Fans line up early for Rays special offer of 20,000 free tickets tonight
Nina Tino will have a great story for how she saw her first professional baseball game.
Tino, a 19-year-old Bradenton resident, sat on a blanket outside Gate 4 at Tropicana Field – where she’s been since 1 p.m. today – awaiting a chance to take the Rays on their offer to give away 20,000 free tickets to tonight’s regular season home finale against the Orioles. She came with her friend, Cassie Livermore, 19, who admittedly played hooky from school, “faking a doctor’s appointment,” to go to the game.
“They need their fans, they need support,” Tino said. “When they have support, they do better. This is a great way for the fans to show their love.”
Tino wasn’t alone. There was line of about 1,000 around her gate – four hours before gametime – with several other stadium gates seeing similar crowds; the earliest fan to arrive came at 8:30 a.m.
Rays president Matt Silverman said the gesture partly stemmed from the fact that players have said they play much better when there’s a packed stadium. By the looks of it, there could be a heavy crowd tonight, one day after the Rays clinched a postseason berth.
“I think it’s appreciation day,” said Barbara Schall, 56, from Seminole.
Schall said she’s been to several Rays games, though admits most of them when the Yankees or Red Sox, her favorite team, is in town. “The Rays come in second.” she joked.
Rodney Harris, 45-year-old St. Petersburg, was the first one in line at Gate 4, arriving at 1 p.m.
“It’s a good gesture (by the Rays), with the economy bad, a lot of people that haven’t had a chance to come will come out,” Harris said. “It’s worth it.”
Said Shawn Mroczko, 19, Tampa: “If they get people maybe here who have never been to a Rays game before, maybe they’ll end up loving the Rays.”
Rays right-hander James Shields said Tuesday afternoon that he hoped fans would take the club on their offer.
“We completely understand the economy,” Shields said. “We’re not asking everyone to come to every single game. it is what it is. we understand that. We’re not meaning anything bad by it. We have a month a half hopefully, or a month and week, five days six days , left of baseball. We’d appreciate it they come out and support us. This is big time not only for the rays organization, but for the city and the town. This is a big moment.
“I remember in 2008, I can’t tell after we went to the World Series, I lived here in the offseason, I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and were so happy how far we went, how much this team came together. And people didn't care about the recession, all they cared about was baseball and winning. And now we're doing it again.”
- JOE SMITH