Sunday, May 27, 2018
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From carpet to corks, Rays clean house for Charity Yard Sale

Have you ever been to Tropicana Field, and at some point during a game thought to yourself: What did the Rays do with all their old green and purple merchandise? Did they just throw it all away?

Or: How can I get my hands on a piece of that bat Ben Zobrist just broke?

Or: You know, maybe I do need a Jorge Cantu bobblehead for my desk.

If so, you'll want to swing by the Rays' second annual charity yard sale during Saturday's Fan Fest. The sale brings a huge array of team merchandise, game-used memorabilia and unwanted tchotchkes at price points ranging from $5 to $5,000 — jerseys, bats, balls, souvenirs, one-of-a-kind items pilfered from the bowels of the Trop.

For pack rats and pickers, it's paradise. And amazingly, to the Rays, it's all junk.

"The yard sale concept really is about the things that we have had in our closets," said Suzanne Luecke, the Rays' senior director of community relations. "It's very much like a yard sale at home. If you think somebody else would value it and want it, you put it in the yard sale."

Last year's inaugural yard sale raised nearly $80,000 for the Rays Baseball Foundation. That's $80,000 worth of memorabilia that the Rays had just sitting around the Trop, unused and overlooked. Employees went around cracking open closets like they were Al Capone's vault, unsure what was inside. "People found boxes that they hadn't opened for years," Luecke said.

This year? "I think we've upturned just about every stone," she said.

The inventory process began in September, but after the success of last year's sale, more employees were thinking about it year-round. The Rays' clubhouse manager turned up champagne bottles and corks from the team's 2008 playoff celebrations. Someone in human resources donated a big piece of Aki Iwamura wall art.

Some of the items are signed, some are game-used. In those cases, a Major League Baseball authenticator researches the piece or sits in on the autograph session to verify that you're getting what you paid for.

For example: On a desk in Luecke's office, there sits an empty champagne bottle with a holographic sticker bearing the code 259304-FJ. On MLB's authentication website (mlb.com/mlb/authentication/index.jsp), typing in that code reveals the bottle was authenticated on Oct. 5, 2010 — a day the Rays were supposed to clinch a Divisional Series victory over the Chicago White Sox, but didn't. The series didn't end, and the bottle wasn't popped, until the following night.

Asking price: $600.

The autographed items come from a stockpile of memorabilia that replenishes each spring, when the team has players sign jerseys, balls and other paraphernalia to be donated to charities around the state. But if a player is traded or signs elsewhere, those items might be less desirable to, say, bidders in a silent auction. In that case: yard sale time.

This year's signature item is a huge swatch of clubhouse carpet from the 2008 season. A forensics team could have a field day sifting through all the champagne, clay, spittle and chaw soaked inside the rug. "You're never gonna see that anywhere," Luecke said.

The team is mostly sticking with logo and baseball-specific merchandise again this year — notable exceptions are the $150 clubhouse folding chairs, which come with the corresponding player's locker nameplate — but depending on how it goes, who knows? Looking around Tropicana Field, you can't help but imagine what other junk the team might be hoarding. After all, if a fan is willing to pay $5,000 for a swatch of clubhouse carpet, wouldn't someone else be willing to shell out good money for an old bullpen phone? Or a locker-room shower soap dispenser? Or a wastepaper basket from Joe Maddon's office?

"That's actually a pretty good idea," Luecke said, half joking. "You've opened an interesting avenue for us. He's going to come in and his clubhouse is going to be stripped."

At least it'll be for a good cause.

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