ovation during pre-game ceremonies was actually for, of all people, a former NFL star. Recently retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott was on hand to throw out the first pitch before the game. Come down to Tampa (or St. Petersburg) sometime and see just how beloved he really is. I can be considered among the large crowd that believes that Jon Gruden misused him. But that rant is for NFL season.
-The loudest player ovations were for Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Akinori Iwamura, Scott Kazmir, and James Shields.
-Prior to the game, I checked out some of the stadium’s features and attractions. I tried out “You Make The Call,” where fans can create their own commentary of historic Rays moments. I chose Carl Crawford’s 2007 walk-off home run, and proceeded to pull out this amazing commentary that everyone around me loved…only to find out that it didn’t record. I’ll just have to try it out again later–I think I can pull that rabbit out of the hat again. I also watched some Baseball Trivia, with a very hyperactive and humorous host who interacted well with both the kids and adults. She gave me an “air hug” when, after mentioning my Braves bias, told her I was also a huge Rays fan. She also encouraged the crowd to mercilessly boo the Yankees, then gave everyone air high fives. These and other little events made her my favorite Tropicana Field employee. I’ll be sure to stop by there again when I go back.
-The fans right down the row from me asked me if it was a good time to be a Rays fan. This was because they just got into baseball and adopted the Rays as their team, because they recently moved here from the United Kingdom. (I could tell by the accents even before they told me.) I, of course, told them (a husband, wife and two young daughters) that it was a better time than ever to jump onto the Rays bandwagon and that they picked the right team. This was their first game, and it wasn’t really a bad one.
-During Willy Aybar’s second at-bat, right before he tied the game with an RBI single, a fight broke out in the crowd behind the left field foul pole. A woman in a green Devil Rays shirt looked to be swinging on a guy who either A) cheated on her, B) hit on her one too many times, or C) told her Richie Sexson was better than Carlos Pena. It looked like an old Jerry Springer scene as fans and security ran in as quickly as possible to break it up and/or watch the spectacle. After a few minutes, a section of seats was entirely empty following arrests and ejections. (This section later re-filled.) Then Aybar tied the game. That was a fun inning.
-The Rays hit two home runs during this game despite the loss. Shawn Riggans just barely cleared the left field wall on a line drive that I thought may hit the wall for a double. It was a little surprising to see it turn into his first Major League home run. So congratulations to Shawn Riggans. Then Carlos Pena hit an undisputed shot deep into the right field seats for his own home run–my first correct prediction in Home Run Beat the Streak.
-As you probably know by now, B.J. Upton was denied a triple by the combination of his right shoe falling off and notoriously questionable umpire Hunter Wendelstedt. I’ve had a problem with Wendelstedt since 1998, when he tripped over his own foot and ejected John Smoltz because he somehow thought he did it. This marks his third incorrect call in as many series this season. I had a perfect angle on that play, and despite Adrian Beltre’s attempt to block third base, he moved to catch the relay throw. Upton was safe by about two feet. The crowd rightfully erupted into boos, and the situation even escalated into Joe Maddon being ejected. Then the crowd, myself included, refused to get off Wendelstedt’s back and booed him continuously for the next half inning, and then intermittently for the remainder of the game. He definitely screwed that call up and cost the Rays an opportunity to tie the game, which they lost by one run. Now we know why he has never worked the World Series.
-Matt Garza left in the third inning with what is described as “radial nerve irritation,” and is on the 15-day disabled list. If Edwin Jackson continues pitching like a Cy Young Award winner (don’t let this be his jinx), then the Rays can afford to take precautions with him as well as the soon-to-be-returning Scott Kazmir.
Well, once the Rays beat the Mariners 7-0 behind Jackson’s eight inning, two-hit dominance, I was finally motivated enough to write again. That and the fact that I was busy with college work preempted this entry, but here it finally is. I now have temporary plans to go into the TBT Party Deck (formerly known as The Beach) to watch the Rays face the Chicago White Sox on Friday, April 18. I’ll be there with a few friends, all Rays fans, ready to return to the excitement that is live Tampa Bay Rays baseball. I’ll have Opening Night pictures uploaded soon, and until then, go Rays.