Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Home opener feels like October for Tampa Bay Rays fans

Season ticket holder Joseph McMahan of Largo is decked out in blue paint as he shows support for the Rays at the home opener.


Season ticket holder Joseph McMahan of Largo is decked out in blue paint as he shows support for the Rays at the home opener.

ST. PETERSBURG — It felt like October again.

The traditional bunting pressed neatly along the stadium sidewalls. BK Jackson blaring the Star Spangled Banner from his shiny golden saxophone. Gov. Charlie Crist hurling the ceremonial first pitch toward home plate.

Cowbells clanging. Flash bulbs sparkling.

Fans welcomed back the Tampa Bay Rays for 2009 with a larger-than-life party Monday night at Tropicana Field. The pregame hoopla culminated with the hanging of two banners: one for taking the 2008 American League East Division, the second for winning the AL pennant.

The crowd stood and cheered for nearly 21/2 minutes as the white and blue banners crawled up to the sky.

"Opening day is always a special thing," said Elaine Mullen, a four-year season ticket holder with her husband, Pat. "But things feel a little different this year. It's more exciting."

For the first time, fans aren't hoping the Rays win. They're expecting the Rays to win. And for the first time, there was no question that Rays fans easily outnumbered fans of the opposing New York Yankees.

George Crottie, 43, of Lakeland has had opening day circled on his calendar for months. For him, it's like Christmas — literally. Crottie dressed up for Monday's game as Santa Claus.

"Hopefully, this is game one on the road back to the World Series," said Crottie, in a "Santa Ray" cap, red coat, red pants and blue beard.

Crottie first wore the outfit last year during the World Series — he heard stories about Philadelphia Phillies fans disliking Santa Claus — and he said he thought he would try the suit again for 2009.

This time, he was accompanied by an elf, Shaun Cameron, also of Lakeland.

Rays players greeted the first few hundred fans when the Tropicana Field doors opened at 4 p.m. Some fans were waiting to enter as early as 2 p.m.

"Everybody was pumped," said utility outfielder Ben Zobrist, who was swarmed by eager fans looking for photos, an autograph or just a handshake. "There were really ready to rock."

Diana Lichtenwalter of New Port Richey got her picture taken with Zobrist and new Rays pitcher Lance Cormier. Monday made her 11th straight opening day.

"We have high expectations this year since they did so well last year," said Lichtenwalter, who has a 20-game season ticket plan along the third base line.

Though it's only April, 2009 already feels different.

Just two years ago, the Rays wore green and finished last in the American League East with a bullpen core of Casey Fossum, Gary Glover and Brian Stokes.

Last year, the Rays wore blue and were the American League's best team. Third baseman Evan Longoria was named Rookie of the Year. And Joe Maddon was named American League Manager of the Year.

And what will happen this year? Who knows?

But as Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Monday: "People are itching to get back at it."

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report.

Home opener feels like October for Tampa Bay Rays fans 04/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 4:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”