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Hey Rays fans, get ready to have a ball at Tropicana Field

We jumped at the chance to have the Racing Bottles come over to the Times studio for a photo shoot. And because the actual people who wear the suits couldn't make it, we got an up-close look at the costumes. We can report that although they look cute, the suits are pretty hot, very unwieldy and a little in need of a dry cleaning. Our models are B Buckberry Joyce as Pepsi, Mina Asayesh-Brown as Sierra Mist and Colin Madden as Aquafina. And they wondered all along how the heck the real Racing Bottle drivers manage to run at all or get back up when Raymond pushes one down.

Chris Zuppa | Times

We jumped at the chance to have the Racing Bottles come over to the Times studio for a photo shoot. And because the actual people who wear the suits couldn't make it, we got an up-close look at the costumes. We can report that although they look cute, the suits are pretty hot, very unwieldy and a little in need of a dry cleaning. Our models are B Buckberry Joyce as Pepsi, Mina Asayesh-Brown as Sierra Mist and Colin Madden as Aquafina. And they wondered all along how the heck the real Racing Bottle drivers manage to run at all or get back up when Raymond pushes one down.

When the Tampa Bay Rays made a heart-pumping run through the playoffs last year, many longtime fans wondered if the often silly but lovable Tropicana Field entertainers would still be a part of the big show. While the Chick-fil-A cow disappeared from the playoffs and World Series, the appearance of the familiar Pepsi Racing Bottles, the "More Cowbell" skit on the video screen and the antics of Raymond reassured fans that this was still the Rays experience they had come to know and love. Here at Weekend, we thought it would be fun to give a preview of what fans new and old can expect this season between at bats and innings.

RETURNING FAVORITES

Cow-a-bunga! The Chick-fil-A cow is back. For those unfamiliar with this bovine bit, the cow is placed somewhere in the stadium, and a fan has only seconds to identify the section it's in. (It's totally harder than it sounds.)

BK's back. Young saxophone sensation B.K. Jackson, a hit with players and fans alike, will play the national anthem for the home opener and the next day's game. Other singers haven't been announced.

Free doughnuts* Note the asterisk. Last year all fans had to do was go into a Dunkin' Donuts after a Rays win and they'd get a free doughnut if they said Go Rays or wore Rays gear. This year, the doughnut's free, but you have to buy a beverage to get it.

Racing Bottles. Watch for Pepsi to trip up Aquafina, then for Raymond to pummel Aquafina so Sierra Mist can win. Now we know why (see Raymond interview above).

That Cotton-Eyed Joe guy. You see him every time the Trop cranks up the song, a wild-looking old guy with a long white beard and unruly hair doing a jig. He was actually caught on camera several years ago, so don't go looking for him at the stingray tank.

Postgame concerts. These proved very popular last year, with acts such as LL Cool J, Trace Adkins and Kool and the Gang. This year, the only confirmed act so far is the B-52s. Stay tuned for more announcements as they sign the contracts.

An emotional video from the 2008 season. Last year, fans who attended later games saw a short film right before game time that beautifully documented the team's rise to the top. Teary-eyed fans ate it up. Although there is no official word, we're pretty sure a new video will finish off the quest in a fitting way.

Cowbells. Yep, they're still giving them away and selling them. And in all kinds of colors. The one for the Maddon's Maniacs membership is quite yellow. We're sure it will help with the heckling factor.

Lots of brooms. Now that Rays fans have a championship team, there'll be a little more swagger and less intimidation by the Yankees and Red Sox fans.

5 BURNING QUESTIONS

• Will Willy Aybar stick with Flo Rida's Low for his at-bat song, or will we hear Right Round? Or maybe he'll get all classic rock on us.

• Will anyone come up with those signature drinks we would love to see at the Trop — Peña Colada, C.C. and Coke, Aki Sake?

• Will the Charlotte Stone Crab mascot make an appearance? And what will it look like if it does?

• Will the Third Base Luncheonette, home to Joe Maddon's mom, Beanie, open a kiosk at the Trop so we can enjoy those subs too?

• Will the new slogan — 9>8 — hat be available in the team store? (Because 9=8 is so last year.)

Times staff writer Anne Glover contributed to this report.

>> THE GAME

If you don't already have
tickets to Monday's home opener against the New York Yankees
at Tropicana Field, good luck with that. It's sold out. (The freebie is a schedule magnet.) But try Tuesday's game, also against the Yankees, at 7:08 p.m. Tickets start at $16; toll-free 1-888-326-7297 or tampabay.rays.mlb.com. The giveaway
is a cool A.L. Championship replica ring for all fans.

COOL FAN GIVEAWAYS: SOME HIGHLIGHTS

, Wednesday: Cowbells

April 18: AL Championship replica trophy

April 19: AL Championship pennant for first 10,000 kids

Bobblehead headcount:
These are all for the first
10,000 kids (14 and younger)

June 14: Dioner Navarro

June 28: James Shields

July 12: Carl Crawford

Aug. 2: Scott Kazmir

Hey Rays fans, get ready to have a ball at Tropicana Field 04/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 12, 2009 8:55am]

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