Rays Players Very “Open” to Fans
RRCollections I arrived up at BrightHouse Field about 11-ish on Sunday to check out the Tampa Bay Rays first venture back North and into their familiar Pinellas County stomping grounds in 2010. Got to tell you, the second I got into the pristine ballpark, one thing was perfectly clear to me. Not only was this a beautiful sunny day, which somehow got cooler by the inning, but I was instantly smiling as I glanced towards the Rays bench and instantly saw a few of the Rays players signing for fans along the rail.
And if there is one thing I am extremely proud of concerning our Rays players, it is their constant attention and respect they show people in the stands every day. I have to admit, if the Rays players did not feel a bit of kinship to stop and talk or even be social with their brethrens in the stands, this MLBlogs.com blog might a be a lot more boring and statistic-related, and I would not have most of those great stories to tell all of you.
And this is something I am extremely proud of our players to have been consistently providing themselves for the fans for the last 13 seasons. And with this season marking the 15th anniversary of Major League Baseball awarding us our franchise, it is amazing we also were rewarded with such generous and low ego players in our short history.
We have a baseball team here in Tampa Bay that has religiously signed for their fans, and even spent more than a few moments making some kid’s day by giving them a ball, or even a wide smile when they ask for an autograph or picture with them. And sure there are people around Tampa Bay who sometimes abuse the system, but we are lucky the guys sign for us. As I sat by the Rays dugout tunnel and talked to a few people, the players came and went, but always had a moment for the fans.
Sure some of the Rays biggest stars might not have made the trip north this time, but you can be assured they will be in that same dugout when the teams meet again in Clearwater on Tuesday, March 23 at 1:05 pm. And there are a few of the Rays players that might not seem to heed your call for their autographs or photo opportunities at times, but this Rays team by far signs more balls, bats and collectibles for their fans than most of their counterparts in the Major Leagues.
As I stood there taking random photos most of the time during Batting Practice in Clearwater, I kept an eagle eye towards the opposing team’s leftfield tunnel entrance that leads to the Philadelphia Phillies clubhouse. What I was trying to gauges if the Phillies players were following the Rays player’s lead and signing for the fans before this Spring Training game.
And if you go down to the rails before Rays games there are always scores of Rays fans with the same types of stories. Telling you of Rays players showing a unusual sense of kindness or requests for multiple photo with friends and family never uttering a negative comment, but treating their fans to a special moment with a huge smile.
Maddon has on more than one occasion reminded his Rays players that the Rays true fan base is a great constant source of energy and motivation for this club daily, and that they should remember when a fan requests a moment with them during the baseball season.
And it is great to see a young Rays fan leaning over and asking for an autograph, and that Rays player comes over signs and maybe even chats for a moment with the kid and the crowd. Not only does it make his day, but sometimes it makes the player’s day too. It is so special to have a team like our Rays that is open to giving back to the Rays fans. And sometimes we might forget just how lucky we truly are as Rays fans to have baseball players willing to take some time out to do this for us before Rays games.
Most visiting teams fans are jealous of that close bond between fan and player, and wish that their guys would do the same for them. This firmly illustrates another great reason to be a Rays fan. But also there is the danger of getting too used to it and maybe asking too much, or pushing the envelope and alienating a player with the fans.
As with most teams, there are autograph hounds/collectors within the Rays Republic who tend to throw a dark shadow on the true fans by selling their autographed rewards and jeopardize a real fan just wanting a sincere autograph. It is this level of fan that has been the benchmark for the Rays imposing their Sunday autograph days to be limited to kids under 14.
These measures have pushed the autograph hounds to getting their signatures outside the stadium player’s entrance gates, or charity events, where it is the player’s option if they will reward the collectors.
Rays fans need to keep nurturing this special player-fan relationship, and try and keep it from drying up, or let anything negative influence the Rays players from wanting to sign or spend time with the fans.
I sometimes have found it necessary to impose my opinion on some young autograph seekers to teach them a better way to get their autographs without upsetting, or maybe ruining the great open ended relationship between the team and its fans. You know the kids I am talking about, who yell “Hey You” or do not even get to know the Rays roster and do not call them by name, but by the number on their jersey.
The Rays players being so open to the fans is a great reason to be a Rays fan. And even if there are a few negative influences surrounding the fan’s nucleus with the players, the relationship is not one-sided. If the fans remain respectful and treat the Rays players with genuine concern and interest, this great bond between the two should flourish for a long, long time.
I do consider us blessed with great players who show more attention to our fans than most within the MLB ranks. But then again, that might just be another great advantage to doing things “The Rays Way”.