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Rays for dummies

The mascot

His name is Raymond and he looks like he popped out of an episode of H.R. Pufnstuf. Really big and really blue, Raymond, the story goes, is a previously undiscovered species of dog that crawled out of the ocean in 1998 and has an affinity for hot dogs and baseball. (Okay, don't let your kids see this part because it's kind of like the whole "Is Santa real?'' thing, but the person inside Raymond is actually a 27-year-old woman named Kelly Frank.)

Akinori Iwamura's red alligator glove

The Rays import from Japan plays second base with the coolest mitt in the big leagues — a red alligator-skin glove stamped with his nickname, Big Gun. Why alligator? Aki says it's because you can't make a glove out of a stingray.

Joe Maddon's cool glasses

The Rays manager looks as if he's ready to break into Peggy Sue at any moment with his Buddy Holly specs. Tired of wearing the drugstore kind, Maddon had his girlfriend, Jaye Sousoures, pick out his retro glasses. They are Hugo Boss model 11064, even though they are made by Charmant. Handmade in Italy and listed at $180, they also go by the name — get this — the Yankee.

The rays tank

Opened in 2006, the 10,000-gallon tank just beyond the right-centerfield fence is home to cownose rays. They don't sting, so you can pet them anytime during the game. Cool idea, but wouldn't it be better if they swam in a moat built around second base? It certainly would make double plays more interesting.

Carl Crawford's neck tattoo

Ever notice that little curlicue tattoo on the neck of Rays outfielder Carl Crawford? "It's the sign for Leo,'' Crawford says. "When I got (the tattoo), I wanted it to be about me. I look at my sign every day, my horoscope, so I figured that would be cool. I didn't want it to be nothing crazy. I wanted it to be nice and elegant looking."

The cowbell

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg loves the old Saturday Night Live skit in which Christopher Walken plays a music producer for Blue Oyster Cult in a VH1 Behind the Music parody. During the recording of their classic (Don't Fear) the Reaper, Walken says, "I gotta have more cowbell! . . . Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell.'' The Rays had to stop putting the clip on the scoreboard, but the cowbell tradition stuck. Unfortunately.

The mohawks

This craze was started by Rays slugger Jonny Gomes, who wanted to try something, anything, to get out of a batting slump. It caught on and now practically every player on the team has one. When asked about Gomes, Maddon said it looked "like a raccoon poised on the top of his head.'' Maddon got his mohawk last week.

The catwalks

Ah, the Rays' secret weapons — the four rings that help, uh, hold up lights and stuff. You need a Ph.D. to decipher all the rules for what happens when a ball hits one of the catwalks, but it always seems like the call goes the Rays' way.

The 9=8 T-shirts

What the heck does 9=8 mean? Manager Joe Maddon came up with the theory that nine players playing for nine innings equals one of the eight teams making the Major League Baseball playoffs. It seems like the shirts should read 9+9=8, but who are we to argue with Maddon? The guy wears those glasses and sips wine after games, so he's probably smarter than we are anyway.

Walk-up music

Rays players enter the game to music, but not just any song. They specifically pick out their "walk-up'' music. Grant Balfour pays homage to his Australian roots by playing Midnight Oil's King of the Mountain. Gabe Gross shows his Christian faith by playing Matt Redman's Blessed Be Your Name. Young guy Justin Ruggiano goes old school with Jimi Hendrix's Fire. And what would be the worst walk-up song ever? Paste magazine goes with either Culture Club's Do You Really Want to Hurt Me or Kenny G's Songbird.

The heckler

If you have ever watched a Rays game, you have probably heard the leather-throated heckler harassing opposing players. His name is Robert Szasz, a 42-year-old developer from Clearwater. He's relentless, picking on the player most likely to end up in Anger Management Class. Our favorite line: "Nice swing. How about a tennis racket? Maybe a golf club?''

Famous fans

You would think the Rays would have more famous fans than they do, but that's probably because they've spent 10 of their 11 seasons feeding off the bottom of the majors. ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale is the most famous, having owned season tickets since the first game in 1998. Gov. Charlie Crist shows up now and then, as do pro wrestlers Hulk Hogan, right, and John Cena. After that? Probably that guy who was on that show with that girl who was in that one commercial.

Rays for dummies 09/26/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 30, 2008 3:52pm]

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