Now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in postseason play, we expect the team to take things up a notch on their way to the World Series. Likewise, we fans are going to be called on to ramp up the fanfare in the stands.
So we turned to the loudest, most eye-catching, most obnoxious (in a good way) of all unpaid Rays worshipers, Cary Strukel, 39, otherwise known as "The Cowbell Kid." He's the guy in the blue Afro, scuba flippers and extra-large cowbell that he beats with a bat in his right field seats, where fans are known as the "Cowbell Posse" because that section has turned into heckling central.
For those late to the game, the Rays started a cowbell promotion a few years back because principal owner Stuart Sternberg loves the classic Saturday Night Live skit, so "more cowbell" is a signal to distract the opposing team.
Strukel, who has had some run-ins with the law, decided that a good way to turn over his new leaf was to take it on himself to show the world that the Rays have nutty fans, just like the more established teams. Nuttier even.
So here's the Cowbell Kid's guide to annoying the other team:
Use your cowbell wisely: "No. 1 is what we do not do, and that is bang your cowbell when our guys are in the batter's box. We only start up the cowbells when our pitchers have two strikes on the opposing team. … That's key. Don't hurt our players' concentration."
Stick to 'smart heckling': "No profanity, no sexual undertones. There's lots of kids around for one thing, and it shows a lack of class."
Get there early: Warmups are a great time to razz the other players and coaches. "Look for one of the heavier guys on the team and say 'You are going to like losing to us, you'll get free doughnuts tomorrow. And if 10 of you guys strike out, we all get free pizza.' " If the game happens to be on the eve of a sweep, bring a broom and politely ask a player or, as Strukel did, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, a former Rays skipper, to sign it.
Buy a good cowbell: The souvenir cowbells the team gives out will do in a pinch, but the Cowbell Kid recommends going to an instrument store and getting his personal favorite, a Latin Percussion Ridge Rider, a rock cowbell that can sell for $30 to $50. Then get a Rays souvenir bat to beat it with because "it makes a much better sound than a drumstick."
Scream 'Ball' at opposing pitchers: This is an invention of the right field Cowbell Posse, who started screaming "BALL" every time the opposing pitcher missed the strike zone. One of the players told Strukel they can hear them across the field and love it. "So I'm urging all fans, I need the whole of Tampa Bay, every time the opposing pitcher throws a ball, to scream "BALL!" at the top of their lungs.
"They hate that."