Results tagged ‘ Brian Killingsworth ’
This weekend a valuable cog of the Tampa Bay Rays promotional machine will have stripped off his name badge, put the last box of precious bobbleheads in his car and said farewell to Tropicana Field for the last time as a Rays employee. I decided it was only fitting that this same Rays figurehead we have all seen on the sidelines and walking with celebrities and concert performers should get his last round of applause via a Q & A session.
Most members of the Rays Republic have talked to Killingsworth during his rise from the bottom of the Rays promotional food chain to his final position as the Senior Director of Marketing for our Rays. But did you also know he has a MBA from the University of South Florida and also attended Flagler College and Jacksonville University? Even more amazing is this is the same guy who caught the Wareham Gatemen and celebrated a 1997 Cape Cod title with current Rays 1B Carlos Pena.
I walked into Killingsworth’s office this past Monday already knowing his next destination, his heartfelt feelings about this great franchise and decided it was only fitting that I give the rest of the Rays Republic one last glimpse into the man who will take his walk-off jaunt around the Rays promotional bases with the Rays 2012 promotional item, the Zim Bear. I got a feeling this one item might just be better than his other promotional gemstone, the Carlos Pena toothbrush holder.
It is not many people who get to work in the sport that they love and cherish. What was it about the Rays organization that sealed the deal for you back in 2002 and made you eager to board the Rays staff?
Growing up in the Tampa Bay area and St. Petersburg specifically, I followed the teams that almost came here with near misses with the Mariners, the Giants, with the White Sox. It was tough, Spring Training in wonderful, I was a Cardinals fan because of Spring Training up to that point but back in 1995 I remember I was playing a HS baseball game (Shorecrest) and I told my mom to skip the game and go down to the Trop to get one of the first jerseys. Back then it was the black D-Rays jersey so I could be one of the first to wear it. Being such a fan of the development and the beginning of the Rays franchise in 1998 and to it come to fruition to the area and to work for your hometown team is a dream come true.
I heard through the grapevine while studying for your MBA at USF you did a thesis on the idea and program that ended up being the basis for the Rays highly popular College Night at the Trop?
One of the great things about my MBA and USF is that I got to take a subject I wanted to explore after I graduated and a career path. I got a team together and put together a project\thesis for my final year at USF and I picked the Rays as an organization I wanted to study and got to meet people like John Higgins (Senior VP of Administration/General Counsel ), John Browne and other high level executives and submitted my marketing plans for the Rays. The challenge then as it is now is to drive attendance and one of the areas I focused on was to drive up attendance among college students and young professionals. In that proposal I came up with the College Night and that was something I was lucky enough after graduating to join the Rays and implement a year later. There was a nice run there where College Nights were full every Friday night, and even sold out for about 3 years in a row. Very excited to put an idea into reality and that was all because of USF and ultimately helped in me landing a job with the Rays.
You started out on the ground floor as a Rays employee, who was your mentor, your “Yoda”?
My first boss, John Browne (former D-Rays VP of Sales and Marketing ) was the guy who hired me to the Rays and gave me my opportunity. He saw something in me that maybe some other people might have overlooked. He believed in me and one of the things I try to carry on in what John Browne did when he approached his employees is to always take the time to listen and to really “hear them out”. What I mean by that is he eliminated all of the distractions, and nowadays there are even more distractions than there was in 2002. What I try to do is take a piece out of his book and take time with my staff whenever they need me. When we meet on a regular basis we always get away from the desk , away from the cellphones and distractions and I really hear them. We really communicate openly, and I think John Browne laid the groundwork for me to always follow that trait to become a successful manager.
Saw a Tweet recently on Twitter where a Rays fan asked David Price about the Rays possibly doing a Rays dog bandanna for our canine fans? What do you think of that idea?
I love that idea. We get some of our best ideas from fans, ultimately they are the consumers of the giveaways and we take all the ideas and expand on them. A dog bandanna is a wonderful idea. We are actually close to potentially doing a Dog Day here at the Trop something we have wanted to explore here for the last 7-8 years and we are finally all comfortable, and I think we got the (St. Petersburg) Fire Marshall comfortable with letting dogs in here. The bandanna would be a perfect tie-in. We actually thought about a dog bowl as well. Any dog item would go over well with the dog loving Rays team we have here. (I know Astro and Jango would love it)
I have to ask, did the Rays win any outstanding recognition for their 2010 baseball sensation the Carlos Pena toothbrush holder? Is there an MLB version of the advertising Cleo?
The Biz of Baseball awarded us with the Number One promotional schedule in all of baseball and the Number 1 promotional giveaway. We were very honored to receive that nomination and our fans reacted to that as well. Carlos Pena thought it was “one of the neatest things he had even seen.” I look forward to Cruz (future Rays LH C ) using it someday.
I was shocked at the recent Rays Fan Fest when we sat down and you told me of your next career destination. I guess it is time now for the rest of the Rays Republic to know where Brian Killingsworth will be on the 2012 MLB Opening Day, and your new job title:
I am the new Vice President of Marketing and brand strategy for the St. Louis Rams. It is definitely bittersweet I have so many great years putting in 10 years with the Rays. Went through a lot of ups and downs. The team is in a position now where it is built for success on the baseball side. I’m extremely proud of what the organization has done to align itself with the solid foundation on the business side. There are a lot of quality people that are apart of this that can definitely take over the reins, but I’m excited about a new challenge to work in the NFL. I see so many parallels with the Rams with then old D-Rays of 2005-2006 and feel I am getting in with the Rams at a point where we can turn around things on the business side and the football side will take care of itself with a new Coach and a new GM and a new direction that I hope wonderful things will happen with the Rams as well.
It is the NFL off-season, but with the NFL Draft only weeks away I suspect you will hit the ground running in St. Louis. Will you take the great groundwork you did with the Rays and convert it NFL-style?
I hope so. That is one of the things I’m excited about for going to the NFL is a whole new challenge and a whole new learning opportunity for me. I have a lot of ideas that I have put into practice here (with the Rays) and done successful case studies for that work in baseball and that is one of the reasons I was attracted to the leadership of Kevin Demoff ( Rams Executive VP of Football Operations/Chief Operating Officer) who has provided the direction and laid out what the Rams want to innovate in their business practices and want to do some exciting things. I think I can bring a lot of my ideas there and they will be accepted and we can build the brand. Something that the region will be proud of. That is my challenge to get to work with the wonderful people in their organization right now and do as much as I can to help spread the Rams brand throughout the region and to go it.
On a personal note, I remember when your young son Cruz was born you projected him as a future left-handed catcher for the Rays? I got to ask, with the geographical change now, could Cruz have become a possible Cardinals prospect?
(Laughing) Maybe, but maybe he can play quarterback for the Rams as well.
I hate that this will be the last question, but what will you miss the most when you leave the Trop for the last time as a Rays employee?
I’m going to miss a lot. I’m going to miss the friendships made throughout the organization, throughout the game day staff , the clubhouse. There are so many people who I have grown with here that I am going to miss. Most importantly the relationships here, the relationships with the fans. I saw a lot of them at Fan Fest and I’m going to miss seeing kids run through the gates and getting their bobbleheads and getting so excited knowing that I had a hand in bringing some joy to kids and hopefully that part I can carry over to the Ram’s family. I will miss everything about it, the people, the relationships, the building. I am pretty fond of the Trop. Then good thing about nowadays is that you can stay in touch and you can always be close. I will always be a Rays fan, and will watch them on MLB.TV and possibly make a few road trips down.
Most of you might not know, but it was Brian who I consulted back in November 2007 asking him if I should again write this very same blog. I am proud of where it has gone, and I have Brian to thank for reminding me why I love writing and this game again. I will miss our seasonal back-and-forth “guessing game” on the Rays concert series. I still write as a result of that first consultation, and many great blog ideas and storyline s have transpired because of those emails and chats.
Personally I wish everyone who has ever ventured into the Trop got at some point got a chance to know Brian in some way. He was an adamant ambassador and treasured asset of “The Rays Way” and I truly wish him more than the best as he re-brands himself now in the NFL. Brian has the passion and true love for this game and his job so few other people possess or can hold a candle to. It has been an extreme honor to have met, spoken and known Brian during his Rays tenure. It will truly seem eerie to me on Opening Day when I look down behind Home Plate and do not see you standing there.
I know you are going onto something new and exciting, and great challenges await you, but I want to personally wish you and your family not only future happiness, but continued blessings and good tidings. I hope you take your past Rays successes are wear them like a badge of honor, for you have truly served the Rays Republic with brilliance. You said in a recent email the Zim Bear was “your walk-off”. If that is the case, it was an extra-inning Grand Slam off your former office’s window and into the Rays Tank. Nothing would be more fitting an ending for your Rays tenure.
One of the biggest reasons so many fans came out to the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest on Saturday was a chance to chat and get autographs from their favorite Rays players in advance of the 2010 season. Also on hand were a few of the Rays minor league prospects invited to the Major League camp that started on Friday. The number of fans seen entering the building on Saturday definitely showed that the enthusiasm and the excitement is very much still alive within the Tampa Bay area for their team.
And there were a few big name players like Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, new comer Sean Rodriguez sent to the Rays in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 and Rays 2009 scapegoat Designated Hitter Pat Burrell. The autograph day went pretty uneventful accept for some late arrivals from players, and some people grumbling about the absence of Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett and leftie Jake McGee. I still have not heard a word on Bartlett, but McGee missed the event due to his wife Morgan going to a local hospital, but she has since been released and McGee is back with the team at the Port Charlotte complex.
But there were more than whispers from a few of the Rays Season Ticket holder I spoke to on friends not renewing their seats or even people downgrading from multiple seats to singles for the 2010 season. But the reality is also there that a small bulk of that inflated number in 2009 was for people who wanted to secure 2008 Playoff tickets and bought seats in the inexpensive sections of Tropicana Field to get guaranteed seating for the Rays playoff run. But there is a anticipated hope of people getting into the flow after Fan Fest and purchasing one of the many ticket packages or options for the upcoming season.
And there were members of the Rays Sales Department all over Tropicana Field ready and willing to discuss or show seating options to people all during Fan Fest. There are options starting as low as $ 273 (Friday or Sunday plan) and rising depending on the seat location. And beginning this Friday, February 26,2010 at 9 am, individual game tickets will go on sale to the general public for the first time in 2010. Another popular option is the Saturday game package that will include every game for the Hess Express /Rays Concert Series that start at $ 331 for T.B.T. Party Deck or Upper Deck Reserved seating.
And again in 2010, the Home Plate Club prices seems to have gone down a tab, so if you should win the Florida Lotto in time for the Rays season, you could purchase a seat in the All-Inclusive area starting at $ 13,256. And even as the Rays season Ticket numbers have dropped, it had to be anticipated by the local economic struggles and also the 2009 Playoff package ticket holders not renewing their seats for 2010. You can be sure within now and the beginning of the season, the Rays will announce some additional ticket options and also attractive promotions and events to get the Tampa Bay residents to come out to the Trop. for more games in 2010.
And as usual, the autograph lines seemed to begin to get congested almost immediately as people bought their silver wristbands then stood in line almost two hours before Evan Longoria first stepped onto the first table location just after 12 pm. By the time he had stepped into his seat, the line formed around the white plastic chain links and circled out into the Rightfield Street hallway down past the Dipping Dots booth and almost to the Rays Carnival Games for the kids.
And there were all sorts of interesting items brought up to the players to sign this year. One fan, Christin Manfredo actually had new Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach sign her 1,000th autographed baseball during Fan Fest, with Rays prospect catcher Nevin Ashley becoming the 1001st autographed baseball in Manfredo’s collection. And there was the usual oversize baseball bats and small scale batting helmets for players to sign, but the one item that caught my eyes was the oversize World Series ticket that were given to several players during the day.
Everyone always asks who is sitting right there with me in my section. Well, here we see Michael, who sits in Section 138, Row C Seat 1 giving Evan Longoria one of the State Farm Home Run Derby balls from 2008 to sign. Longoria took some time looking at the ball and remarked that it looked like it was actually hit, possibly by him during the event. It is a great collectible ball for Michael’s collection. Another item that came up just after Michael to Longo was an actual gold-colored fielding glove that looked a lot like the Golden Glove model glove on the trophy that Longoria will be presented at a Rays game in 2010. One of the great things about this event is seeing some of the fantastic collectible items fans have obtained during the past season from auctions, sales and even events like Fan Fest for the guys to sign.
People were complaining all day long about players getting to the Trop. late for their signings and not staying past their times to appease fans. I know that certain players had transportation delays on their travels up from Port Charlotte, while others had logistical situation going on with their belongings and equipment getting to Port Charlotte ahead of them on Saturday. For some reason, B J Upton took a huge blunt of this backlash, but he was not the only player who was delayed and did not stay any additional time to sign for fans.
And some Rays fans were quick to notice he was texting between signatures and also checking his phone a bit not aware of his transportation logistic situation. But then again,
when you are sitting at a table above the general public, they can see you every move and action and can develop negative opinions and reaction quickly based on your overall mood and attitude to the fans. Upton is excited to begin a new chapter in 2010 and is healthy for the first time in a few years. He has reached out to new Hitting Coach Derek Shelton for advice and has seen the errors of his ways in the past with his nonchalant base running and quiet demeanor. I think he is going to have a breakout year in 2010.
Gabe Kapler to me has become one of the greatest ” at ease” fashion sense guys on this team. And I mean that as a compliment. Here we see him in a great black hat and a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers that seems to show his laid-back attitude and approach to this team. But he is also one of the guys who get into a “zone” during game day and is a constant figure helping other players both on and off the field. Kapler is one of those guys on the edges of the Rays roster in 2010 who could be beneficial to the Rays return to the playoffs in 2010.
Most people know these two guys as one of the best First Basemen offensively and defensively in the Major Leagues, and the other is the Senior Director of Promotions for the Rays. But Carlos Pena and Brian Killingsworth also have another “Kevin Bacon 6 degrees of Separation” moment”. Both were also members of the Wartham Gatesman who won the 1997 Cape Cod Baseball League Championship. Funny story, Killingsworth actually called me on my cellphone the day we got Pena and told me about the signing. I still marvel at that moment I knew the Rays were bound for the playoffs with a guy like Pena behind the scenes.
One of the great thing I love about Rays Fan Fest is the way Rays Radio Network guru Rich Herrera gets time with the players to talk about the upcoming season, or even put an exclamation point on some issue. It was great how he started chatting about the limited edition Carlos Pena T-shirt being sold by the American Red Cross and the Save The Children Foundation.
Herrera told the crowd how the back of the T-shirt lists all the accomplishments Pena has accumulated since his arrival here in 2007. About Pena’s 2007 Comeback Player of the Year Award and Silver Slugger Award, his 2008 Gold Glove, and his 2009 selection to the All Star game. But Herrera was quick to mention the one award Pena is most proud of is his selection as the Tampa Bay recipient for the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award.
Most people know that this award is given annually to the player who combines outstanding skills on the baseball diamond with their devoted work within their team’s community. Pena was actually honored to be presented his nomination by Roberto Clemente Junior during a ceremony at Tropicana Field on September 3,2008. As part of the Roberto Clemente nomination, Major League Baseball made a donation in Pena’s name of $ 7,500 to Fundacion Lumen 2000, a Christian Foundation which provides foster care for children. Pena and his wife, Pamela, also donate school supplies, medicine and equipment to this foundation annually.
I have notice a weird pattern lately in the family units of players within the Rays roster. It is fascinating to me the number of “twos” associated with Rays players and their children. There seems to be a wild Rays parallel, especially in the Rays Bullpen where 4 players have two children. Included in that list is Dan Wheeler (2 boys),Randy Choate (2 girls), Jeff Bennett (2 girls) and Dale Thayer (see above photo).
But the duo’s do not end there as First Baseman Carlos Pena (1 boy,1 girl), Outfielder Gabe Kapler (2 boys), Starting Pitcher Matt Garza (1 boy,1 girl) and Catcher Dioner Navarro( 2 boys) all celebrate the “2′s”. But it can go one step further as First Base Coach George Hendricks, Senior Advisor Don Zimmer and Vice President of Communications Rick Vaughn also have two children in their broods.
There was also a another wild moment behind-the-scenes as several members of the Rays showed up wearing some unconventional head gear for the autograph signings. From Rays starter James Shields, who should get the nod for the 2010 Home Opener against the Baltimore Orioles rocking a white cap, to new closer Rafael Soriano coming down the aisle dressed in black and gold and listening intently to his I-pod on the way to the signing table. Some websites around the Internet did not see his ensemble in its entirety. So the above photo is what he wore into Tropicana Field before he took the stage wearing the Rays new “Sky Blue”-themed alternative jersey.
And most of the Rays were in a really giving mood during Fan Fest. At one point, before Grant Balfour went over to the Season Ticket holder Photo area, he came down from the table and signed for a few minutes with a few more fans before heading over by the Leftfield foul pole to participate in the photo op for the Season Ticket holders only. But even as they were coming and going, several Rays players,including Upton posed with fans for pictures as
they were ascending the aisle to go back into the Clubhouse area following their autograph signing times.
Fernando Perez even took a moment out to come by my seat and tell me he read a bit of my posts during the off season, which really caught me by surprise. I had forgotten I told him about my blog following his poetry article back in 2009, and he advised me he likes my “personalized” view of the game and the actions. Got to admit, when you have a graduate of Columbia University in Creative Writing tell you he likes your stuff… I was on cloud nine the rest of the day. Fernando, in advance, got to tell you, I am also a huge fan of your articles and I am still going to push you to join MLBlogs.com and submit some stuff….You can count on that!
But this was also a time for some “old Friends” to reunite as former Rangers teammates Jaoquin Benoit and Carlos Pena chatted for a bit before Benoit and Rays Bullpen Coach Bobby Ramos made their way to the stage for their 4 pm autograph times. There were a lot of chuckles and writing down of information between the three of them before Ramos and Benoit descended for their time at the autograph tables. And as was custom for every Rays game since he got here, Ramos gave me a salute as he entered the blue-screened area for the signing. I am a lifetime fan of Ramos, and it is not just for the sideline Salsa displays either.
And the Rays organization has to be proud of its fan base that still had the roped off areas full and awaiting autographs at 4 pm. This is a great sign of the energy and the commitment this region has towards Major League Baseball. And it is also fitting that Maddon did not leave the signing table until everyone in the “Table 1″ line had their chance to come up and get their signatures. Even as the overhead lights began to dim within Tropicana Field, Maddon and his two Coaches stood their ground until the last fan got their items signed. Maddon did the same thing in 2009, and I suspect he will do it every season he is here with the Rays. And that is another reason to love him as this team’s manager.
As you can see by this last photo, the time is quickly upon us to begin our nightly patronage of all things Rays related. And those 45 days will seem to simply fly by as the Rays begin game within the next week or so. Once the team begins their Grapefruit schedule the days will pick up steam until that last Florida Home game at Tropicana Field against the New York Mets. And then with one more trip up to Durham, North Carolina to play the Triple-A Champion Durham Bulls, it will be only a matter of hours before we again assemble for another Major League Baseball campaign, and a drive towards playoff glory again.
Even with all of the outside distractions and riff-raff going on within this Tampa Bay area, the one constant is that the Rays play a brand of baseball other teams are now adapting for their own squads. They always say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. If that is true, then the ”Rays Sky Blue” jerseys might be a great addition as expectations rise and the sky is the limit in 2010.
I decided to break the Tampa Bay Rays 2010 Fan Fest into a 2-part blog post since I had reduced my photos down into 60-odd photos. I thought it might be best to start off with the first segment basically focused on the events of the day that were swirling all around Tropicana Field. from the moment the doors opened at 10:05 am (late) and ran until basically 5:30 as Rays Manager Joe Maddon wanted to give every fan in line a chance to get his autograph before they finally turned the lights out and we all went home tired and drain by all the sights and sounds of the day.
As usual, I saw Rays Senior Director of Promotions Brian Killingsworth mad on his walkie talkie trying to get the day events started out with a flurry of excitement and give everyone in attendance a bit of refreshment. And the Rays did that as we strolled into the Rotunda at Gate 1, and were presented with a Rays Sky Blue inspired Fan Fest daily schedule offering the players and times for the days autograph sessions, and included a map of all the planned activities for the day.
We quickly got a burst of sugar presented at a sampling table by Pepsi Bottling Group which furnished everyone with a sampling of the “Throwback” soft drinks made with pure cane sugar and not the corn syrup we have gotten used to in our sodas. And the crowd was eager to get into the stadium and rushed the table like a group of marathoners trying to rehydrate ” on-the-run” as we briskly walked through Centerfield Street towards the Centerfield gates and into Fan Fest.
But most did not want to stop by the Budweiser Brewhouse for a free sample (while supplies lasted) of the Rays new signature adult beverage or even the Ted Williams Museum to see the multiple displays, or check out classic baseball artifacts today, they had Rays players autographs on their collective minds.
But the line quickly formed just below the Batter’s Eye Restaurant in Centerfield where the Rays established a long line of twisting white chains to wind people to the tables to buy a silver wristband that would let you get your autographs for a $ 20 donation to the American Red Cross and the Save the Children Foundations. It quickly became the center of most of the activities for the first 15 minutes as fans then proceeded to do a quick tour of the outer displays and booths set-up before getting in line almost two hours early for autographs.
Some people did not even notice the always popular “Rays Rookie table as they first walked into Fan Fest nestled right next to the wristband area that highlighted exclusive benefits for Rays fans 14 and under. And most people did not even see the American Red Cross table to the right of the wristband section that was offering a special edition Carlos Pena T-shirt produced by the Rays to celebrate Pena’s accomplishments on and off the field for the Rays since he came here in 2007. I almost missed the table as it was hidden against the centerfield wall where B J Upton usually goes to bring in long fly balls with his cleats on the wall. With only 500 of these shirts produced, you know it will be a classic Rays collector’s item in the coming years.
But if you decided to not get into line quickly and walked around clock-wise around the field you would also encounter Season Ticket sales and Fan Fest Ticket packages table that was eagerly waiting to show you the multiple advantages of Season Ticket ownership. Just beyond them was a four car set-up by Chevrolet that featured a simply beautiful orange and black 2010 Chevy Camaro that would have looked great in my driveway if I had not looked at the sticker price. Just past that was the Ruth Eckerd Hall table where Rays fans could try and win a chance to get free tickets to events at the Clearwater venue.
After that on the infield side of First Base was Radio row which held the tents of most of the radio partners of the Clear Channel empire here in Tampa Bay. Also in this area was the “Maddon’s Maniacs” table where you could join or renew your membership for $ 25 and get your yearly swag and card that could get you discounts during the year within Tropicana Field. Right next to them was the Rays Flagship station and radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis were on hand for autographs and photos with Rays fans. WDAE “The Sports Animal” also did a “Live” broadcast from the Trop. from 9 am to 3 pm during the Fan Fest.
As you went around towards Home Plate, you saw the table set up by the Rays Wheelchair Baseball team that just celebrated their 7th season and won the 2009 Division II Championship and are currently ranked number 1 in the nation. Then right after Home Plate you noticed the large crowd checking out the Rays Silent Auction and the Rays mystery “grab bag” promotion where you purchase a brown bag for $ 20 and could possibly win a Rays game line-up card ( I got Rays @ Minn), an autographed baseball (I got a Shawn Riggans baseball), or a Rays Batting Practice jersey.
Right next to the Rays Foundation table was the Rays Team Spirit Squad, which set up a table to give autographs to Rays fans and also promote the Rays Team 2010 Calendar ($ 15) and was more than eager to personally autograph your copy of the calendar. The girls were all eager and ready to chat with fans and even talk about their MLBlog that was set-up in late 2009.
Stuck right behind Home Plate and located in the usual food room for the Home Plate Club was the Raysvision crew on their “Casting Call” promotions for the upcoming season. You could sing Karaoke, ask a Rays player a question, or show your best dance moves for the camera. I actually got wrangled into singing Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” by a few of the Rays staffers who knew I sometimes sing in a cover band in Pinellas Park. It was fun, and I stayed there for a bit and saw some great fan questions and a few wild renditions of songs, even a Lady Gaga song. It was the perfect place to let out your inner “Rock Star” without anyone else catching onto your actions.
One of the most popular tables early was to go up and meet Country Rap Star Cowboy Troy before he went up on the Pepsi stage and did a few numbers before coming back over and doing autographs and photos with the Rays fans. He was also selling coins and CD’s to benefit his foundation which helps support the military troops overseas throughout the world. I enjoyed talking to Cowboy Troy, and he was excited to come back to Tampa Bay today and celebrate the event because of his love for baseball.
But as always, the Rays Fan Fest also wanted to put a smile on our youngest fans and again Bright House Networks helped the Rays in setting up multiple areas like the “running of the Bases” race section in the Rays infield, and the multiple gaming centers along the leftfield fence region. The first section was a chance to experience just what a MLB player saw as the ball came down from the roof of the Trop. I got to tell you, it seemed like if you took your eye off the ball for a moment, you lost it and it fell to the ground. Also a popular event was the Speed Pitch challenge where you could see if you had the right stuff to hopefully become a Rays pitching ace in the future.
Right next to this section was the two Batting Cages one set up as a Little Hitters Zone so young Rays sluggers could get their timing down on balls thrown by pitching machines. This always has one of the longest lines and showcases some of the great raw talent in the Tampa Bay area. And even adults had a chance this season to get in there and try and hit that white dot in the regular Big League Batting Cages exhibit. It is always a blast to see a young kid around 10 years old beat up on his dad who is also hitting in the neighboring cage, but his young son is constantly hitting balls that dad seems to swing and miss on.
And as always, the Rays again had Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby set up where oversize wiffle balls and bats were used by really young fans to try and blast one out of the make-shift rendition of classic Ebbets Field. Also along the outside ring of the stadium, the usual gameday activities sections like along rightfield where you could enjoy the T B Rays Carnival games, Raymond’s Art Studio, the Science of Baseball, Raymond’s Room and the St. Petersburg Times Press Box where you could get your own personalized St. Petersburg Times front page.
Then if you strolled towards leftfield you could enjoy maybe making a replica Rays jersey, the Louisville Slugger Wood Shop, or even Make Your Own Baseball card for your personal collection. And if you were in an extreme mood, you could hit the Mountain Dew Extreme Zone stick ball diamond, or even the MLB 2K10 sports lounge where you could play MLB2K10 for free on gaming consoles during Fan Fest. No matter where you went inside Tropicana Field, you could find an activity to make anyone in your family smile.
But also local theme parks like Busch Gardens was at Tropicana Field introducing Rays fans to their upcoming new park promotion ”Sesame Safari of Fun”. Rays fans were also able to enter for a chance to win free tickets as well as try their luck at games on sight and also take photos with the Busch Gardens performers. There were even multiple baseball collections including some artifacts from the Ted Williams Museum and also the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display which has over 3,500 signed baseball currently in their collection.
And if your are a “lover of the statistical”, or even just a lover of the game of baseball, you had to go by the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) table and try your hand at their trivia crossword test to win prizes or even sign up for the national baseball research group. One of the members at the table, Rays Season Ticket holder Bill Dunstone will be celebrating his 1,000 Rays game during the 2010 season. If you like odd trivia or reading interesting facts and figures about the game of baseball both present and past, this is the group for you.
As in the last few Rays Fan Fest’s, Rays Radio Network Pre and Post Game Show Host Rich Herrera did the Master of Ceremonies duties and did his usual strolling around the ballpark letting the Rays fans in attendance know about some of the odd events and happenings during Fan Fest. One of my favorite is when he goes up to the signing tables and interviews some of the players about their off
the field contributions, or even their activities during the off season. I still can not believe Rich struck a “Vegas Elvis” pose here on the Pepsi stage before he introduced Cowboy Troy for his musical performance.
One of the events that has become more and more popular every season is the Major League Baseball Players Association Alumni table that is set up near Section 142 to provide autographs and photos with some of the legends of the game that live around the Tampa Bay area. Players like former Ray Doug Creek former Rays Hitting Coach Milt May, Phillie Robin Roberts, and other veterans like Ron LeFlore, Bill Demars, Darold Knowles, Mark Whiten, Wayne Garrett and Scott Winchester. Dave LaPoint was also in attendance today in the MLBPA Alumni 12-1 pm veteran group and he told me he was managing the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, which is not affiliated with MLB currently.
Also during Fan Fest, there were two Town Meetings being held in the Batter’s Eye Restaurant. The first was a meeting with Rays Television broadcaster Dewayne Staats with Robin Roberts. The second Town Meeting was the first chance for Rays fans to meet new Rays Hitting Coach Derek Shelton along with radio voices Andy Freed and Dave Willis. Both events went along fantastic with each explaining their part in baseball and also telling great tales and stories concerning their time within the baseball ranks. Each session also included a Question and Answer section so the fans could get some additional insight into the inner workings of baseball.
But the main draw for most of the Rays fans in attendance was the autograph session from 12-5 pm featuring most of the Rays players and Coaches. Unfortunately prior to the event Carl Crawford, Pat Burrell, Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist had previous engagements and would not be able to attend. I will get into this deeper in the next section of my blog posting on Monday. There were a few surprises and a few late arrivals, which I will get into more tomorrow after I check to see if traffic situations did not compound the problems with some of the player’s signings.
Rayvision and Centerplate concessionaires also had a promotion going on during Fan Fest for Rays guests to sample some of the new foods that will be introduced around Tropicana Field in 2010. In this sampling, the chef was trying to get a Rays fan to talk about the new Cuban sandwich selection that will be unveiled during the Rays home opener in April. The sandwich has a crisp breading and a highly spicy mustard that provided a great kick to the cooked pork and meat highlighted also by a sharp Swiss cheese. I think it will be an instant hit around the stadium.
Even “Star Wars” youngster Boba Fett had a great time at the Rays Fan Fest. What I always find exciting is the people who travel from great distances to come to this once a year event. Not only do they come from South Florida and beyond, but some people came here from South America and as far north as Ontario to partake in the Rays celebration with the fans to the beginning of Spring Training. I always thought the Rays should do a contest during Fan Fest to celebrate the fan who traveled the longest distance to attend the Rays Fan Fest. Maybe in 2011 they could award a Rays Fan pack to the long distance champion for their show of support for the team (HINT, HINT Promotions Department).
But I could not end this first blog posting without telling you about the GTE Federal Credit Union and their money machine. Got to admit, I was tempted, but with my luck I would drop all the money with one second left on the clock. I watched a few people use some very interesting cash collecting methods before positioning them for a chance at great prizes from their time in the U-22 Money Booth. What could be better than coming to Fan Fest and getting a chance to win some additional money to spend at future Rays games.
And last, but not least, I wanted to say that Cowboy Troy did a great job of doing his songs on a make-shift sound system that did not rival the last one he sang on during the 2009 Big & Rich Saturday Night Concert Series during Country night at Tropicana Field. He had both young and old fans dancing near the Pepsi stage while he performed three songs and did some great dance moves and interaction with the crowd.
So here we are at the end of the first segment out of three of my postings about the Rays 2010 Fan Fest. Tomorrow I will give you some interesting facts and stories about the autograph session and a few behind-the-scene photos involving the Rays players. So I am already excited to get tomorrow’s blog posting up for you, but I want people to also check out this first segment before it gets lost in the shuffle. If you have read my Twitter account the past two days, I have been giving you small doses of some of the information I got while sitting in my Season Ticket seat most of the day and talking with Rays players, Rays Security and front office staffers. There is some really interesting stories to let you know about on Monday.
When the Tampa Bay Rays first showed their interest in checking out veteran reliever Kelvim Escobar who has been working out for a return to the Major League after a few seasons out of the game, I was mildly excited about the idea. He could be a great addition to the team as a veteran presence that is always a plus for a young Bullpen like the Rays. But for some odd reason, I have this reoccurring unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach….. once again.
You know the type of odd stomach ailment I am talking about here. You do not have heartburn, or even a slight case of indigestion, but it doesn’t feel completely right to you. There are concerns not only in your mind, but a quick jolt of anxious energy within you that is sometimes a precursor to a bad decision.
Well, I am getting that feeling in connection with the Rays and Escobar right now. Maybe it is simply just a case of “Been there……Done that” in my mind that has been there before in decision concerning the Rays and veteran Bullpen help. The first time I had this stomach reaction was when the team announced they had signed Mr Gimp himself, Troy Percival two seasons ago.
I was mildly excited that we got an opportunity to have a potential Hall of Fame closer come to the Rays for a bargain basement price. And he came with the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval as a good fixture for the Rays Bullpen. But reality struck quick and hard in those two seasons as Percival received about $ 8.5 million from the team for about 4 months total worth of sweat.
And the Percival experience still gets me angry, so maybe I am a bit justified to have a moment of hesitation and feel leery to trust the old dogs right now. But I do remember some times of great judgment and positive results in the last few years when the team took a chance on a guy who had Major League potential, but had been hidden in the minor league system for several seasons.
The Rays took a huge chance signing the guy and he rose to the occasion to be one of the most productive members of the Rays over the last three seasons. He has also raised his level of play both on and off the field to receive Golden Gloves, a Silver Slugger, and his first All Star appearance in 2009. When the Rays first signed him, Rays Senior Director of Marketing Brian Killingsworth called me and I was excited about this signing from the get-go. Of course that player was Carlos Pena.
And again in the Spring of 2009, I was totally on board with the Rays taking a chance on Jason Isringhausen based on this same gut reaction I had with Pena that he still had some gasoline in his tank and fire in his belly to succeed at this level. And the added plus that Izzy could be the veteran leader that Percival never fully embraced with the Rays young Bullpen.
But an injury to Izzy during a Rays home, in front of the Rays faithful sidelined his Rays career for the rest of the season. And even after his Tommy John’s surgery, Isringhausen came back into the Rays clubhouse several times before the end of 2009 to boost up teammates and show his support for the team. And if Isringhausen were to come back fully loaded and hunting again in 2010, I would still welcome the Rays opening their arms and taking him into the team again. Percival………..not unless he plays for free.
But could it be the honest fact that signing an rehabbing older reliever can be as predictable as rolling the dice? Heck, I am a gambler by nature, but I also know my limitations. The chance that Escobar would come in and be the perfect set-up guy for the Rays is totally within reason, but the fact he has not played much in 2 seasons, Escobar still throws up a huge yellow caution light up into my line of vision.
But I have a good measure of faith in the Rays scouting department and maybe this could just be the perfect diamond in the rough scenario as the Pena signing. It is speculated that the next time Escobar throws in front of MLB scouts will be in front of live hitting, probably within the next few days in the Venezuelan Winter League. Venezuelan reporter Efrain Zavarce speculates the Escobar could throw as early as tonight in relief for a Venezuelan squad (As of 4:45 pm EST no teams has added him to their roster).
But again, this is a player who has again drawn the “Joe Maddon” seal of approval, and maybe that is what scares me the most. Not that Maddon is not a great judge of talent and can see the positives through his black rimmed glasses, but the Percival episode has given me caution when that seal is given out to players. Nothing personal Joe.
But if you look at Escobar’s past, a player who has won 101 games in his Major League career does have possibilities. And he did save 38 games for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002, so he does have high pressure experience and could be a nice mentor to Rafael Soriano to talk to in the Rays Bullpen. But again, he missed the entire 2008 season after a right shoulder labrum tear, and only threw 5 innings for the Los Angeles Angels taking a loss in his only 2009 appearance.
But in 2007, Escobar did post a career high 18 wins with the Angels with 3 complete games. And in an odd note, he started his 200th career start against the Rays that season. maybe I will keep an open mind and wait for that games result before throwing the baby out with the bath water here. Escobar has thrown in 1,507 innings in his career and has amassed 1,310 strikeouts, both impressive numbers showing his consistency and his durability.
But the true fact that the Rays have gone 1-3 on their veteran projects in the last few years for the Rays Bullpen, with two straight swing and misses in regards to relievers. So if Escobar shows during his Venezuelan outings that he still possesses some wicked velocity and a consistent ball in the strike zone, then maybe he could take the Rays project record to the .500 mark. Because all I need to do is look towards the Rays First Base bag to see that sometimes taking a chance on a player is all the help he needs to again succeed in the Major Leagues.
I seriously did not expect to see over 4 ,000 people standing in line outside waiting for the 9a.m. Season Ticket holder opening when I pulled into Lot 6 off of 1st Avenue South in St. Petersburg. I also did not expect that most would be as excited as me to the possibilities of the coming year, and wondering who might sign, or not sign inside today. From the moment they left us in early to be able to a few circles around the field and check out the sights, it was by far the best Fan Fest that the Rays have put on in their short history.
Kudos go out to Mark Fernandez and Brian Killingsworth for the awesome display booth and sights that greeted your eyes when you first walked into the stadium in center field. Some people just love to be able to walk on the Field Turf, but if you have been a Rays fans for years, you know the turf can be a bit hard on your legs after a few hours. The sights that first hit your eyes is the grouping to the left that featured several of the Rays big time sponsors who gave away free items for fans in attendance. There were the free Rays 2009 TV schedule poster by Florida Sports Network ( FSN ) that also featured several members of the Rays Television crew signing for the fans.
A few hours later, former greats like, Wayne Garrett, Gary Peters, Jim Archer, Darold Knowles, and Mark Whiten also came out in support of the MLBPA event. The place was already a buzz with excitement and it was only 10 am. The autograph lines quickly filled up with Table 1 being the place to be today. At one point today, the line stretched out the right field gate and swirled into the tunnel under the stands twice to form a line of about 1,000 fans seeking autographs from the players ib just that first table. The first table got the first bit of bad news at about 12 noon when it was announced that Rookie of the Year winner Evan Longoria would not be signing at the event. Rays pitcher James Shields jumped in and rescued the hour by staying and signing for fans in place of Longoria.
Rumors quickly spread about the missing Longoria from a family emergency to missing the event because of an autograph contract with a company. I do not know the correct answer, but I will give Longoria the benefit of the doubt unless something else hits the fan. During the signings you could see the Cow from Cick-fil-A and Stewie from family guy going around and chatting with kids and fans waiting in line for autographs.
If you left the autograph area and moved down the first baseline, you were met by the Metro PCS table, where from 1-3 pm today, a Rays player could phone someone you knew and chat for a minute or two. I got new Rays Pat Burrell to leave my new voice mail message on my cellphone for my website. But other players like 2008 first round pick Tim Beckham and David Price were over at the tables during the day. If you kept going to the first baseline, you saw that Chevrolet was out giving Rays fans free gifts and presenting the 2009 models close up and personal. Then you would come up on the Baseball America table where you could sign up to win a special prize from them throughout the day and receive the newest copy of the magazine. the MLB Network also had a small table set up giving away more goodies for the fans and giving them an opportunity to check out the new network that started on January 1, 2009.
The Rays Golden Rays club, which caters to its fans 55 and older was stationed right next to them and was taking applications and giving out the 2009 edition of the Golden Rays shirt, which was a striking gold shirt with royal blue lettering. After that it was a smattering of Rays booth featuring the Charlotte Sports Park, where the Rays will be playing their 2009 Spring Training games and hold all training session before the Spring games begin in 2009. On the opposite side were the Clear Channel radio stations lining the fencing for the “Kids Run the Bases” event that is so popular after Sunday’s Rays games. Then you would come upon the Rays Radio Network, which had both their Spanish and English radio teams signing for the fans.
Right next to them near the entrance for the Clubhouse tour was WDAE 620, the Sports Animal booth that was broadcasting throughout the Rays Fan Fest event. To their right was the Rays Maddon’s Maniac booth that was already taking applications and giving out collectibles for the 2009 season. I am going to write a blog in the coming week on the events and the new procedures for this great Rays booster club. After that you had the Rays season Ticket folks and Raysbaseball.com situated right behind home plate to help you with your seat selection, or to view the website on a laptop set up on the table for you to browse the website.
Then you had two very special groups, the Rays Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities ( RBI ) program. This is a fantastic program, and the Rays All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford once participating in a Houston area branch of this organization before being drafted by the Rays. Next to them is the Rays Wheelchair Softball team, which is currently ranked 7th in the nation, and is the reigning National Champion in Division II. Then you wander on down to the SABRE table, which asked Rays fans to find Rays players listed in a word search puzzle today for a prize.
Then you come upon one of my favorite Rays collectible displays, the McKenney family Collection. This is a very unique collection because it hold a baseball signed by every coach and player who ever put on a Rays uniform. It is also the pride and joy of Jeff McKenney, who fans at the Trop know affectionately as “The Sign Guy”. McKenney also has an amazing banner that he started that he has also gotten almost every Rays player to sign. The banner and the collection are a great look into the history of the Rays, and some date even before the first game in 1998.
To the right of them beyond the left field tunnel was the Rays Season Ticket opportunity where fans got to take their picture with two Rays players at the same time. Players like James Shields, Fernando Perez got things started at noon today and were followed by B J Upton and Matt Garza, Dioner Navarro and Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Bartlett and J P Howell, and Jeff Niemann and Troy Percival closed out the event at 5 pm. But it was the areas lining the left field walls towards center field that had the most action today. That was the location of the kid’s game area where speed pitching and hitting rules the day. But if that was too much for you right now, there was a three-story little sluggers zone with wiffle balls, and a few of them even made it over the big white monster wall today. You then would stroll down to the big league batting cages and the wiffle ball home run derby event, where the little one were fed balls from a machine and aimed for the wall that resembled old Ebbet’s Field in Brooklyn, New York.
One of the most popular photo opportunities was at either of the Rays enlarged baseball side displays, or the cutout where you could put yourself in the Rays home plate celebration. It has two cut out points to put yourself into the action. All in all the Fan Fest had its ups and downs. The autograph areas were saturated as usual by fans and some did not get to the front before the signing time was over for the players. That has happened in the past, but with the increased attendance today, you had to be in the right place at the right time today to get everyone you wanted. That is one of the sad points of the day. Some players like Carlos Pena did not arrive on time, but he stayed beyond his time and signed for the fans.
All in all, the event was a huge success for the team. Some people grumbled about the autograph lines, and others did not understand that the $ 10 autograph donation for a wristband to stand in line for an autograph was to go to the Rays Baseball Foundation which provides money and scholarships throughout the Tampa Bay area. The group also renovated local Little League fields and donates their time and efforts in Habitat for Humanity and the local homeless shelters in the area. But he crowd was here in force, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves as the filed in and out of the stadium.
Even with all the pressure on the Rays to continue their winning ways, the players and the Rays management teams can grow in confidence by the display of the fans turnout for this event. I have a few suggestions for 2010, but I will leave that for another time. It is time to rejoice and also relax and take in all the positives of the 2009 Fan Fest and show some real deep love to the Rays on this Valentines Day.