It’s Still “Hip, Hip Hoo-Ray”, 17 years Later
“If you build it, They will come”.
How many of us in the Rays Republic remember those iconic words spilled out over the Q105 FM Q Morning Zoo DJ Mason Dixon. Sure the phrase might have been literally “borrowed” from one of the best baseball movies ever, but “If you build it, they will come” still resonated loud and clear some 17-odd years later. I still remember so many other baseball communities scoffing this region with ridicule instead of patting this area on the back for their bold and courageous move of building the Florida Suncoast Dome without a hint or promise of a future MLB seasonal tenant.
The bravado displayed by this small Florida ensemble of communities would eventually wear down some of the old school mentality of owners within MLB and showed that the Tampa Bay area was eager for seasonal baseball after April 1st. Who would of imagined almost 17 years to the day back on March 9, 1995, at 12:54 pm, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig would stand at the podium in the Breakers Resort in Palm Beach and in his usual stoic emotion-less style announced the creation of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise.
By a unanimous 28-0 vote by the other Major League Baseball owners, the St. Petersburg Baseball Group led by Vince Namoli was finally going to pop the cork on that celebration champagne bottle. Yes, finally Major League Baseball had decided the Tampa Bay area was worthy of admittance into the MLB fraternity.
And the Breakers Resort has been a great good luck charm in the past for group trying to bring professional sports to Tampa Bay. For this was the same resort and same conference room that held a similar announcement back in 1991that the Tampa Bay region was awarded their National League Hockey franchise.
And so began the journey for this young franchise that would continue to evolve during the last 17 years from the inaugural Devil Rays, to our present day Rays. I still remember reading the quote by then Rays Team Owner Vince Namoli to the TampaTribune that amply summed up the great community celebration and the knowledge that we still had a long journey ahead of us before that First Pitch in 1998.
“It’s been a path of 10,000 steps, 10,000 phone calls, 10,000 frustrations. Now we’re at the end of the path, but we start a new path,” Naimoli said. “We start to focus on hiring a General Manager, on the Dome, on the development of the franchise, on the minor-league system, on Opening Day 1998. We’re into the fun path.”
What a huge emotional and physical roller coaster ride it has been over the last 15 years. From setting up a professional baseball complex and training center on the existing Spring Complex that had housed former MLB tenants, the New York Mets, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals in the Jungle Prada are of western St. Petersburg, to finalizing the lease agreement with the City of St. Petersburg so that the then D-Rays could pursue their initial changes needed within their new domed home.
Namoli and his group initially paid $150 million to bring baseball to this region, and that figure seems like such a financial windfall for the Tampa Bay region considering all the great moments and events that have transpired since that announcement. From our first pick (Paul Wilder) in the 1996 First Year Players Draft, to the recent announcement of former Rays slugger Carlos Pena returning to again play for the team, to paraphrase an old television commercial, this team has come a long way baby!
And today I hope all Tampa Bay fans take a moment after 12 pm to remember and enjoy this moment. Sure we might have had a few rough years starting out before our Rays farm system began to churn out players like outfielder Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, or pitcher Joe Kennedy who showed us that building through our minor leagues was our path to the top. But people would have sent for the men in the white coats if we predicted a Rays World Series trip just 10 years after our inaugural season.
And as we near that special moment in time, it is actually fun for me to go back in time and remember I was sitting in a local gym when the announcement hit the airwaves that sent the room into an instant celebration. Because around me also working out were minor league players from the Orioles system. Instantly the mood went from working out to celebrating, and I know we were not alone in wanting to paint the town red that night.
Already there is a hint in the air that this season the Rays might send out their most talented team ever in the home opener on April 6th against the New York Yankees. This season the possibilities are more than evident that the Rays can again claw there way past division rivals Boston and New York to fight for their October rights to play for that shiny gold trophy. Persistence definitely paid off for the Rays franchise back on March 9,1995. But did you know it was the Tampa Bay area’s eight chance at trying to secure a Major League team?
I remember a story posted by the Rays team writer for MLBlogs.com and MLB.com, Bill Chastain, who in 1995 was an employee of the Tampa Tribune. The last paragraph of his article was a quote by the joyous new Rays owner Namoli on the day’s events. I can think of no better way to end this post than remembering those words spoken by a man who somehow saw into our team future and made such a prophetic statement over 17 years ago.
“Some fans and media will shorten our last name to Rays,” Naimoli said. “And, so, I will leave you with that: Hip, hip hoo-Ray.”