Make us your home page
Instagram

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.

DIRK SHADD | Times

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

Loading...
  1. College World Series puts Florida Gators in elite company

    Blogs

    With Tuesday night's College World Series win, the Florida Gators put themselves in rare company.

    Florida celebrates after defeating LSU in Game 2 of the College World Series finals, Tuesday, in Omaha, Neb.
  2. Pinellas sees spike in infant deaths from unsafe sleeping, and advocates are concerned

    Health

    The reports from the Department of Children and Families are tragic: A Pinellas County mother falls asleep on a recliner during an early morning feeding and wakes to find one of her 3-month-old twins unresponsive. Another finds her 6-month-old daughter lying still, a blanket over her head. Another infant is found wedged …

    Advocates are looking to step up their public information efforts this year after reports show a spike in sleep-related infant deaths in Pinellas County. [iStockphoto.com]
  3. Kellyanne Conway warns of health care spin, but then delivers her own in Miami

    Blogs

    On the same day that Senate Republicans were forced to delay a vote on their healthcare legislation because not enough of them wanted to vote for it, White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway defended the bill in Miami.

    White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway is welcomed by state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-District 105, at the Miami-Dade GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser on Tuesday night.
  4. Sign up for our new daily News at Noon email newsletter

    News

    The Tampa Bay Times will soon launch a daily newsletter called News at Noon. You can make sure to be among the first to receive it by signing up now.