Results tagged ‘ Fan Fest ’

Rays Throw One Heck of a Fan Fest

 

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The moments surrounding the entire exhausting day are still spinning around aimlessly in my head. Pulsating through my eyes and ears still are the photographic moments, enthusiastic greetings of baseball friends, and again hearing a buzz engulfing Tropicana Field. The last time I sat in this stadium, another team was celebrating.
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2011 Rays Fan Fest 002.JPGToday it was to again witness a seasonal rebirth, a reincarnation of the recharging baseball spirit. It was time to get our collective baseball on! When the doors finally were thrown open as a symbol of a new Tampa Bay Rays season,
 I was overcome with a emotion of the expectations, the unforeseen, and the grandour of another season “officially” being kicked off along with 25,000 of my fellow Rays fans.

 

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As I first rushed in from Centerfield, a Pepsi monstrosity met my eyes. I was the first Pepsi person to build a display for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame 7 years earlier, on my own induction day. Before me stood a wall of power, agility and almost 20 hous of labor. But it was a labor of baseball love, and bigger than anything I could of ever imagined. Then out of the corner of my eye was the object of that day’s affection for me. 

 

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 005.JPGThere on pallets stacked almost 4 feet tall were 1 foot square parcels of the old Tropicana Field FieldTurf. The same turf that saw champagne dripped on it in 2008 and again in 2010. The same turf that was in place during the first Rays No-hitter in 2010 by Matt Garza, or the first Rays cycle by B J Upton in September 2009. So much history had been spilled both by sweat and celebration on that dark green carpet. Now it could be all ours with a $ 25 donation to the Rays Baseball Foundation. A small price for something that holds so many memories in its fabric.

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So much to do during Fan Fest, and so little time. I decided to take astroll back towards the Centerfield entrance and view again, the Rays Holy Grail, The 2008 American League Trophy.stood before me with a brilliant Rays inspired background. To this day, that trophy still has a special allure,and makes me want to embraced it  just like I did back before the 2009 season. But this time, it was out there front and center for all Rays fans to also celebrate and have their photos taken with this glorious piece of hardware. That is what Fan Fest is all about…possibilities.

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Suddenly my eyes began to refodus towards Home Plate, and lo and behold stood new Ray Johnny Damon dressed in a “22” jersey giving a high-5 to a young Rays fan who had just finished running the bases. It was great to see new Rays Johnny Damon take some time out of his busy day to come greet a few special Rays youngsters as they crossed the plate.  Damon had a prior committment that day and only had a few moments, but a few kids will get a moment that will be cherished when they get older. Thank you Johnny!

 

 

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 015.JPGI spent a few moments listening to Damon during his radio interview with local Brighthouse Sports anchor Rock Riley before taking a trip down “booth row”. This houses all the radio station, special promotional partners of the Rays, plus the Rays club tables. I stopped by the “Maddon’s Maniac table and met for a fewmoments with coordinator Matt Fitzgerald looking at the new 2011 gray “Maddons Maniac” design. Fitzgerald also pointed out the new dark blue T-shirts for the “Golden Rays” (over 55 Rays) which also had a beautiful new “GR” insignia on the design. Both designs were amazing, and sure to be popular Trop items this season.

 

 

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After a quick check-in at the Wall of Fame table to let them know “Mr. Lucky” from the class of 2004 was in attendance, I was off to the Yard Sales of all Yard Sales located in the Corona Beach area in Leftfield, and also out in Leftfield Street in the stickball court region.


 

 

 

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Used game jerseys from the past, including the 10th Anniversary jerseys were going for only $ 100. Along with signed balls, used bats and even a few other momentos most would have thought long gone. A 2010 Rays Media Guide, Yearbook went for the unheard of cost of only $ 2 (they cost $ 20 in the Team Store during the 2010 season). Buyers were everywhere getting some of the best Rays deals, and also helping the Rays Baseball Foundation. 

 

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 046.JPGI took another lap around the stadium watching as kid’s played numerous games from a speed trial while running from first to second base. A wiffle ball Home Run Derby area that looked like Ebbets Field, plus the always popular pitch speed booth where young hurlers could see if their velocity had improved over the Winter.
 


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2011 Rays Fan Fest 045.JPGTook in the numerous vendors selling Rays merchandise along the curve of the infield clay and also experienced  a small sampling of the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display that an avid Rays fan has assembled throughout his life. Took the yearly visit through the Rays Clubhouse where I got to see the now famous GTMI Board. GTMI stands for “Get The Man In”, which Maddon stressed profusely during the 2010 season. Those 4 letters might have been a small catalyst that eventually got them the Rays second American League East title in three seasons. 

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 058.JPGIt was only a little after 10 am and already the autograph line was getting full for the 12 pm signings for Evan Longoria (Table 1) and B J Upton (Table 6). I strolled around the ballpark a few more times even hitting “radio row” again, plus the Fox SunSports table where roving television reporter Todd Kalas was signing for fans.

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 052.JPGKalas was at Fan Fest for a long time today considering he had to do a telecast for the USF Bulls Basketball game that evening. That just shows the dedication goes beyond just the players for this event. Before he left that afternoon, Kalas had stripped off his Carolina blue Fox/FSN polo shirt and reappeared in a dress shirt and tie ready for his departure to USF. But the mood was upbeat and extremely enthusiastic all over the stadium about this 2011 Rays team.

It was now about 12 and Longoria and Upton had not arrived yet to the Trop. Seems there was an accident on I-75 coming Northbound. For those who do not know, the I-75 corridor from Palmetto to Naples is under going some construction and repair work to widen the highway. One section of  I-75 North was already 2-lanes before the accident. Afterwards it pushed everyone into a single lane for a short distance, which backed up traffic for miles.  

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 048.JPGI took another lap around “Radio Row” which was just in front of the Rays home dugoutnear the area between the two dugout. I made sure to stop by the Rays Radio Network table and congradulate Dave Willis on his recent 3-year deal to stay as a voice of the Rays. In front of the visitor’s dugout was the MLB Alumni signing tables. There event featured 40 former MLB players signing FREE autographs for the fans.

 


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I was looking forward to seeing ex Rays Dave Eiland (now a Rays Special Assistant), OF Jason Romano, and relievers Roberto Hernandez and Travis Phelps.  Hernandez was accompanied by his young son, who also is a local budding baseball player. But I was intriqued to see Phelps wholast pitched a few years ago for the Tigers in the Spring. People forget he is always going to hold a distinctive record in MLB history. Phelps was drafted by the Rays in the 89th Round of the 1996 MLB Draft. No one else…ever will make it to the MLB level from that spot.

 



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It was now around 12-ish, and Evan Longoria and B J Upton had not arrived yet for their 12 pm signings. Word spread quickly back behind the blue curtain that an accident had traffic backed up a bit on I-75 coming North from Port Charlotte,Florida. The Rays were enroute, but were delayed by traffic. The section of road from Palmetto to Port Charlotte is undergoing a huge upgrade in lanes and interior changes. I know from traveling the route just a few days earlier that not paying attention could cause a huge mess.

 


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Finally both Upton and Longoria arrived and began signingfor the fans. The 1pm and 2 pm Rays players also had a bit of a delay, but it was much less than the huge time lapse of Upton and Longoria. Rays RP Andy Sonnanstine also wore a T-shirt honoring the two slain SPPD officers during his Season Ticket holder photo op, and his panel discussion with fellow pitcher Jeff Niemann. J P Howell took a moment to chat with me before heading off to do his photo opportunity with Sonnanstine, then do his “Reading With the Rays”.

Even with a few bumps in the road. The new AstroTurf at Tropicana Field brought about some comments as to its “bumps”, but after 25,000 pairs of feet, plus the upcoming gymnastics event and St. Petersburg Boat Show, the turf should have settled a bit more in place. No matter what, Dan Moeller and his Rays groundscrew will have theTrop  surface in tip top shape before the Rays final Spring Training game on March 31,2011.

 


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The Rays Fan fest attracted 25,000 Tampa Bay fans. It also helped raise over $100,000 dollars for its affiliated charities through donations and the Yard Sale. It was the perfect ending to a great day of celebrating the upcoming season, plus remembering those less fortunate in our community. Once again the Rays showed they know how to throw a Fan Fest. Sure there were a few flies in the ointment, but that will only make the Rays staff work harder to bring another great event in 2012…I can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

Cardinals Autograph Fees versus the Rays $40 All-Inclusive

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More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization. Here we are just a few days before the 2011 Rays Fan Fest and decided to look at the recent St. Louis Cardinals Winter Wind-Up event. Suddenly I see just how different and special the “Rays Way” of producing their Fan Fest far exceeds the norm in the MLB.

It is really wild how every single team in Major League Baseball does their own separate and unique versions of fan and player interaction events. I have mentioned in the past how some do exclusive Winter or pre-Spring Caravans or team whistle stops (Reds, Braves and Pirates) with players appearing and signing at one of their team’s top local sponsors or special “friend” locations of the franchise

Then there are the events held by teams like the White Sox or Brewers over multiple days that have their fan experience in convention centers with isolated rooms where if you have a purchase a pre-paid ticket or lucky pass to get a players signature and purchase an additional ticket for a possible photo opportunity with one of your favorite players.


ff64.JPGJust reading about idea of pre-paid tickets purchased in advance, with certain designated autograph times in isolated rooms, segmented away from the public just makes the whole Rays Fan Fest format extremely fan-friendly. We have surely been spoiled in the past years with FREE admission and FREE autographs, plus other opportunities for players to interact with fans at numerous other events during the day. Maybe that all is about to morph into a new animal or idea in the future.

 The Cardinals are not the only MLB team to put on a multiple day Fan experience, but from that point things go a bit…well off the charts. Their 2011 fan event was held from January 15-17th at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. The pre-event details and autograph pricing list definitely had me twitching at the keyboard wanting to state my opinion.

The idea of paying $ 40 for the Rays autograph wristband is no biggie to me, but the pricing list for autographs at the Cardinals event left me a bit….hoping the Rays did not venture into these waters….yet.

I am definitely starting to feel that maybe we all have been extremely spoiled by the Rays generosity in the past by not pushing their autograph session to this kind of level, and keeping the players basically in front of the fans.


Thumbnail image for ff004.JPGYou get a special rush in you as you snake through the autograph line to finally get to walk towards the podium and get a signature and possibly chat for a moment with the player before embarking on maybe standing in another line for another signature before an hour time elapses and the next band of signers’ take their spots.

I still remember when the Rays Fan Fest was a 2-day event, and maybe the Rays have been giving all of us so much for literally nothing all these years that I forgot the true fan advantage that we, as Rays fans have over some other teams. We have some of the most accessible and personable players in the MLB, and that is a great gift. But maybe the era of something for nothing is about to close. It is part of the evolution, the process, the way thing eventually go or flow. Change happens.

Just like the Rays, the Cardinals asked their fans to purchase via a charitable donation, a limited amount of pre-priced autograph tickets prior to their event. The Cards gave you the option of buying your player’s autograph ticket online, or possibly with fingers, eyes and knees crossed, there would be a smattering of leftover tickets available the day of the event. As you can guess, that second option was as viable an option as the proverbial needle in the haystack.

From there the Cardinal autograph sessions further separated themselves from the Rays format of a one-time $ 40 donation for a Rays Fan Fest wristband (if you are over 14). At the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up event there was a rolling list of prices that ranged from 54 players from the Cardinals past and present signing for FREE including ex-Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane and local resident Danny Cox.

From there the Cardinals scale quickly went from $ 5 for an autograph from relievers Jason Motte, Trever Miller or Kyle McClellan all the way up to $ 100 for Matt Holiday, or $ 175 for Albert Pujols. A interesting side note, Pujols signature actually has stayed sort of “recession proof” at the same autograph pricing for the past three Winter Warm-Up events. Not sure of what price I would estimate or guess an Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, David Price or Manny Ramirez would bring, but it would not be set in stone at $40 total price for all 4 signatures.

Cardinal Baseball Hall of Fame members Bob Gibson ($ 125), Bruce Sutter ($100) and Lou Brock ($100) also had autograph tickets available in the 3-digit range. You could also purchase tickets for autographs from former Cardinal greats Ray Lankford ($10), Vince Coleman ($10) Jack Clark ($5) if your autograph needs were dictated by a shoe string budget. By comparison, the Rays will have 30 MLB Alumni members including Mark Whiten, Von Hayes and former Rays closer and All-Star Roberto Hernandez signing for FREE during Fan Fest.

 

ff30.JPGBefore all of you Rays supporters get all upset and rant and rave about this pricing structure, remember it is all going to Cardinal Care, the St. Louis charity that mirrors perfectly with the Rays Baseball Foundation. Cardinal Care is the primary charitable arm of the Cardinals organization that provides financial help in the surrounding communities. This Winter Warm-Up event is one of their biggest donation events of the year.

But if the sticker shock of seeing $ 175 get to you, there are a few other possible options if you happened to sleep in and missed the Pujol’s online ticket auction. You could be one of the top bidders in an exclusive 10 bid online auction that will position you as one of the first 10 spots in line for Pujol’s autograph, plus you will received 2 Winter Warm-Up passes, and the added bonus of two future tickets to the all-inclusive Champions Club for a game during the Cardinals 2011 season.

If that is still way out of your economical range, you could purchase a $ 1 scratch-off ticket that will get you an instant opportunity for a Pujols autograph. Oh, and Pujol’s will only be signing baseball and bats. No jerseys, photos or posters at this event. $ 40 is starting to look real cheap right now to those people over 14.

For some reason I am starting to get the sneaking feeling that the Rays exclusive $ 40 offer, or that the present format of tables set on a podium in plain sight of the public right on the NEW AstroTurf of Tropicana Field might go the way of the dinosaur at some future point. The Rays Fan Fest has always been a free day of family and baseball related fun and frolic from the player’s autographs, to kid’s hitting wiffle balls, to the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend promo, to the roundtable discussions with some of those in the MLB trenches.

Sure the Cardinals have a larger two hour total window for player signings, but if you miss your “window of opportunity”, you are left totally holding the ball (literally). You also might not get that air of personal interaction with the player that has been one of the things I have come to love about Fan Fest.



Thumbnail image for ff34.JPGPlus there is a extremely affordable advantage that Rays Fan fest as always, has FREE admission. If you wanted to attend the 3-day Cardinals event, you had to purchase a $40 Entry Pass and have it displayed you at all times. At Fan Fest, you just park your car, walk into the Rotunda towards the field and enjoy the festivities.

More and more that $ 40 for fans over 14 for a Rays autograph wristband feels like a sure fire MLB bargain. But if you are a kid under 14, the autograph event is still totally free, which feels amazing especially after you get that much wanted David Price and Evan Longoria autograph…without a single ticket.

 

 

Autograph Wristbands to Cost $40 at Rays Fan Fest

 

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During the Tampa Bay Rays 2011 Fan Fest, there will again ask for a donation fee for those over 14 years of age or who are not Rays Season Ticket holders who want to seek an autograph of their favorite Rays player. This year that honor will cost you $ 40. Immediately I am expecting to hear those adult voices rise up into a higher octave and even denounce or boycott the autograph lines.

I, for one will pay the $ 40 with a smile on my face for the entire amount will go the Rays Baseball Foundation and also the foundation for two St. Petersburg Police officer’s families. It is also a chance for those “collectors” to make their own charitable donation to help support the many Rays Baseball Foundation charities that need yearly support.

Still there will be those who want their voices heard loud and clear. For them I want to remind them that the Rays Fan fest is a mostly FREE event. That it is not held in a convention center like the 2011 SoxFest or 2011 PiratesFest,. It will be featured upon the NEW Astroturf surface of Tropicana Field. But still there will be those distracters that want to showcase the bad president instead of the good this small amount of $ 40 will do for those in need within our Tampa Bay community.

That is how spoiled we have become as Rays fans. No tickets are needed for entry like at the Milwaukee Brewers 3rd annual On-Deck experience ($15) or the recent Orioles Fest which cost $ 12 for adults and $ 4 for kids under 14 or adults over 55. Somehow we as member of the Rays Republic have forgotten what this event is really all about.

It is  a time to rejoice about the beginning of a new Rays season. It is the time for utter excitement, plus the first day to purchase single game Rays tickets. It is about celebrating Spring with both the old and the new Rays players, and welcome them to our team with huge smiles. And all without a single dollar spent for admission fees.

$ 40 is not much considering it covers every autograph session of the event, including all of the designated players in your line in your autograph line during that time period. Did you know at SoxFest, which is also a 3-day event, there are daily limits for individual autographs and photos with players?  Would you want the Rays to institute a possible $ 15 voucher offer in 2012 for each selected player or alumni group during a time period with it possibly of it selling out even before you get on your computer, or arrive that day to Fan Fest?

Would you be happier if the Rays decided o go the route of the Atlanta Braves and just have a yearly scheduled Rays caravan each Spring instead of a day celebrating Rays baseball with the whole community invited?  The Braves 2011 caravan actually began on January 24,2011 in Macon, Georgia and will make several other stops before finally concluding on February 5,2011 in Madison/Nashville, Tennessee. During their caravan, the Braves will only have one chance for Braves fans to get the autograph of new member Dan Uggla, who ill only be appearing at the last event in Tennessee.
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At the Rays Fan Fest, all signed Rays players plus most of their minor league players will be at a Rays signing table at some point in the day. You cannot be guaranteed that at other team  Fan Fest. Think about it, $ 40 could get you Evan Longoria, David Price, Rays Manager Joe Maddon, plus possibly get autographs from newly signed Rays players Manny Ramirez, Dirk Hayhurst and Johnny Damon. More than worth the one time expenditure.
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In recent years, the Rays have also heard you loud and clear on the congestion and turmoil that multiple players signing can provide with duo lines sometimes forming at the first table, or snaking lines going all the way out of the Rightfield tunnel into the concourse. A staff member of the Rays wrote to me that the Rays are trying to eliminate those kinds of autograph headaches during Fan Fest, but a popular player will still garner a huge line and a possible result of no signature before the next group arrives for their singing times.

That might mean moving a popular player towards the middle two sections of the autograph area, but that is still better than not getting a chance at all to get a autograph after the singing sessions are sold out in advance of Fan Fest or cost $15 for each scheduled autograph session like OriolesFest.
Do not forget again that the $ 40 fee for the Rays autograph sessions wristband (for those over 14) will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation in their ongoing endeavors to help baseball flourish in this community. If you wanted to attend all 5 signature groupings during OriolesFest, it would cost you upwards to $ 75 dollars for the same amount of signatures.

Plus if your Rays player signings at Table 2 get completed in time for you to possibly stand in Table 3’s autograph line during the designated time span, it will not cost you anything additional unlike the OriolesFest. At SoxFest, your voucher was only for that player during that time period, not for unlimited usage or wandering into additional lines for signatures.
 
Or maybe you might want to force the Rays to reconsider their FREE admittance and possible charge $ 15 dollars like they did at the Brewers event at the Frontier Airlines Center.

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A $ 40 one day autograph wristband charge for signatures to me is a bargain any day. Considering the additional fees and signature admittance charges of other Major League Baseball fan events, it is a down right steal. Still, you child under 14 can still stroll up to their favorite player and get a signed autograph or smile at no charge…and how can you even put a price on something like that. 

 
 

 

Tasty 2011 Fan Fest Morsels to Whet Your Rays Appetite

 

 

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By now most of the Tampa Bay Rays Republic members have either read the MLB.com blog post by fellow MLBlogs.com’s own Bill Chastain giving you a rough outline of some of the great events planned for the Rays 2011 Fan Fest. Or possibly you have heard a few more fantastic developments through the Rays “Sunshine Telegraph” on other Fan Fest revelations being thrown out into the Rays-verse.It has made more than a few of us hungry for baseball, and ready to consume some more Rays memories, but it is about to get even better. I got a few more really tasty morsels I have digested over the last few days, and want to divulge today hoping it will give the Tampa Bay community even more reasons for all baseball fans to flock to the Trop on February 19,2011 and touch and experience Tropicana Field’s NEW Astroturf II surface.

But that is just a small tapas plate of the new revelations currently getting me salivating and eager to be pressing my nose to the Trop’s Gate 1 window waiting for the Fan Hosts to throw open the doors. I know I will not be able to experience this one event, but the kid’s press conference with a actual Rays player still sounds like the thing of dreams to me. What I would give to be under 14 again and be able to ask any one of the Rays players a serious question about the game.

Just when you thought the Rays had outdone themselves in their 2010 Fan Fest, they go all “Raiders of the Lost Rays Gear” and provide a glimpse back into the Rays early past with a Rays Baseball Foundation Yard Sale that will showcase past items from as far back as the 1998 First Season. All proceeds of this Yard Sale will go to help organizations throughout Tampa Bay. Believe me, the items that have already been told to me have both my wallet and my mind excited and anxious for the doors to swing open.

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One of the items I am most excited is a chance to purchase an actual MLB authenticated piece of the Rays Clubhouse carpet that has seen champagne spilled upon it more than a few times. And if that doesn’t get your pocketbook spinning a bit, how about possibly purchasing your own slice of fabric from the Trop’s old FieldTurf surface for your very own. Think about that package for a moment, you can get two pieces of Rays history, both authenticated by MLB, and you get to help those in need in the Tampa Bay community. Definitely sounds like a “win-win” situation to me.The Yard Sale will also include the usual fare of game used equipment and jerseys. And the greatest thing about the 2011 Rays Fan Fest is that it is still FREE to enter and take in the magic, with only a few events possibly costing you anything out of your pocket. I will get more into this in the coming week as to the events that will cost you some money at Fan fest, but remember again, all proceeds will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation.

The Rays have even added in the last 24 hours the incentive that a portion of the overall proceeds from Fan Fest will also go to the families of two recently deceased St. Petersburg police officers. Great to see the Rays reach out with a kind hand to help a pair of families in need right now.

There will be the always popular events like the complimentary Clubhouse Tour, and the Metro PCS “Call a Friend table with a revolving array of Rays players returning this season. A great addition to the Fan Fest fanatic pace is a unique reading section where an actual Rays player will spend time and read with the kids.

This is extra exciting to me especially since Dirk Hayhurst was signed by the team . We could have a live rendition of the “Legend of the Garfoose“. Got my fingers crossed that we also might be able to hear JP Howell or his wife Heather Hennessy-Howell possibly reading the children’s journey, “The Adventures of Dangles“. This one section of Fan Fest could turn into a virtual Home Run by the Rays promotional department with a overcrowded area filled with kids of all ages listening into the stories. (Heck, I might try and sneak within hearing distance).

These are just a few reasons to red-circle the date of Saturday, February 19th on your calendars or set a vocal cell phone alert to be in line at 10 am when the Tropicana Field doors open on that date. Possible treasures from the first Rays season, hearing a Rays player read with or to your child, and maybe having someone like Evan Longoria call your boss or best friend.


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This is one of those early moments of the season when finally you can breath and know that Spring is just around the corner and the sound of a bat on the ball is near. This season you can not only make Rays memories during Fan Fest with autographs, possibly get a high-5 from a Rays player as you cross Home Plate or take home a piece of Rays history for yourself.

So far the 2011 Rays Fan Fest is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in the team’s short history. Daily I am getting more and more tidbits of Fan Fest information and it just seems to escalate the excitement and the push for mid-February to get here faster.

 

 P.S.

 The profile photo was taken during my 2004 induction into the Tampa Bay Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame ceremony

 

Fan-tastic Rays Fan Fest

 

 

 
 
Every time I head out for the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest in the middle of February, I head out with a renewed vigor and vitality for the expectations and the anxious excitement of the upcoming season. Well, if the sight I saw at 8 :45 a.m. is any indication of the community support for the team in 2009, the rest of the league will not see a huge amount of blue seats during the ball games. I know it is too early to even imagine over 2 million fans in the seats at Tropicana Field, but that is what today is all about………dreaming of the future and celebrating the good fortunes of 2008 with 35,000-40,000 of my closet Rays fans.
 


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. 



 

 

 
 
Then you had a booth set up for famous Nathans Hot Dog Champion Joey Chestnut, who is a two-time champion of the annual Nathans event now. Later in the day, Rich Herrera, who does the pre and post game shows for the Rays challenged Chestnut to drink a gallon of milk without spilling or………. Chestnut downed the gallon of milk in under 45 seconds, and came up smiling to the crowd. Then down near the right field corner you had a booth set up for the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. They presented such former stars as ex-Rays Doug Creek, Billy DeMars, Bill Denehy, Joey Jay abd Tom Neidenfuer to the fans for questions and autographs.
 


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.
 
 
 
A new item offered this year was an event by Raysworld, which does the in-game entertainment for the Rays games. They featured a event where you could do a “shout out” to your favorite Rays player, or give a motivational speech to the team. Some of the selected video from today’s taping will be featured on the Jumbotron during a 2009 Rays game. Then you had the world famous Rays Baseball Foundation table which listed silent auction items like a playoff “magical season” package that had items from every stage of the  Rays 2008 playoff season. Also up for bid was a team signed champagne bottle with every member of the 2008 Rays team members signing the bottle. 
 
 
 
Another item was a chance to be placed within the 2009 Rays Team Photo. I won this one in 2008, and I had a fantastic time that day. They also provided $ 20 grab bags that included a ball signed by a Rays player, past or present. You never know who you might get………I got a  Fred McGriff signed ball today.  Strolling down the third baseline you had the Moffitt Sun Safety squad out there giving away free sunscreen to Rays fans. Just a reminder to anyone heading to Port Charlotte. It is not on the water like the Tampa Bay area, so be sure to take sunscreen to the game to combat that nasty red burn on your nose and shoulders this spring.
 

 
 

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. 
 
 

After that you wandered around the fencing of the infield to come upon the Ted Williams Museum table where a raffle went on all day for awesome autographed and limited edition photos and keepsakes from baseball and the world of boxing. Famous boxing corner man Angelo Dundee spent several hours here today signing autographs and taking pictures with Rays fans. The you came upon ” The Little Cooperstown” baseball display. It is a display sponsored by Rays season ticket holders, the Schrader family that holds over 3,500 baseballs in its collection. It is currently the “World’s Largest Privately Owned Baseball Collection”, and features a unique Rays calliope.
 
 

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.
 



 


 
 
 
But over in the left field Bullpen area is the first place you would find me today. At the Rays /Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. Pepsi TSM Joanna Moore outdid herself this year with an amazing piece of sculpture using the new logo Pepsi 8-pack cartons. As usual, it was one of the most anticipated construction events at Fan Fest. The event held it’s 2009 Induction Ceremonies at noon, and 5 new members were inducted onto the wall. There are now 100 members of this elite fans display that is located in the Ted Williams Museum on the North wall. If you strolled between the walls of the Corona Beach Club you saw the fans that were taking their pictures with the 2008 American League trophy. 
 
 

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.
 

 
 
Scott Kazmir also sat down for an additional 15 minutes after his was done signing since he was the last one signing today. But as I was leaving, Rays catcher Shawn Riggans was still out by the right filed foul pole signing autographs and taking pictures for fans. Shawn remarked that “It was part of his job to show the fans we care.”  I sat there chatting with Riggans for a few minutes before leaving, and he was still in that same spot signing for the young and old fans alike who came up to him. The Fan Fest was about family, and the Rays players also brought out family members today.  Jason Bartlett and his wife brought their infant girl to the Fan Fest today, and she slept through the entire bit of noise today. Carlos Pena also brought his daughter up on the signing stage with him and she was sitting their making designs throughout the signing hour. 
 
 

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.

Excitement Growing for 2009 Fan Fest

 

 


Here we are less than 24 hours until the players begin to get
comfortable in their chairs in Tropicana Field and they get their wrists loose
to sign hundreds of fans autographs at the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest.  How fitting
that this years event falls on February 14th. For it was the play of this team
that they tried to get America to fall in love with them in 2008. More or less
they got to complete that mission, but the 2009 campaign is for you to fall for
them all over again.

 

 
 

The
event will be the first time most of the fans have seen the American League
trophy since it was handed from player to player on the turf after the thrilling
Game 7 defeat of our division foe, the Boston Red Sox. The events is the rite of
spring that all Rays fans are excited about and anticipate the entire winter
long. It is the time of the year when we know that resin bags and glove oil is
only a few days away. That the crack of the bat in the crisp Florida air is only
moments away and that 70 mile drive will seem like minutes from the Tampa Bay
area to the new complex in Port Charlotte,
Florida.

 


But
tomorrow is about so many other things. It is about celebrating the new class of
2009 Rays/Pepsi  Fan Wall of Famer’s getting their jerseys and awards over on the
third base side of the stadium at noon. It is about the silent auction put on
during every Fan Fest where you can bid on prizes and even purchase some game
used and autographed merchandise from past Rays seasons. It is also a time to
stroll by the SABRE table and see just how well you know the past of both the
Rays and baseball in their yearly quiz to the fans. But as we all know, the real
excitement is watching the kids frolic and play in the interactive games during
the event.



                    
 
 

Watching a kid at bat in the smaller replica of Ebbets Field hit a
ball out over the plastic fencing, or even hit one back over the middle towards
the pitching machine. Then to watch them scream and clamor over to Raymond, our
fuzzy Sea Dog mascot who will dance, hug and sign autographs that will be pinned
to their walls for years. Or maybe you enjoy the stroll over to the media and
corporate areas to get posters and small keepsakes like a poster featuring the
on-air personalities of the Rays. Then put your name into the ringer for a
number of daily prizes picked during the event and announced over the
loudspeaker and on the Jumbotron.

 

Or
maybe you enjoy some of the past and will stand there for extended period of time
looking into the display cases at bats used by Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted
Williams displayed out in the middle of the field. Or maybe even stroll beyond
the clay of the Rays outfield at the many collectibles stands featuring Rays
items and the rest of baseball.  Or maybe the new events that started in 2008
will peak your interest from Metro PCS where a Rays player will phone someone
for you to show them your Rays commitment. All in all there are a hundred thing
to do during the day. And some of the best might just be to interact with other
Rays fans to celebrate last season, or chat about the possibilities of
2009.




 
 


But whatever brings you to the event, be sure not to miss one of
the two most popular events of the Fan Fest. The clubhouse tour. I know when I
was working with Pepsi a few seasons ago I got to see the remodeled clubhouse
before the rest of the fans because I was helping stock it with soda coolers and
merchandise. At that time it was one of the most beautiful places I had even
seen in my life. It was plush without the air of over indulgence and it seemed
like the perfect place to get ready for battle on the field. So it is a true
treat that people can stroll through the stalls and halls to see what players
get to live every day and every game while with the
team.

 


But
we all know what most people have come to the event for, it is the autograph
sessions that run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event is one of the most popular
events of the entire Fan Fest, and for a good reason. I have noticed in the past
that certain players are easier in the beginning of the season for signature
than after the games begin, or even near the end of the season. Added to the
magic this year is a special event for Season Ticket holders where players will
be there for pictures with their special wristband holders. Also of importance
is the fact that this season, only kids under 14 and Season Ticket holders will
not have to pay for the right to obtain
autographs.

This
years Fan Fest will promote a $ 10 donation for a chance to obtain a wristband
to gain your favorite Rays players autograph during these session. At the bottom
of the blog, I will provide a list of the scheduled players and their times so
you can coordinate you day to get some face time with your team favorite. The
donation will go to benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, which is the large
charity started by the Rays to promote giving and services throughout the Tampa
Bay Area. The Rays Baseball Foundation is committed to
supporting youth and education programs throughout the Tampa Bay region. In
2008, the Rays Baseball Foundation proudly invested more than $600,000 in youth
and education programs in the Tampa Bay area through grant programs and
community outreach initiatives.



 
 

Whatever you reason for coming out
for the Rays 2009 Fan Fest, it should be a exciting event with many of the fans
that got to cheer and support the team during their 2008 playoff campaign. Fans
will have a chance to take their picture with the 2008 American League trophy
during the event. The trophy might look small now, but think of how much it
means to this community and the fans. It is a symbol of the yearning of this
area and its fan to support and cheer for a leader. So, why are you not coming
to Fan Fest? If you live far away, that is okay, because I will try and post two
blogs in the next two days about the event. Who knows, it might just be such a
great event that more than two blogs finally get put down on the
Internet.


 
The excitement is building every
moment in me, and I will be sure to take a host of photos to try and covey the
excitement and the anticipation of Rays
baseball in 2009.  Before I go
today, let me include the signing schedule here provided by the Tampa
Tribune
so we can all coordinate our baseballs and bats before coming into
the stadium. Also listed in red will be the special
photo opportunities for Rays Season Ticket holders at the event.
Here is the autograph
schedule (subject to change):

 

 
 

12-1 p.m.

Table 1- John Jaso,
Gabe
Kapler

Table 2 – Juan
Salas,
Ray
Olmedo

Table 3 – Pat
Burrell, Randy Choate,

Table 4 – Tim Beckham, Reid
Brignac

Table 5 – Carl
Crawford


(Season-ticket
holders line, photo only) – James Shields, Fernando
Perez

 
1-2 p.m.

Table 1 – Joe Nelson, Chad
Bradford

Table 2 – B.J.
Upton ,
Willy
Aybar

Table 3 – Chad
Orvella, Michel Hernandez, Derek
Rodriguez

Table 4 -
Julio
DePaula
, Jacob
McGee

Table 5 – Jon
Weber, Jason Cromer,
Calvin
Medlock


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Evan Longoria, Matt
Garza

 
2-3 p.m.

 
Table
1 – Matt Joyce, Grant Balfour

Table 2 – Carlos Pena, Jason
Hammel

Table 3 – Craig
Albernaz,
Ray
Sadler

Table 4 – Jeremy
Cummings, Elliot Johnson

Table 5 – Neil Frontz, Chris Nowak, Dan
Wheeler


(Season ticket
holders line – photo only) – Dioner Navarro, Andy
Sonnanstine

 
3-4 p.m.

Table 1- Steve Henderson,
Joe
Maddon

Table 2- Wade
Davis, David Price

Table
3- Dave Martinez,
George
Hendrick

Table 4- Lance
Cormier,
Brian
Shouse

Table 5- Chris
Richard, Jason Childers, Dewon Day

 
(Season
Ticket Holders Line- Photo Only)- Jason Bartlett, J.P.
Howell

 
4-5 p.m.
 
Table 1
-Bobby Ramos,
Jim
Hickey

Table 2 – James
Houser, Mitch Talbot

Table 3 – Shawn Riggans, Justin
Ruggiano

Table 4 – Scott
Kazmir, Carlos Hernandez

Table 5 – Brian Anderson, Tom Foley, Todd
Greene


(Season ticket
holders line, photo only) – Troy Percival, Jeff Niemann

Photo credits for today’s blog go to  http://www.Raysbaseball.com, Porkfork6 and Mother of Einstein on flicker.com

Tampa Bay Rays Scribbles

I was trolling the Internet today looking for MLB news, and I found this great story about a prank pulled by Philadelphia Phillie’s Bret Myers pulled during Spring Training.  It happened in my hometown of Clearwater, Florida. This is the Spring Training site of the Philadelphia Phillie’s, and is located not even two miles from my home. 

It involves a young pitcher named Kyle Kendrick. The prank involved a few veterans like starter/closer Brett Myers and the entire coaching staff and some management. He also got punked by his agent in this prank. It is funny as all get out as the player was told he was traded to the “Giants” of the Japanese baseball league. His (pun) salary was $ 1.5 million dollars, thank god it was not Yen.

The next clip is a failed PDA by Philadelphia Phillie pitcher, Brett Myers. No, it isd not Brett Myer Day on my blog, just ran into a few really funny clips that I think can make your Monday feel better.Brett had a bit of problems up in Boston a while back during and Inter-league series with the Red Sox. He was out on the town, with his wife and made a bad character call. I do not condone what went down here, but I do know that he is making every step possible to help him in his situation.

I did my usual pilgrimage Friday morning out to the Rays Spring Training complex in St. Pete., and saw the pitchers’ and catchers’ come out in their new uniforms and greet the assembled fans and the new baseball season.
A few of the guys looked really eager to get out there and begin to finally throw some meaningful strikes and get set for “live” batting practice here in a few days. the first game of the spring is approaching fast.

Remember, we start our quest on Feb. 29th in our “turn-around” year.
Fitting we start playing on the Leap Year date, because this is the year we hope to change the national outlook on our squad. This is the year we hope to have a few heads pop sideways from Seattle to Miami. We are hoping in the next few months to finally have people at places like ESPN, love to show our highlighted without the jokes and puns included in the broadcast.

One of the guys I am keeping an close eye on will probably not make the Major League roster this year, but was a colorful addition to last years Southern Championship team in Montgomery, Alabama.Chris Mason is a major pitching talent for the Double-A Montgomery  Biscuits. He is known for his amazing pitching as well as his hair color.  Now everyone remembers the movie, “Summer Catch”, based on the Cape Cod Baseball League. 

In this movie, there is a hot shot pitcher who has his hair spiked in white and black to almost look like a Naruto character. Now Chris does not look exactly like this, but he did start the year as a platinum blond, shave it all off, go “goth” black, shave it off, and almost came out in a “pink caddy” look last year around the playoff time. Thanks Goodness his coach on the Biscuits vetoed that move. He wants to be on ESPN for talent, not showmanship.

Good thing this guy has some really great true talent, or this “hair statement” phase might not go well with the parent club. 

This next weekend is the 11th Annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. It is held only on Saturday and is a great place to get the vibe started for the upcoming MLB season.
Now, I have only missed 1 of these events, and that was by choice. It is a great time for kids of all ages.

It features a Pepsi/Rays Wall of Fame induction for the new class of fans that demonstrate a talent, special charm or endeavor for our hometown team. And yes, I have been on the wall for almost 5 years now. I am the guy who looks like a coach in his picture. It is a great time to see what spirit and commitment some of us have for our team. This is not a celebration of the “bandwagon” fan, but the true die-hard fans that can make or break the stands in a close game.

Along with this event, there will be baseball displays through the venue featuring items from Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and other Rays notables like Wade Boggs. 

 Also, there will be tons of events for the kids. there will be a base running timed event, a batting cage area that looks like old Ebbetts field, and face painters and tons of events for all ages. There is also going to be a silent auction going on all day to benefit the “Rays of Hope” foundation. That is the arm of the franchise that awards grants and scholarships to deserving teams and players throughout the year in our community. I am a huge supporter of this cause and would love for everyone to also be a part of it in some way.

There will also be a tour of the Home Rays’ locker room. This will give you a glimpse of the area that these warriors get ready to face the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees’ firsthand.

Harold Reynolds of ESPN fame will be on stage in the Budweiser brew house taking questions and meeting with the masses. A few years ago, Peter Gammons was here before his injury, and he gave a fantastic speech on what he saw in our future as a team. It was a fantastic look into the mind of one of the greatest baseball writers, and recent inductee in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Last but not least, there will be an autograph signing involving the Rays players, and some veterans from the past. Players like Carlos Pena, Scott Kazmir, and Cliff Floyd will be signing for the fan.

If you have never been to this event, it is free parking and admission. Well worth the time and an experience the kids will remember for years to come. I will be there almost all day. Just look for the guy with the Cheshire cat grin, that would be me. See you there.

 

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