Rays making a name for themselves
Rays mania is sweeping the nation! Well, sort of. There might not be lines forming outside the ticket office at Tropicana Field, but the rest of the country is starting to realize that Tampa Bay actually has a baseball team. That hasn't happened since Lou Piniella went bat-crazy on Ben Grieve a few years ago. Now the Rays actually are getting some recognition beyond Tampa Bay, and not for being the punch line to a bad joke. Here are 10 examples of how the Rays are starting to make a name for themselves outside of Tampa Bay.
Making the cover of Sports Illustrated
A cartoon of Carl Crawford tossing around a Yankees player under the headline "Bizarro Baseball'' was cool and, sure, a little weird. But the Rays finally made the cover of the premier sports magazine in America and it wasn't, you know, for being in the background of Big Papi hitting a homer or something. The cover is usually reserved for the hottest story and top sports star of the moment and the best part is no one thought it was strange the Rays landed on the cover. And jinx? What jinx? The Rays did lose their first two games after making the cover, but then won four in a row.
ESPN recently announced that the June 4 game against the Red Sox will be shown nationally.
Making the cover of Sporting News
This one isn't out yet, but it will be this week, and here's a sneak peak. Closer Troy Percival graces the cover. Don't they call Sporting News the Bible of Baseball? Hey, awesome, the Rays are in a bible!
They're running out of media request memos
Carmen Molina, the manager of communications for the Rays, says she runs out of room on her sheet of media requests just about every day. Two years ago, the Rays would get, maybe, five to seven requests a day. This year? "Like 20 a day,'' Molina said. Not only is the local media swarming, but the requests come from all over -- from Boston to San Diego, from big stations in New York to a little station in Columbus, Ga. Sometimes they ask for certain players. More often that not, they just want "anybody who is available.''
The Jim Rome show
Welcome back to the jungle, Clones. Romey here. Talked to Rays closer Troy Percival recently. It was epic. Callers had great takes. The Rays are talking smack, taking names. It's epic. If the Rays keep it up, we'll talk to C.C., maybe Bossman Junior. It'll be epic. I'm out.
Mike & Mike in the Morning
Being on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike isn't like a singer at Radio City Music Hall, but … it's probably the biggest national sports talk radio show outside of Jim Rome, and is simulcast on ESPN2. B.J. Upton made his Mike & Mike debut last week.
Sales are up
According to the Rays and Major League Baseball, retail sales -- you know, hats, jerseys, T-shirts, those little wooden bats and so forth — are up 70 percent, the second-highest jump behind the Rockies. Of course, part of this is because of the Rays' name and uniform change. Still, selling more stuff today than you did yesterday is a good thing. Don't look for explanations. Just enjoy it.
Making the cover of ESPN The Magazine
Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton shared the cover with brother Justin of the Diamondbacks. ESPN and its properties rule the sports world, so to finally get its attention means the Rays must have arrived.
Rays communications VP Rick Vaughn said the phone rings off the hook whenever the team is not on television. See, there are two ways to look at it. When the Rays are on, it's essentially three hours of advertising. During a recent game against the Cardinals, the Rays had a viewing audience of about 85,000 homes. That's probably about 200,000 people, give or take,and that's impressive. But if fewer games were on, maybe more would go to the games. The bottom line is the Rays still have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans at home more often than not. The rest of the country is getting on the bandwagon. Now all the Rays are waiting for is the locals.
Pardon the Interruption
The ESPN afternoon show had the Rays as a talking point on a recent edition. Co-host Tony Kornheiser admitted he didn't know who managed the Rays or any of their players. Who cares? The best sports-talk show on TV was talking about our Rays. And if Tony sees this, it's Joe Maddon.