Rays Players Very “Open” to Fans

 
 
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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.
 

 
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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.

 
 
What I noticed was that most of the Phillies who seem to be fighting for positions, or from within the ranks of the Phillies farm system, definitely seemed more apt to stop and take a moment to sign, or to just chat with the fans down the line. But this is also only one games observation. But for the most part, its seemed to me that the Phillies front line guys did not hesitate to sign or even take photos with fans that day.
 
 
There were a few Phillies player’s who did seem to maybe recognizing a fan they know from Philadelphia, or a family member, but most just jogged their way back into the clubhouse or the dugout to get without turning towards the stands. This is not intended to throw any Phillies players under the bus, because I do not know their pre-set team policies, or the individuals guidelines on fan autographs, but it is a shame when you see a young kid in the red Phillies cap with outstretched arms trying for some sign of acknowledgment with a pen in one hand, and a baseball in the other.
 
 
But I also know that sometimes a player can work themselves into a “zone” state even before a game and do not even see that same kid, or he would might have signed with no question. Someone finally did come over for him and signed the ball. I think it was tall, lanky Phillies prospect Dominic Brown, and he made sure to flash a kid a huge smile before disappearing towards the clubhouse tunnel.
 
 

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And the pure fact that the Rays are so open to signing (most of the time) seems to amaze some visiting fans from Boston,New York and Philadelphia. For their team’s do sign for their fans, but some players take only special moments, or maybe even a “once a homestand” mentality to signing autographs, and that tends to frustrate some within their fan base, and then unfair labels come flying out and are placed on those players. I remember last season, Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett told me he had to head into the Rays clubhouse, but asked me to look for him tomorrow about getting his autograph on a ball. I actually went home and forgot all about it.
 
 
I came back out to the top of the Rays dugout the next game as usual during B P, and Bartlett called up to me right before he was going into the Rays dugout to see if I still wanted a signature. It shocked me because I was not used to someone remembering me, much less remembering a request for his signature. I immediately grabbed a ball and sharpie out of my computer bag and threw them down to him. Bartlett signed the ball and looked up and said to me, “You thought I forgot didn’t you”. Got to admit it, I did think he would forget, but it was even a greater thing that he remembered it.
 

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.

 
 
What we have here in Tampa Bay is not the usual around the Major Leagues, and sometimes I think we forget how good we have it here. The level of esteem Rays players acknowledge the fans flows down right from the top of the Rays organization. Rays Manager Joe Maddon always praises the members of the Rays Republic for their undying support, and their noise levels at games.
 

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.

 
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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”.

 

6 Comments

I am so envious of you. location, location, location…. right by your team and near a lot more during spring training…. I am still reviewing areas in FL for retirement, (maybe 10 – 15 years away) but still reviewing.

~peter
Outside the Phillies Looking In
http://devilabrit.mlblogs.com

Peter,
Since you are a Phillies fan, this area is great for retirees.
Believe me. You got Top of ther World one of the biggest Retirement Communities in this area less than 2 miles from the Phillies complex, then you got Class-A Florida State League ball here the rest of the year.
And BrightHouse is a beautiful ballpark to either watch fireworks, or a baseball game at any time.
Plus on Thursdays it is 2-for-1 beverages (lol).
I think we can get you interested in this region…Oh, and you got a MLB team less than 15 miles to the South, but it is AL (Sorry NL is across the state).

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

great time and great players in this organization. i love seeing the big binders of cards.
http://pittpeas.mlblogs.com

Matt,
Got a funny story for you.
Fernando Perez actually had a wild looking card with a 70′s -style afro on his card and Justin Ruggiano was running throught the Rays dugout showing everyone the card.
Everyone was laughing, even Perez as they went through that binder and found 12 Perez cards and 5 Ruggiano cards, which impressed Ruggiano.
Just another example we never know what is out there.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

It is nice when the players are nice to the fans. Many players do not even acknowledge that there are any out there in the stands. Those players that do wave, talk to or sign autographs among the Dodgers are Manny (who waves to the fans a lot) Matt Kemp (who speaks to the fans all the time and signs autographs) Andre Ethier (who signs just about every game) James Loney, Casey Blake. Very fan friendly Dodger pitchers are Vicente Padilla, Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda. On the whole, the Dodgers are very fan friendly.
http://catlovesthedodgers.mlblogs.com

Cat,
I am glad you put on a list of some of the players that do treat the fans with some sort of “giving back”. I am not saying it is rare, but it a practice I wish every team did all the time.
Of course there are always guys on each team who sign no matter what, but the bulk of this Rays squad sign all the time no matter what.
I remember when Barry Bonds came to Tropicana Field for hsi only visit here. Rays owner Vince Namoli wrote him a $ 10,000 check for him to sign for the local fans for over an hour. Some guys see it as a bother, other know it is a blessing for a fan to know your name and want an autograph.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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