Are you getting jazzed about the 2011 baseball season?
Your first stop for fan fever is Rays Fan Fest on Saturday, running 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Tropicana Field. Players, coaches and MLB alumni will be on hand to meet fans and sign autographs. We were hoping for confirmation that superstars Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez will be there, but all we'll say is most years, all the players are there. So you can decide if you want to wait hours for their autograph or check out the clubhouse tours. The line for the players' locker room moves pretty fast, and the view inside is pretty cool.
You can also play in the batting cages, take part in a Wiffle ball home run derby and buy memorabilia, such as 1- by 1-foot pieces of Tropicana Field's old FieldTurf (it's being replaced with AstroTurf this season) and clubhouse carpet for $25 apiece.
And a new bit of spice this year is lunch with manager Joe Maddon, who will serve his famous spaghetti, meatballs and pierogies. Tickets for the lunch, which will be served from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the Batter's Eye restaurant, are $30 for adults; $10 for kids 14 and under when purchased in advance through raysbaseball.com; and $40 and $15 at the event.
As for the rest of Fan Fest? Admission and parking are free.
10 spring games not to miss
The Grapefruit League gets started next week. We've scouted out 10 regional games you might want to jump on. For Rays info, see raysbaseball.com.
Feb. 24: Phillies vs. Florida State University (Clearwater): Bright House Networks Field is one of the more charming and comfortable facilities in all of spring training, and as a result, ticket sales are going strong.
Feb. 27: Tampa Bay Rays at Pittsburgh Pirates (Bradenton): The Rays' spring training season gets underway Feb. 26, but if you're not in the mood for a drive to Port Charlotte, you can see them at Bradenton's McKechnie Field, spring home of the Pirates.
March 2: Rays at Blue Jays (Dunedin): With a start time of 1:05 p.m., the Rays' first spring game in Pinellas, at Dunedin's Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, is also your first excuse to duck out of work. The Rays also play in Dunedin on March 13.
March 6: Rays at Phillies (Clearwater): How will the Rays' new bats stack up against the Phillies' ace rotation? Find out at the first Rays-Phillies game at Bright House Networks Field. The Rays return March 12.
March 9: Rays vs. the Netherlands (St. Pete): The Rays come home for the first of two spring training games in St. Pete. On this day, a split squad returns to Al Lang to face the Netherlands national team, one of the international squads that will be using the facility under a new city program (see box).
March 13: Clearwater Phillies Legends Game: Among those scheduled to attend: Jim Bunning, Darren Daulton, Jeff Kent and (why not?) Larry the Cable Guy.
March 17: Rays at Yankees (Tampa): The Rays visit for the first of two games at Steinbrenner Field. The next is March 28.
March 17: Red Sox vs. Mets (Fort Myers): This game isn't local, but it's worthy of a road trip. The Red Sox' annual St. Patrick's Day game is always a fun time. The bases are green, the players were special green jerseys, and the stands are full of Boston Irishmen having a blast.
March 29: Yankees vs. Tigers (Tampa): Following a similar giveaway last year, fans will receive a replica of the Yankees' 2000 World Series ring. Other giveaways this spring include lunch boxes, pins and a fireworks display on March 25. See steinbrennerfield.com for details.
March 30: Rays vs. Blue Jays (St. Pete): Can't wait for opening day? The Rays will play the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field in spring training's season finale. All tickets are $10, with general admission seating.