Tagged: Fans

Red Sox Nation Going Down in Flames

The first half of this Rays–Red Sox series at Tropicana Field could not have gone much better for our home team.  13–0 and 6–2 wins are always great ways to kick off rivalry series.  Especially when it is the first time in 18 days that they have won consecutive games.

Matt Garza was at possibly his best ever, right up there with that start in Miami last season, throwing six perfect innings as his team hammered Josh Beckett.  One infield hit by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to David Ortiz was all Boston had against Garza.  The Rays piled on a few multiple–run innings, including the embarrassment of reliever Javier Lopez, who was switched around with Jonathan Van Every and placed in right field.  Michel Hernandez, who hit his first Major League home run during this game, proceeded to hit a ball right by Lopez for his first career double.  It was cruise control from that point in the Rays’ 13–0 victory.

The Friday night game was another epic battle that will not be forgotten anytime soon.  I attended the festivities in section 147, around left center field.  I had a most interesting view for the happenings of the fifth inning.

The Rays went down 2–0 entering that inning, then loaded the bases by way of hits, walks and even a sacrifice bunt by Dioner Navarro.  B.J. Upton hit a 3–2 pitch far enough for a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit in half.  Crawford walked to reload the bases, bringing up Evan Longoria with his golden opportunity.  He went down 0–2 to Justin Masterson, took two straight balls, then smashed one high, deep to left field…


I have almost never seen a live Rays crowd as jubilant as that one was.  I have certainly never seen a game turn around on one swing like that, as thousands of Red Sox fans were instantly silenced.  This could be a major turning point in this 2009 season.  Carlos Pena hit his 10th home run just two pitches later to extend it to a 6–2 lead.  From there the win was more automatic than I feared it would be as the bullpen shut it down effectively.

Now, some live game notes:

–There were indeed thousands of Red Sox fans in the building, and in the early innings they even sounded like a majority.  Rays fans worked hard to drown out several “Let’s Go Red Sox” chants.  The guys behind me were ragging on the Rays, talking about the “dump” we call a stadium and how the Rays were good one year and now have 5,000 fans.  First, do some research, and secondly, go the hell back to Boston if you hate us and our dome.  I let the Rays speak for me on the field to silence those guys.

–Around the top of the sixth inning (or seventh, I’m not sure), the Rays fans in my row to my right were confronted by a drunk, angry Red Sox fan who looked like a 16–year–old basement dweller.  Apparently, “Let’s Go Rays” was all he needed to pick a good fight.  He started egging them on, asking repeatedly what they just said to him and if they wanted to go.  The Rays fans basically said it was nothing to fight over.  This guy disagreed, and as security ran up the stairs, he threw a haymaker right into the face of a fan about four or five seats down from me.  He went from being escorted out of the stadium to being escorted to jail facing an assault charge.  The group made witness statements and will be pressing charges.

Now, this is not an indication of the attitudes of Red Sox fans, or those of any other team.  But this ignorant fan took his team love/hatred a bit too far.  It’s nothing like international soccer, but we Americans should be more civilized than picking random fights with opposing fans.  Every game would end in riot if we all did that.  I had to restrain myself from popping the guys behind me during the early innings.  But I knew the consequences of doing such a thing and how that would have made me look.  This guy, and other fans involved in at least two other fights, singled themselves out as the idiots of the bunch.  I personally hope they are banned for life from Tropicana Field — if not for fighting, then for serious stupidity.

For the record, a few Red Sox fans around us did chastise the one who picked the fight.  Again, it’s not all of them.

–As for the game, the crowd turned right around into a massive “Let’s Go Rays””chant after the fifth inning home runs.  A “Boston Sucks” chant also started near the end of the game.

–I’m not sure why only 27,045 people showed up.  Maybe it’s the economy?  I could barely afford the tickets that I had.

–A large contingent of University of Tampa fans were shown on the big screen during the game.  Amazingly, for a school with so many northeastern transplants and thus, Red Sox fans, it was a largely pro–Rays group in the Party Deck.  They even got on TV with Todd Kalas.  Cheers to my school for that recognition.

It’s right back to business tonight as Jeff Niemann looks for his, and the team’s, third straight win.  And I personally have final projects to complete for school.  I don’t know how much of the games I can watch, but I know they are on TBS tomorrow.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays FanFest 2009

The Rays hosted FanFest 2009 yesterday at Tropicana Field.  Thousands of valentines celebrated their American League champions together on their home field.  I, of course, was among the 30,000+ people there.  (I would be surprised if it was any less than 40,000.)  I couldn’t get too much done because the lines were too long at every station and every table in the stadium.  Not so great for me, but just what the team wanted.  Now to the highlights:

–I arrived at around 7:10 for a 10:00 start.  I pulled out a chair to use until the doors opened and some food from home.  I had some good ways to pass the time.

–I got a chance to meet and speak with Rays radio broadcasters Dave Wills and Andy Freed, who I first met at last year’s FanFest.  I talked to them about calling World Series games and got their autographed pictures.  Freed actually remembered who I was.

–After a two hour, 15 minute wait, I finally met and received an autograph from 2008 #1 Draft pick Tim Beckham.  He signed my “Future Stars” card and actually personalized it to me.  I don’t know what that does to resale value, but it definitely makes the card a great personal display item.  “Hey, before he was an All Star, he signed for me my very own baseball card!”

–I also briefly spoke with Reid Brignac (whose spot Beckham is close to stealing).  He signed my FanFest program and said he would like to contribute more to the Major League team this year.  Well, almost anything is better than 0–10, so I think it’s very possible.  He does need to build up his trade value.

–I would have waited for more autographs, but I was stiff and exhausted after so much standing around in line.  So it was off to the Brewhouse for some panel discussions.

–The first panel consisted of the Rays radio team and Orioles color commentator/XM Radio host Buck Martinez.  My question to them pertained to who could have a breakout year with the 2009 Rays.  Dave Wills said B.J. Upton, while either Martinez or Andy Freed said Dioner Navarro and the other went with Matt Garza.  Though I believe Martinez said Navarro, seeing how much he loves talking about catchers.  He loves talking about anything — he could be asked 10–second questions and give 10–minute answers.  Among other things, he said the Orioles were around the “2007 stage” in comparison with the Rays, and that he was responsible for the retractable roof at Rogers Centre.  This guy needs to write a book with all of his information; it would be the next Total Baseball.

–The next panel featured Rays TV broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Todd Kalas, who mourned the loss of Joe Magrane to the MLB Network.  (Staats: “When Magrane missed one or two weeks, we used to say he was going to a meeting with his parole officer.”)  They were joined by Joe Maddon, who received an extended standing ovation upon his entrance.  I asked the Manager of the Year if it was an advantage playing somewhere without the drama and overcoverage of such markets as New York.  Maddon replied that after last year, with the team as good as it is, it can be an advantage.  They also left some questions unanswered, such as right field and the final starting rotation spot.  They talked for over an hour about everything people wanted to know, such as the best restaurants in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and kept the live crowd entertained all the time.

There were a few negatives about the event, such as the very long lines limiting what could be done (some fans waited the entire time for one autograph) and the overly preferential treatment of season ticket holders (I saw fans who had waited outside for hours get kicked to the back to make room for them), but overall it was a good experience to gather around with the Rays and thousands of their fans.  I think next year they should extend the hours and make FanFest a two–day event, so more can be accomplished and it can go from being very good to amazing — just like the team will do this year.  Until next time, go Rays.

Josh Elliott: Enemy of the Rays

I watch about as much SportsCenter as every rabid sports fan does.  I’ve seen all the anchors, renowned and otherwise.  Today, one of the otherwise is under my microscope…

ESPN anchor Josh Elliott.  This guy was only hired to host an ESPN Classic show that failed miserably, then banished to obscure SportsCenter timeslots to ride out his contract.  Since I couldn’t find a link to e–mail this Northeast hack, I’m calling him out here and now on his bashing of the Rays and their fanbase, and how it is now unjustified.

A few people may recall a few months ago, during the Rays–Marlins series at Tropicana Field, where an attendance of around 21,000 at a Friday night game was (allegedly) called “pathetic” by this man.  He said this without doing so much as checking a weather report, which would have revealed a severe storm that 21,000 people were fortunate to be able to drive in without dying.  This uninformed journalist has continued to deride the Rays, and he reached yet another boiling point today.  At the worst possible time, he used the attendance of a road game in Baltimore, which was sparsely attended and probably 50% pro–Rays, to rip our fans.  Granted, his comments about the lack of attendance at Camden Yards were humorous.  He still said “… very exciting what’s going on with the Rays, even if they can’t get anyone to come to their games.”  Sure, this would have been a much more true statement a few months ago.  But you, Mr. ESPN, decided to use the day after which playoff tickets sold out, and the week after an entire sold out weekend to finish off the regular season, to mindlessly spout this tripe.  You obviously neglected to check out the latest ticket sales, or any highlights from last weekend.  The culture is finally changing.  Fans are coming out of the backwoods.  Yet here you are, still lost in your world in which the Yankees and Red Sox still rule the world with an iron fist.  Take your Northeast bias to NESN, or some local network that can use it.  I only watch the morning SportsCenter because of Hannah Storm, a respected veteran broadcaster.

I just had to get that out, it was overdue.  Josh Elliott is not even the network’s worst anchor, but I don’t get the issue between him and the Rays.  We’ll see what happens when he calls playoff highlights.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays Fans: Can You Blame Them?

As the Rays win yet another series with the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field, then smash the Baltimore Orioles to smithereens, the dismal crowds at recent home games have drawn the attention of local newscasts and radio shows, and even ESPN.  With attendance still in the bottom five in Major League Baseball and the Rays playing as well as they have, some criticism is certainly justified.  But which excuses can and can’t be validated?  We have heard them all, and now it’s time to examine them to see where the main problems lie and how to correct them.  I have assembled cases for both sides of every argument, and will now present my exhibits to the court of public opinion.

The Stadium Is In A Bad Location?

Yes – The prevailing argument from many fans across the bridges in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, as well as others around the area, is that Tropicana Field is too far away to be able to get to games on time.  Situated about 15–20 minutes off Interstate 275 just off of 4th Street North, it takes a drive through large traffic volume in rush hour across one of a few bridges to finally arrive at the stadium.  Working fans claim there is no time to get ready and go out there to see games.  Fans in areas such as Polk County certainly have a point, having to drive to the very far west of the state and take at least 30 more minutes than it would take to go to games in Tampa.  It’s being situated on a series of off roads doesn’t help in terms of locating it.  Drivers on 4th Street North basically have to drive looking 90° to the right just to find Tropicana Field.  With very few signs indicating exactly where it is, it can be easy to pass for inexperienced drivers.  To top that off, the guys on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show talked about how it “couldn’t be any more in the hood.”  It doesn’t look like a horrible neighborhood to me, though it is just off the local Martin Luther King Street and that might be just enough to scare some of the older people who populate St. Petersburg.

No – Tropicana Field can be driven to in decent time if you pick your spots and drive fast enough to arrive on time.  I once left my apartment in northwest Tampa, where I lived at the time, after 5:00, waited in line, bought tickets, and still got in during the pre–game.  It’s not impossible, at least for those in western Hillsborough County, to drive across the Howard Frankland Bridge and be there for the entire game.  It has been proven before, with the NHL’s Lightning and Arena Football’s Storm drawing league record attendances while they played in the then–Thunderdome.  We know that the people in Pinellas County, who demanded the baseball team to begin with, can always make it out to the Rays games, but why don’t they?  People in the immediate area should have no trouble finding the place.  And it’s in a “bad neighborhood”?  So is Yankee Stadium.  And U.S. Cellular Field.  Look at the crowds they draw every night.  And I have heard no stories of crime in the vicinity of the stadium since it opened.  It’s not as bad as it may appear.  Just get yourself, wife, kids, whoever is going ready earlier and get to the stadium as quickly as possible.  It can be done.

Tampa Bay Is Not A Baseball Town/Is A Fairweather Town?

Yes – The Rays have always played second fiddle in the Tampa Bay Area, often a very distant second, to the NFL’s Buccaneers.  They have been around the longest time of any sports franchise around here, arriving in 1976.  They predated the NHL’s Lightning by 16 years, and the (Devil) Rays by 22 years.  The Tampa Spartans college team was really all they had until the early 1970s.  Football is the number one sport in the area, year round.  From the preseason through the playoffs, then into free agency and the NFL Draft, the Bucs are always in the top headlines.  They have developed their loyal fan following and are established as a Tampa icon, unlike the other teams, particularly the Rays.  The Rays’ locally televised games are shown on the obscure ION channel 66.  The Bucs’ preseason games are shown on NBC channel 8.  That alone shows the disparity in coverage.  And on April 8 at the Rays home opener, the loudest standing ovation of the night went to Mike Alstott — a retired football player.  Between the Bucs and the surging South Florida Bulls, with whom they share Raymond James Stadium, football is frequently the talk of the Bay Area.  The lack of coverage/years of apathy have led to such incidents as the one Thursday morning on the Bubba the Love Sponge Show, when two out of three callers referred to the team as the “Devil Rays.&rdquo  Even Bubba himself was calling them that until a few weeks ago.  This team is clearly not a top draw in this market.

On the issue of Tampa being a “fairweather” city, that is basically a well–known fact.  When teams play badly, especially for long periods of time, the people of the area turn their attention to other things almost unlike any other place in America.  Bucs games used to never sell out.  Then they did when they became a perennial playoff team.  But even then, Tampa’s teams have to actually win championships before everyone jumps on the bandwagon.  It stems from the mentality of all the transplanted Northerners who watched teams like the Yankees win for all those years.  Sure, the Bucs had a season ticket waiting list of tens of thousands for years.  But it took a Super Bowl victory to push that figure far above 100,000.  The Lightning were already a playoff team, but they had to win the Stanley Cup before they set the NHL record for consecutive sellouts.  The people just want proven winners and they fear disappointment.  Not that that should be an excuse for leaving a team in the dark, but it’s very true of Tampa sports fans.  We need those hardcore fans like the Cowbell Kidd, who has been doing his gimmick and promoting the team since Devil was still in their name, and yours truly, who has been running this blog since before the team was any good.  I’ve only been to four games this season, but that beats two the previous three years combined.  So those who can go need to at every opportunity.

No – Tampa, not a baseball town?  It’s been a Spring Training hotspot for over 90 years.  Baseball was here before 99% of the population was.  Granted, it was mostly low minor league teams and big teams from far away markets, but it has been around.  There certainly are people here with enough baseball interest to support the local MLB franchise.  If there isn’t a Bucs game on, why not just watch the Rays during that downtime?  St. Petersburg was the city that demanded, and later received, their Major League team, but again, why don’t those people go to the games?  Well, in another quote from the Bubba Army, “most of those people have died off,” referring to the elderly ex–Northerners who started the movement for a local team.  Between that and the fact that people won’t split up their Yankees and Red Sox allegiances, that town is just screwing itself over and making itself look bad.  There are more interested people in Tampa, and once a study is concluded on the best spot to build a new stadium, it may be time to break the lease and move east.

If there really are that many hardcore Rays fans out there, why don’t they fill the seats on a regular basis?  My reasoning is that I have little time (school) and little money (college student with bills to pay).  But for those who earn good wages and can afford to cheer on the team live and in person, why haven’t they noticed that it’s late August and the team is still winning?  In their defense, the 1991 Atlanta Braves only had a home crowd of 20,477 on the night of September 11, the famous combined no–hitter.  They, too, were in a heated playoff race, and they were still having trouble winning over fans who had sleepwalked through years of abysmal play.  So this has happened before, just not under this microscope.  But I would think that fans around here could be paying a little more attention and showing more appreciation for this turnaround season.  I’m making my plans to go to more Rays games as September hits, and so should thousands of other loyalists.

It’s Too Expensive?

Yes – With the rising gasoline prices we’ve seen this year, people are saving more gas — and money — by traveling less.  Those who would drive long distances to Tropicana Field are now saving that gas to extend their paychecks a few more days.  With less than four people in a car, parking costs $10, which non–carpoolers are reluctant to pay.  Tickets start at $9, better seats at $22, so the parking cost for families is offset by ticket prices.  Then food gets to be very highly priced ($8 for chicken fingers and fries?), running the tab off the charts.  An average family would spend probably at least $100 per game, all things considered.  In today’s receding economy, many of these fans would prefer to save that cash for emergency purposes.

No – The Rays were recently named one of the most affordable major sports teams to go and watch.  Free parking for those with four or more people in one car and the ability to bring in your own food and drink (thanks Stuart) can ease the burden on the bank account significantly.  The team also runs special promotions, such as Dollar Hot Dog Night on Fridays, Party Deck College Night also on Fridays, and Family Fun Day on Sundays.  Try living in a place like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York and then see how much games cost.  It’s much cheaper here, so please be grateful for the opportunity.

Tropicana Field Is A Subpar Facility?

Yes – A dome that has been unfavorably compared to a warehouse because of its seemingly bland architecture and atmosphere, Tropicana Field has also been known as one of the least loved stadiums in the league from day one.  The roof makes it difficult to see fly balls, we sit around and look at concrete while the real views are outside, the acoustics are horrible, some seats don’t have great field views, there is nothing to do in the concession areas… those are just samples of what I’ve heard.  Some of it is true, especially to those who enjoy the Florida outdoor atmosphere.  Why trap yourself inside this plain building when all the fun is out on the beach?  They need a new, much better looking stadium soon.

No – Stuart Sternberg and the Rays have made over $10 million in renovations since taking over the team.  They now have the Ray Tank in center field, the video game lounge, an improved Centerfield Street, and multiple activities for people of all ages, especially during weekend games.  Not to mention the weather conditions: 72°, air conditioned.  Would you like fried skin and dehydration to go with that ticket?  I didn’t think so.  Even in Spring Training, that’s what you get sitting outside for hours on end.  This is a very comfortable dome with more than enough room.  Just enjoy the game and don’t think about the outside.

I think that covers most of the main points of contention among Rays fans across the Tampa Bay Area.  I personally believe that the location is not a big issue in terms of where in St. Petersburg it is, because I know how to find Tropicana Field.  I think that a new stadium, however, should be much more accessible to most of the Rays’ fanbase.  Tampa is a baseball area to some extent, shown by record TV and radio ratings for 2008 Rays games, but fans just need to put aside their worst fears and jump in the line.  If you play your cards right financially, the games won’t bankrupt you, just live within your means.  And I don’t think Tropicana Field is as terrible as critics claim it is, especially after the recent upgrades.  It’s more comfortable than afternoon games under concrete and sun.

As far as your opinions go on this issue and all the questions pertaining to it… that can be for you to decide.  You can post them here if you would like to.  But I think that if fans only have one or two gripes about going to games, they should put them aside and enjoy what’s happening with this team.  We may never see it again.  Until next time, go Rays.

Rays FanFest 2008

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.

FanFest Countdown: Two Days

Or maybe only about a day and a half now.  I finally found a new Rays hat at Wal-Mart for only $9.95, so of course I bought it, along with a second new Rays shirt.  I should have those-at least a shirt-at Rays FanFest, which again is this Saturday, February 23.  That date in 1996, when I was 8 years old, I took a Friday off from school to go with my family to Disney World in Orlando.  It’s still the only time I’ve ever been there, but it was very entertaining, even when I thought I would fall off Space Mountain.  So from one attraction to another, 12 years later, it’s time for Rays FanFest at Tropicana Field.  I’ll be looking to get my rookie cards of various Rays players signed, as well as checking out the clubhouse, Hall of Fame exhibits, and maybe some of the panel discussions.  And the food, if it doesn’t run me into bankruptcy.  At least parking and admission are free, which is one of a myriad of reasons that all Tampa Bay Rays fans should attend.  This season should definitely be the best one ever for this franchise at it ascends up the ladder in the direction of the New York/Boston Glass Ceiling, and for a little more optimism, here is a Fantasy Baseball preview for the 2008 Rays that gives some good projections for certain players.  So I’ll see everyone at FanFest, with commentary and pictures to be posted here following the event.  Until then, go Rays.

Long Time, No Post…Offseason Update

Hello all MLBloggers across the world, this is your Tampa Bay Rays (and Atlanta Braves whenever applicable) blogger, Brenton (AKA Rising From The Ashes), back here with you for my first post of 2008…in February.  Well, this new year has been a good one to date, as the Rays have locked up Carlos Pena and James Shields long-term, as well as signing Trever Miller and Eric Hinske to add depth to all parts of the team.  Before this, we traded possible All-Star/problem child Delmon Young and probable one-year wonder Brendan Harris to Minnesota for quick, reliable shortstop Jason Bartlett and quality third starter Matt Garza.  We acquired Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd as free agents to add veteran leadership.  I think that, finally, every move in this offseason has been a positive one for this organization.  The Rays are finally making the right steps to climb the ladder.  And the Braves plugged in a huge hole, trading for Mark Kotsay to bridge the gap in center field for 2008.

Meanwhile, our friends in Baltimore continue to self destruct.  Seemingly half the team appeared in the Mitchell Report (more comment on that as I see fit), then they started trading every good player they had left.  Miguel Tejada, who may be on his way out anyway for reasons related to said report, was shipped off to Houston, and now Erik Bedard has been sent to the Seattle Mariners as a left-handed compliment to Felix Hernandez.  The rumors also have Brian Roberts going to the Cubs to solve their middle infield dilemma.  They’re not even trading these guys for top prospects, just borderline players who won’t add up to the worth of those they’re giving up.  We’ll finish way ahead of these guys in the standings this season, as they’re not just rebuilding, they’re imploding.

I have at least three Rays-related events to attend in the next two months.  First, on Saturday, February 23, I am going to Rays FanFest at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.  It’s going on from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, featuring autograph tables, memorabilia exhibits from The Ted Williams Museum, panel discussions led by Harold Reynolds, various contests and fun activities, and more.  I’ll be there, and I advise all true Rays fans to show up as well.  Next, on March 15, I’m off to Kissimmee to witness the Spring Training matchup I’ve waited years for.  Every year I take a weekend vacation there to see the Braves play, and this year their opponents are, that’s right, the Rays.  So I can’t lose…I’ll have on my Rays shirt and Braves hat for that one, just as I did when I attended their regular season game on June 23, 2006, one of the best games I’ve ever been to.  Finally, on April 8, the Rays play their home opener against the Seattle Mariners, and I have tickets to see this one from aisle seats in section 125.  It’s the eighth game of the year, so by my calculations we’ll probably have Matt Garza on the mound.  It should be very exciting, thousands of fans to see us finally escape from the ground floor of our division.

I have some Rays rookie and minor league cards that I will be attempting to get signed at FanFest.  To add to my Kazmir, Crawford, Baldelli, and Iwamura cards, I’ve recently purchased cards of James Shields, Evan Longoria, Cliff Floyd, and Carlos Pena.  The one I really want to get signed is Iwamura’s, because it’s a rare BBM 1997 Japan rookie card.  That would be priceless.  In non-Rays card news, I also bought a 2005 Felix Hernandez prospect card, as well as some Eli Manning rookie cards to cash in on his Super Bowl stardom.  (Classic game there, by the way.)  I also got one of Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew.

Now that NFL season is over, it’s time to put baseball back into full swing.  It all starts with FanFest, and the Rays begin their ascent up the ladder.  I don’t think we’ll see the 1991 Braves this season, but the best Rays team ever, most likely so.  Roger Clemens is in deep sewage with his pesky trainer ratting him out to the government, and that’s another story I’ll be keeping tabs on, as well as the Barry Bonds saga.  Until next time, go Rays.