Results tagged ‘ Rays Fan Fest ’

Rays Fan Fest Autograph on Your Slate? Be Ready to Donate

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Back in February 2011 if you wanted to get the autograph of a Tampa Bay Rays player you had to purchase a $40 wristband on that day to get unlimited player autographs. In 2013 that price increased to $50 for most current Rays players and Coaches autographs, and a select few more affluent members of the Rays Republic could purchase their own private autograph packages to have a more intimate private autograph session with some of the Rays star players.

ELDPWMThis year if you wanted to secure the signatures of the Rays “Big 3” which included Evan Longoria, David Price and 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, it was going to cost you a bit more than the old 2013 option of an $50 “all-inclusive” wristband for all players available during Fan Fest signing moments.

So was really to anyone’s real surprise that the Rays announced recently that during the upcoming 2014 Rays Fan Fest to be held on Saturday, February 22, a new more streamlined and calculated autograph format would be in place. Some have been shocked by the news while others (like myself) have known this type of increase was just over the hill and is in line with other MLB players signing requests at their fan events.

I posted a blog post way back on February 14, 2011 comparing the Rays then request for fans to purchase $40 wristband donation fee for Fan Fest autographs. I started out in that essay stating:More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization”. And I really feel that sentiment is still true today.

kjhgfAt this year’s Fan Fest, for a $125 donation 60 affluent members of the Rays Republic can pre-purchase a more intimate behind the blue curtain opportunity with one of the trio or play a total of possibly $375 for obtaining all 3 players signatures. Immediately I know a few hands will go up that the pricing in “unheard of” and a bit astronomical, but in reality, it is pretty much in line with what donation amounts are requested by other MLB club for their premier player’s autographs at a fan event.

In that 2011 blog I showed you that it cost $175 back then at a Cards fan event to secure a chance at getting then St Louis Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols. At that Cards event, Pujols commanded the most advance donation as the pricing swirled down from the $175 mark to $5 to secure former player Jack Clark’s signature.

pageAnd the Rays autograph donation fees do not start and end at the $125 price point. The team will also offer other Rays players who could/should be on the team’s 2014 roster at $25 each and also some additional players who will sign for kids 14 and younger only for no donation fee. Sure there was an instant shock and awe when I read the Rays autograph proposal, but the common denominator here for me is all money collected will go to the Rays in-house charity the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Foundation to further support research and developments within the Tampa Bay region.

Knowing that the money will all go to help promote and increase the funding for the Rays projects outside of the Trop and secure more than just signatures for the community, the $125 or even $25 each donations do not seem like a huge request. But I know as I wander around Tropicana Field on that day I will see a few tear-filled eyes that they cannot get the autographs of their baseball heroes, or their parents do not have the needed funds to obtain multiple autographs of players within the $25 price range.

jhgfdI know more than a few kids will possibly miss out on their own golden opportunity to be within ear range of their Rays heroes this Fan Fest, but I want to remind you that the MLBPA table is always full of former players from the Rays and baseball’s past and receiving their signatures is still free as always.

Still internally I’m a bit perplexed because for some fans, Fan Fest is their only viable opportunity to get access to their favorite player for more than a brief eye glance and this change will take that bit of uniqueness of being totally fan friendly away. Some fans travel great distances hoping to get this great access to Ray’s players.

Sure there will be multiple opportunities for some fans to get a bevy of additional changes to take photos and talk with players throughout the day, but this year’s autograph policy change might just also change a few minds on attending future Fan Fests, or even deaden a bit their Rays loyalty a tad.

pageI know the team wants to promote the other activities going on all over the playing field from the kid’s games, to the Pepsi display and Fan Wall of Fame ceremonies plus the Clubhouse tours and interacting with various radio and broadcast people on a more intimate scale. I know the Rays Garage Sale, Reading with the Rays will have huge crowds.

But no matter the team’s great intentions, a few tears will ultimately fall.

 

Rays Fan Fest 2012 was a Walk-Off Grand Slam

Pulling off an event the size of Rays Fan Fest must keep some within the confines of the Tampa Bay Rays 4th floor sleepless, anxious and maybe a bit stir-crazy at times. Hundreds of emails, untold hours of planning, confirmations and re-confirmation must make it a logistical nightmare that rivals a major NCAA bowl game. All this energy, physical exertion and mental numbness accumulating with a huge bang over a 7 hour period.

If the crowd was any indication, then this year’s Fan Fest might be a precursor to another extraordinary Rays MLB run to who knows what new plateau. The building felt different when I entered on Saturday. Maybe it was the simple fact I was not in the first wave of fans for a change, or maybe it is the electricity and anticipation that was heavy in the air as I strutted into the tilted roof home of the Rays. Everything seemed bolder, more vibrant, more animated this year.

From the MLB Alumni wiffle ball contest that featured a Grand Salami by the Big O, former Marlin Orestes Destrade or the presence of former HR slugger Roger Maris’s son and grandson, the Trop just seemed more colorful and ready for exploration. With the added Internet celebrity factor and exclamation point in the wiffle ball contest of Sean Steffy (@Wiffleball28) who is better known as the world’s greatest wiffle ball pitcher. I was transfixed on the game even as Travis Phelps had an HR dashed by the big hands of Eric Knott. It was great to see kids running the bases, all smiling, giggling and giving up high-fives to the former MLB players.

As some people mumbled and grumbled about the $50 autograph wristband, it was not lost to me that the event helped build a nest egg of over $100,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Association Florida Chapter. From Rays skipper Joe Maddon and his new dark brown locks to even hearing Kyle Farnsworth reading to children without any intimidation, the event truly was one for the record books. And the crowd expanded to bulging capacity more than once as travel around the Trop during this Fan Fest was very packed in, but respectful.

The event even had more than a hint of animal presence as the Rays new mascot DJ Kitty got his first moment on the AstroTurf, and Rays SP David Price brought his canine wing-man Astro to the event, which sparked photos, conversations and general smiles from people of all ages. DJ Kitty sporting his trademark huge Rays 2008 AL Championship ring has evolved a lot since his first appearance on the Rays Jumbotron. Now he will be another added fan experience at Rays game along with Raymond.

The kid’s Interactive zone was packed with excited kids, parents and Rays staff member as pint-sized future Rays dashed through obstacle courses, threw pitches or try to hit one into the LF seats in the wiffle ball field. During all of this Rays players made spot appearances at the basketball game, the High-Five Station at the end of the Run the Bases event, plus talked to friends, family or just anyone you chose at the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend table.

I still marvel at how much the Pepsi displayed have also become a spectacle ever since I erected the first one back in 2004 on the field. It has become a feature backdrop not only for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame inductions, but for panel discussions and fan interaction with Rays players and personnel. From my first mild-mannered 1,000 case display to the present monstrosity on caffeine, it was again a constant background for photos and memorable pictures with kids and fans. Everywhere you looked on this day you saw smiles, people exchanging greetings and awaiting the new 2012 season with enthusiasm and glee.

This event for so many signals the end of Winter and the insurgence of not only Spring, but the renewal of our favorite game. Fan Fest means so many things to so many. Some came for the great deals on collectibles and autographed items in the two selected areas of sales merchandise. From team authenticated items near the old stick ball court beyond the left field seats to the huge outlying of items in the usual Corona Beach section, there was something for every Rays fan, even an old cap commemorating the Rays 2004 trip to the Far East (I bought one).

I secluded myself in my usual post 1 pm section near the entrance point for the Rays players in Section 134 not only to say hello and greet some of the Rays long and new faithful back to the Trop, but to also see their faces as they came up the tunnel and saw that huge amassed crowd. To a t, the players all seemed to take an extra second at the top of the stairs to take in the whole spectacle and immerse themselves in this great Rays Fan Fest vibe.

I even got a chance to see the first meeting of Rays new DH Luke Scott and owner Stuart Sternberg just beyond the Rays autograph area. Sternberg who few down from New York especially for the event must have a sore face today from all of the smiling and love shown by the fans at this year’s event. Some say this season is critical to the Rays future success in the region, and if the crowd is any indication, baseball is alive and well in Tampa Bay.

I could also see from my vantage point the smiles on Rays staffers from Fan Hosts to the Rays Promotions Department as the hum of voices and energy in the Trop inhaled and exhaled throughout the day. I gazed down the Rays promotional schedule and saw more than a few “must-have” items that not only peaked my interest, but had some sentimental appeal. Who would not want a Evan Longoria mini drum set, or hold onto a Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore or DJ Kitty figurine. From the Rays Opening Day schedule magnet to their last promotion of the season, the Rays fan favorite bobblehead, this is definite another Walk-off win ( do not forget the Longo Walk-off figurine on 4/21) for this Rays Department.

This season’s Fan Fest was a monster. Both in attendance, the level of excitement and even the plucking of Rays host Rusty Kath with a wiffle ball that is sure to be a Youtube sensation (currently only 74 views, but climbing). From Sternberg down to the Rays interns, there has to be an added level of excitement and confidence heading into Tuesday’s report date for Pitchers and Catchers in Port Charlotte, Florida. If this Fan Fest is any indication, it could be a great season both on and off the field for the Rays organization. And it all started with this annual rite of Spring by the Rays. I am giddy to see what unfolds next.

 

Random Rays Fan Fest photos on my Flickr photostream

Rays Fan Fest Autograph Times

I promised a few of you I would post the Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest autograph participants and their relative time online as soon as humanly possibly. Well, they came out earlier today and of course I was in the middle of working for a living. So without further ado, here is the tentative autograph time for the Rays players to sign at this years Fan Fest.

Do not forget, if you want to participate in the Exclusive Signing Opportunity ($200-500), you have until midnight tonight to make your purchase for this special event away from the usual hustle and bustle of Fan Fest.

Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5
10:30 – 11:30 a.m. Ryan Reid Tim Beckham Jeff Keppinger Ricky Orta Kyle Farnsworth
11:30 – 12:30 p.m. Brandon Guyer Burke Badenhop Robinson Chirinos Brandon Gomes Matt Mangini
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. J.P. Howell Matt Joyce Wade Davis Sean Rodriguez Jose Molina
1:15 – 1:45 p.m. Evan Longoria Don Zimmer Jeremy Hellickson (open) (open)
1:45 – 2:30 p.m. Chris Archer Carlos Peña Desmond Jennings Alex Cobb Matt Moore
2:30 – 3 p.m. B.J. Upton (open) (open) James Shields David Price
3. – 4 p.m. Luke Scott Fernando Rodney Cesar Ramos Jose Lobaton Josh Lueke
4. – 4:45 p.m. (open) Nevin Ashley Romulo Sanchez Stephen Vogt Craig Albernaz
** Schedule subject to change

Batter’s Eye Restaurant to evolve into Everglades BBQ Smokehouse

 

 

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Since the opening of Tropicana Field, it has been an iconic part of the landscape of this unique domed stadium. It’s dark tinted windows concealing plenty of zealous Rays and visiting fans perched just above dead Centerfield.

It was one of the only a few restaurants options right off the playing field that I know of in Major League Baseball that seems to be so perfectly placed for dining fans to get that “up close and personal feel”, almost like they are just hovering above Tampa Bay Rays CF B J Upton’s left shoulder. I know the San Diego Padres havea their own Batter’s Eye Pavilion, but it is not a sit-down restaurant concept. 

Sure every MLB stadium has it’s own special type of dining experience for game day fans, but none were perched within feet of the playing surface, or who give you a chance to hear the bang of a long Home Run bouncing on or down its roof during a MLB game. I still remember the first time I ate in the restaurant during Batting Practice and watched the action from above the playing surface.


9745.jpgThe Batter’s Eye Restaurant has been for years one of the most unique dining experiences inside Tropicana Field where you could dine before, or during a Rays game in the luxurious setting of a tasty and gourmet ballpark inspired menu. The restaurant was a famous stop for Rays fans before the games also for their ala carte menu and their free Wine Tasting gatherings during 2010.

The Rays and their concessionaire Centerplate tried during 2010 to revive the old dining glory by offering unique Diamond and Platinum game buffets when the concession lines used to overflow with hungry fans. They event tried to get the casual Friday night fans into the CF icon with $ 19 buffets with everything a ballpark menu should be. And Saturday nights the Restaurant offered a dining experience at $34 dollars per person which bordered on a gastronomical ballpark menagerie.

 

Heck their Sunday brunch buffet (my favorite) even offered made to order omelette’s, entrees, salads great pasties at a affordable $26 a head. It was one of the great meet and greet places before the Sunday matinée games with seating available the moment the gates opened at 11 am. But all that is going into the Rays history book this April. A big change is about to happen to that huge Batting Practice target as the Rays open their 2011 season.

Thumbnail image for steaknfire.jpgGone will be some of the posh and exclusive dining atmosphere as the Rays and Centerplate have remodeled the location and turned it into the Everglades BBQ Steakhouse.


The new Rays BBQ experience will again offer an external simplified Everglades BBQ menu that can be purchased ala carte at select concession stands in the First Base Food Court and the Right Field Street area for an BBQ-insipred moments for attendees of Rays games.

But you can bet this step back towards a more casual “family-style” dining experience will be an instant hit with the Rays Republic as the menu will feature such Southern classics as pork, ribs, chicken and wings smoked fresh daily on site at Tropicana Field by the Rays/Centerplate culinary team. There will also be barbecue favorites like corn on the cob, potato wedges and a few unique dessert options.

The Batter’s Eye held it’s last “official” function during the Rays Fan Fest as the site of Joe Maddon’s “Thanksmas” celebration and Q&A session. It is a bit sad to see the old concept go, but it might have outlived its Rays usefulness. In its place will be a vibrant, new and exciting concept that will offer its food creation both inside and outside the restaurant for Rays fans to enjoy.

URyaTo3S.jpgI am actually looking forward to the new BBQ concept that will bring back a few of the great food items lost when the American Plate and Chef Enzo did not return to bring buckets of BBQ ribs and Southern inspired creations to my taste buds on a nightly basis.

Got to give the Rays and Centerplate a huge round of applause for again providing that missing Southern food element back into my game day experience. Hopefully it will explode into one of those “must have” food selections for visitors and fans to the Trop that will entice, entertain and become a new Rays ballpark tradition…just like those old Batter’s Eye Sunday brunch buffets…. only this time it will be finger licking good.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Just a Tip of the Rays Fan Fest Iceberg

 

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With the time ticking away faster towards the doors finally opening at the Rotunda entrance to Tropicana Field, maybe I can give you some information that could make your day more organized. In this post I will be including the (subject to change) Autograph locations, including Table numbers for all Tampa Bay Rays players and minor leaguers participating in the Fan Fest experience.

You might see pretty marquee names missing from the tentative list. Johnny Damon has a prior commitment on this day, but rumor has it that he might just be somewhere in-house at Tropicana Field, possibly greeting the early admitted fans. When the Rays list went to print there was no indication that Manny Ramirez would be participating, but if the last few days have been an indication…We might have a ManRam sighting within the Trop.

But before I get to the recent list and locations of both Rays players, plus the more than 30 Major League Baseball Alumni who will be singing for FREE during Fan fest. There are a couple of other activities I think you will want to Make time for, because they should be interesting and entertaining for all involved.

The first would be the “Reading with the Rays” program which will be held in RightField Street. The event will give you child a chance to sit and listen to an actual ballplayer The Rays have found this reading experience well received in the past as Rays players visited Tampa Bay area school during the regular season.

Starting the event off at 1:15 pm will be recently acquired OF Sam Fuld. At 2:15 pm, OF Brandon Guyer will begin reading and turn the book over to Rays reliever J P Howell at 3:15. Possible Rays Opening Day starter James Shields will begin the last segment of the day at 4:15 pm. This should be an excellent chance for your kid to meet and listen to an authentic MLB player share the gift of reading.

The Pepsi Stage area should be another high energy hub of fun and frolic as the Raymond Stage Show begins the day’s festivities at 11 am, then is followed by the Induction ceremonies for the class of 2011 Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. Right after the conclusion of the Wall of Fame inductions, at 1:15, Rays top prospect Desmond Jennings and local resident Casey Kotchman will begin the first of four Panel discussions.

They will be followed at 2:15 by pitchers Jeff Niemann And Andy Sonnanstine taking the stage to talk about the upcoming 2011 edition of Rays baseball. At 3:15 the fellow pitching duo of David Price and Dirk Hayhurst will take to the mike and possibly be one of the more entertaining events of Fan Fest. You can almost anticipate the “Garfoose” questions even now. Batting clean-up this day for the panel discussions will be Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports fame at 4:15pm.

                                      Rays Autograph Schedule

 

Time Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5 Table 6
12:00 – 1:00 Evan Longoria Sam Fuld Casey Kotchman   Reid Brignac JJ Furmaniak B.J. Upton
    Chris Carter Desmond Jennings     Russ Canzler  
1:00 – 2:00 Ben Zobrist Rob Delaney Leslie Anderson Tim Beckham Sean Rodriguez   Jeff Niemann
    Ray Olmedo Daniel Mayora Alex Cobb Brandon Guyer  
    Justin Ruggiano Chris Bootcheck Albert Suarez    
2:00 – 3:00 David Price Alexander Torres Chris Archer Joel Peralta Felipe Lopez Jake McGee
    Jose Lobaton Robinson Chirinos   Dirk Hayhurst  
3:00 – 4:00 James Shields John Jaso Bobby Ramos Dave Martinez   Matt Bush Kelly Shoppach
    Richard De Los Santos   Derek Shelton Jim Hickey Jonah Bayliss Juan Cruz
      George Hendrick   Ricky Orta  
4:00 – 5:00 Don Zimmer Nevin Ashley Cesar Ramos Tom Foley Cory Wade Jeremy Hellickson
    Craig Albernaz R.J. Swindle Stan Boroski Brian Baker  
    Cesar Cabral Stephen Vogt   Dane de la Rosa  

The always popular Metro PCS Call-A-Friend event will be back again in 2011 with Rays OF Matt Joyce and starting SS Reid (Briggy Baseball) Brignac taking the stage to call your friends, neighbors or possibly a jealous friend who had to work on Saturday. Replacing them at 2:15 will be Uber-utility man Ben Zobrist and 2B Sean Rodriguez. Remember , all proceeds from today’s event will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, the ALS Foundation, the St. Petersburg fallen officers through the Jeffery Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger Memorial Fund and the Salvation Army. Be sure to go on over to the first annual Rays Yard Sale where collectibles and memorabilia from 1998 to today can be purchased with the proceeds going to the above charities.

Also you will have a chance to buy a MLB Authenticated Mumm’s champagne bottle from the 2008 playoff celebration, plus a 1 foot piece of the champagne soaked clubhouse carpet for just $ 25. You can also get a piece of the former playing surface of Tropicana field for another $ 25 donation. Both items are in limited supply and should go quickly.

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Also on hand will be over 40 former Major League Baseball players including a signing time from 11am to noon that will feature former Rays players P Dave Eiland, closer Roberto Hernandez, RP Travis Phelps and recently retired OF Jason Romano. This free event will also have a collectible MLB Alumni poster that will feature the name and player photo of a majority of the players signing on that day. Below is a list providing all the players and their times that will participate in the FREE Fan Fest autograph signing.

 

Tomorrow during the Fan Fest event I will also be Tweeting live @Raysrenegade starting around 1 pm giving some interesting tidbits of information every 15 minutes on several members both new and returning that have been invited to the Rays Major League Spring camp. Going to be a great day, and those in attendance, come on by the RF seats and say hello. I would be glad to meet you…personally. Got to go now, so much to do, and so little time…..

 

 

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Autograph Wristbands to Cost $40 at Rays Fan Fest

 

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RayRenegade

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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TBO.com

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

 

Rays 2010 Fan Fest Photo Blog 2 of 2

 

 


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.

2010 Rays Fan Fest Photo Blog 1 of 2


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.  

  

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