I have admit, it was not one of those night that I was really looking forward to in the Rays Saturday night Concert Series, but in the end, it was a great time seeing a stadium full of people swaying and dancing to a very distinctive Latin beat. I know there are a couple of people, including Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos who were looking forward to the concert by Salsa king Tito Nieves last night.
All around the stadium you could see fans just taking in the definite Latin inspired beats and fully reminding me and a lot of other people that the Tampa Bay area has the second highest Hispanic population in the state of Florida. For last night was a celebration of Latino Night, and with Rays starter Matt Garza throwing a shutout, it gave the home crowd more of a reason to celebrate last night.
And the Rays have a definite Latin flair to their team with veterans like Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro,Willy Aybar and Rays coaches Dave Martinez and Ramos. And with former Los Angeles Dodger star Pedro Guerrero throwing out the first pitch and signed for fans in Centerfield Street before the game fans were feeling En Fuego early last night.
So I decided to stay with the theme of the night and hit one of the only Latin inspired concession stands in the stadium. I got a nice pressed and hot Cuban sandwich with a huge amount of melted cheese, a bowl of black beans and rice and two chicken empanada for after the game during the concert. All three items were doused in a fine hot sauce and were marinating quite nicely by the time I got back to my seat.
And the night had its hot and spicy moments from the 4-run barrage of the first inning to the home town crowd booing Rays Manager Joe Maddon when he came out to take Garza out of the game. The crowd made sure they voiced their displeasure in the action, but also made sure Garza got a good sendoff if this might be his last home start of the season. Garza left the game with most of the 22,750 fans on their feet showing their love for a long and difficult season.
But the highlight of the night was still the fans who stayed behind for the Nieves concert who were swaying and singing to his music in the stands. Multitudes of Salsa fans were using the flat regions of the stadium up at the top of the bowl, including space down by the Bullpens dancing the Rumba and the Salsa for the adoring crowds. That is a dance I have never attempted, but after seeing the style and fluid grace of the movements, it is one I want to learn just for the sex appeal.
So as we are winding down this season with about 10 home games left, the excitement and the exhilaration of this exotic and erotic dance might have been the boost of energy I needed to get me through the rest of the season. One of the characteristics of the Salsa that I did not know before last night was that it the intense passion and tight movements needed to make it seem so effortless and graceful.
It was a night I was not looking forward to before entering the stadium, but it was one I was glad we had before the end of the night. For years in my job with Pepsi I coordinated the Puerto Rican Festival in Pinellas Park, and I was working so hard and never really took in the majesty and the tradition of it all. But last night I took it in, and all to the last drop or note.
It was a night that ended up as one of the highlights of this season because I let myself learn more about Salsa and even Latin music last night. And that is something that I will never forget. And the sight of seeing Ramos striding up in front of the band also doing the Salsa on the turf of the Trop will stay with me for a long time. Before last night the pulse of the Salsa beat was foreign to me, but now it is something I am yearning to hear again, to dance to, and to just celebrate life.