Rays FanFest will have different look this year
The Rays annual FanFest will be different this year - with a new date, a changed format and fewer players participating.
Due to a series of scheduling issues, the Rays are staging the FanFest on Feb. 4, which is before the start of spring training rather than during camp in Port Charlotte.
As a result, many of their players won't yet be in the area and won't attend; a preliminary list released Wednesday had only 16 confirmed players, including fan favorites Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier and Jake Odorizzi, but not veteran Evan Longoria, All-Star Alex Colome or Brad Miller. (Longoria had made it known he could not attend well before this week's trade of Logan Forsythe that he was not happy about.)
The other big change is that the current Rays only will be signing autographs for existing season ticket holders, with a donation to charity required. General fans can get autographs at no charge from a group of about 40 former major-leaguers.
Parking and admission are free; the FanFest runs from from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. with season ticket holders admitted at 10.
Typically the Rays hold the FanFest on a Saturday early in spring training, but made the change this year due to several conflicts, primarily an earlier start to spring training due to the World Baseball Classic, which has them beginnjng games Feb. 24. Another factor is not wanting to lose most or all of a workout day in Port Charlotte.
Also, the Trop was not available Jan. 21 (college football), this week (home show) and Feb. 11 (gymnastics), leaving a choice between Feb. 4 and Feb. 18, with an exhibition game slated for Feb. 25 in Port Charlotte.
The Rays have for been trying for several years to shift the focus away from autographs, given the long wait times fans have and occasional disappointment. Season ticket holders will pay $100 for autographs from three players, with proceeds to charity.
Among other free events are clubhouse tours, dugout photos and tailgate-style games against Rays players. Kids activities include the opportunity to run the bases, high-five players, have a story read to them, participate in interactive baseball activities. There also will be the annual charity yard sale of game-used and other memorabilia.