Tampa Bay Rays fans start the party early at the Trop
The city-sponsored block party to celebrate the Tampa Bay Rays' opening home game is over and the action has shifted to Tropicana Field.
Gates opened at 4 p.m., but the tailgating started a couple hours before that.
George Crottie, 43, of Lakeland has had the day circled for months. For Crottie, a Publix truck driver, today's game between the Ray and New York Yankees is like Christmas.
So Crottie dressed up in a Santa suit.
"Hopefully this is game 1 on the way back to the World Series," said Crottie, who dressed as Santa "Ray" last year during the World Series.
For 2009, he brought along elf Shaun Cameron.
Nearby, Diana Lichtenwalter was waiting for the Tropicana Field main gates to open. Players and coaches were expected to greet the first few hundred fans.
"That's why we are here waiting," said Lichtenwalter, who has been to 11 straight opening days.
During the downtown block party earlier, a band was churning out Top 40 tunes on Central Avenue near Third Street as fans in Rays gear -- including Mayor Rick Baker -- mill about.
Among those who got there early was USF student Dennis "Boba Ray'' Allen, a transplanted New Yorker who was once indifferent about baseball but is a diehard Rays fan now.
"With the performance of this team I've been amazed in the last six months how many people and businesses have gotten behind them. Now this team is a commodity, they're not just here,'' said Allen, a marketing major who bought a new cowbell and glove for tonight's opening game.
Raymond, the team's costumed mascot, entertained the kids, some of whom were decked out in tiny Rays costumes of their own.
Karen Krampitz of St. Petersburg went to the party with her 5-year-old son, Lucas, who was dressed in Rays gear from head to toe, and her daughter, Skyler, who was dressed as a Rays cheerleader. The whole family will be at tonight's game, including her husband and her dad, who is a Yankees fan and plans to be decked out in Yankees regalia. "We hope to drown him out with our cowbells,'' said Krampitz, "but we love him anyway.''
-- Aaron Sharockman, Brant James, Times staff writers