Rays Airport Celebration Sept 28th
Best thing about having a winning team is the fact that when they finally come home at the end of the season they are in a fun and totally excited state to see their fans. Well, if that was the case on Sunday, then the Rays will have to have a few dozen straitjeckets delivered to the Trop. after the Playoffs are over. This team is so into this adventure they looked almost like deers in the headlights last night.
But considering they were not expecting almost 1,200 fans in and around the Airport Concourse and you can see why they hads those looks on their faces. I got there about 5 minutes after Jason Hammel earned his 2nd save of the evening at 4:45 P.M. I was the onyl fan I saw in the Baggage Area, but some could have been lurking outside by the full Pepsi trailer. The event was just getting set up, and the carpet guys were rolling out that blood red carpet from the tarmac to the bus loadinf area outside the Terminal.
I decided that I wanted to get a great view of their faces as they came in the door, so I stationed m,yself right up front, just to the right of the doorway. I had a nice angular look at the DJ and the stage area where they would position the guys berfore they did the Conga line out the door to thr waiting buses’. High on my priority list was the free Pepsi and Aquafina products that were delivered by Joanna Moore, the Pepsi Pre-Sell Manager from the St. Petersburg plant.
Pretty soon the area was starting to fill with about 300 fans milling and wandering all over the concourse looking for the right spot to see their favorite players. I had a friend from the Security detail, Angel put this very beuatiful mother and daughter next to me, and let me tell you. I truly thought they were sisters. They were very exhuberant and a thrill to be around. They even got to go out there and dance with the Rays team during the “Cuban Shuffle.” During this time local dignitaries and politicians came and went in the small VIP area. but mostly they greeted and talked with fans about this great adventure.
When the team was just past Jacksonville, Rusty, the Rays excitable MC was telling us that “the Rays plane was in the air and heading here,” And then Rusty added sarcastically, “And the Yankees’ plane is also in the air tonight, but they are headed home, while we are headed to the Playoffs.” I do not have to tell you what kind of reception that comment got in the room. But my ears are still ringing today.
A local group Cristol featuring Big Gill and Bay Boy sang their Rays theme song, “It’s Our Season”, to the loud applause of the crowd. I know the song from plugging it on my website and was singing along as they were strolling through the crowds. It was a huge party going on and the crowd was really into the song. About that time, Raymond, the team mascot was out there doing his famous dance moves and getting crowd into a frenzy.
About 9:30, the team’s plane pulled in to a shower of water over the plane from the airports fire trucks to symbolize the event and show their gratitude to the team. Then, one by one the team flowed into the concourse and they were amzed at the turnout from the fans. I saw more than a few guys just light up at the sight in front of them and were just in awe of the support. After they all got into the building, Rays Manager Joe Maddon was presented the Key to Pinellas County and St. Petersburg by the city’s mayor, Rick Baker.
Maddon gave a short speech, but was firm on the fact that the crowd had alot to do with their successes this year. That the fans and the noise in the Trop. played a huge part in their year, and he thanked the fans for the support. Then the Rays Press Corps had the players file out one after another towards the bus area. As they were going down the pathway, Rays fans were fist bumping and shaking their hands with the players. From the team down to the clubhouse guys, you saw how much this all stunned and pleasantly surprised these guys.
As the team made their ways onto the two buses’ outside, several players got back off the bus along with Maddon and began to throw hats and sign autographs for the faithful outside. After about 10 minutes the guys all got back on the buses’ and they departed for Tropicana Field. The Florida Highway Patrol and the St. Petersburg Police Department gave them a world class escort to the stadium before the guys got settled back into the Trop. and departed for their own homestyle celebration with friends and family.
Thank you to the Rays and Erin Busemi for setting up this great event and totally unforgettable moment. It was an event I hope these pictures can do justice to, but I know it was something you just had to be there to understand the total effect of the moment…………………….GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!