St. Petersburg Celebration Small, but Full of Energy
The City of St. Petersburg and your hometown Rays held a celebration yesterday in waterfront Straub Park to salute and welcome home the Rays after an impressive run at the playoffs for the first time. The team went farther than even the biggest optimist could dream this summer, and they are hungry for more in 2009.
The adventure left several Rays wanting to make a run again and again at the elusive World Series title. With skipper Joe Maddon in tow, four Rays came out to be sure that Tampa Bay knew the love and admiration these players have for the bay area.
Lost in all of this was the shuffle of season and off-season for alot of these players. Some needed to get home to loved ones, or had committments already in the books before the city announced the rally to the public. Some people have griped about the date of the rally, because Halloween was for the little ones, and 6 pm gave them little time before dark for candy wrangling.
I did see a few dozen kids dressed as their favorite Rays, and even saw a few goblins and princesses’ wandering through the park during the event. The city did a great job basically throwing this event together in less than 48 hours.
Bay area sports guru, Dick Crippen acted as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and truly again showed why he was one of the best sports broadcasters for so many years. He kept the crowd energy high and the event rolling with his great tone and enthusiasm in his voice. The event went quickly and was a nice celebration of all the Rays success this season. It started with a new St. Petersburg Times video on the past years’ top moment for the Rays highlighted with their first appearance ever in the World Series.
Some people, included members of the Rays had tears in ther eyes as they saw just how far they came in that short, but beautifully mastered video. Rays skipper Joe Maddon was seen sneaking a peak from behind the stage trying to catch the moments again that he had a front seat for….. that will be some of his best memories of his life.
James Shields, Ben Zobrist,Grant Balfour and Carlos Pena attended the event and seemed a bit surprised at the large turnout of the event. The event did not attract the 5,000 plus that the Playoff celebration pulled in right before the first game of the ALDS, but the true Rays fans came out and showed their colors and love for the team.
Not lost in the event was the fact that several members of the team wanted to be here, but had to put some things on hold at home for the playoffs, and could not postpone them any longer for fear of upsetting family members. But the hear and soul of the entire team was on display both on stage and on the video screen.
Maddon talked of the love and the committment of his squad and how they are still very hungry to pursue the prize again next season. He talked about the pride and the admiration he had for everyone on his roster, from Rocco Baldelli contributing, to Eric Hinske hitting that clutch pinch-hit homer in the World Series.
Every player who attended the event will be back in uniform for the Rays in 2009. Player Rep., Carlos Pena made sure to remind the fans that they will be shooting for the stars again next year, and that the goals were now raised high for sucess in 2009. The event was a great event to jumpstart the 2009 Rays eason. It showed the arly committment and early dreams of the next season.
The event ended with all four players’ and Maddon singing a redition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” the smiles and the enthusiasm showed by everyone on that stage bodes well for the future of the Rays. Think about it, you had “Big Game James” Shields representing the pitchers’. Grant Balfour was the voice of the Bullpen, Ben Zobrist was the players not starting, but contributing huge in the playoffs. The you had Carlos Pena, who has been elected “Spiritual Leader” of the Rays way back in Spring Training.
If you have ever met Pena in person, you know that the enthusiam and the pride just flow off him like water. that he is the perfect representative for the Rays now and in the future. He is smooth, clean and can swing a mean bat.
The future of the Rays is bright in 2009. the unfortunate thing is they will not be able to snaek up on people anymore in the MLB. The word is out about the Rays, and they will be have to earn it next year. No more are they going to be taken lightly. From this moment on, the Rays will be the hunted in the American League. And by the look on Carlos Pena’s face, he doesn’t want it any other way.
As the event ended there were several kids rushing up to meet their new idols and wanted autographs, and in one case, a hug from their new heroes. Then one by one they were off for the Snickers and Milky Way treats given out by the local businesses before hadin goff for home and more treats.
I saw one little guy with his bat and glove walking away and asked who he was dressing as this year, he said, “I am dressing as the Rays, the whole team. They are special and I know they will get me more candy this year.” I guess that is one way to get community support, dress as the Rays and see just how much candy and love the area has for the Tampa Bay Rays.