ST. PETERSBURG — When the cat played the keyboard, no one cared.
Few folks at the Rays game reacted to the giant-screen video of a black and white cat plunking his paws on piano keys.
But a couple of weeks ago, some of the baseball players had an idea. Keyboard cat was so lame, so last season. If a cat was supposed to pump up fans on the way to the playoffs, it had to be a cool one.
Or at least as cool as a cat dressed up as a DJ can get.
Button that cat into a little Rays' jersey, add a flat-brimmed ball cap, turn it backward. String a glittery ALCS ring on a chain around the cat's neck.
Crank a tune. Has to be hip. Maybe remix the Movement's Jump. Or, better yet, Gucci Mane's Wasted. Slide a turntable under the cat's front paws and set it scratchin'.
DJ Kitty is in the house.
And all over YouTube.
Since mid September, when the new video debuted at Tropicana Field, more than 921,000 people have viewed it online. That's 30 times the number of fans who show up for games — on good days.
DJ Kitty has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and Time online; on the Huffington Post and MLB.com. An ABC news anchor claimed she "can't get enough" of the cat. And bloggers everywhere pimped the promo:
"It's just too much for words," Kyle Munzenrieder wrote in a blog for the Miami New Times.
"So awesome it hurts," someone said in reply.
A "die-hard Yankees fan" confessed DJ Kitty almost made her root for the Rays. "It's the Tampa Bay Rays' secret weapon to clinching the pennant," Brittny Drye wrote on thestir.cafemom.com.
The character is a cross between the 2007 viral video Keyboard Cat (a real cat playing cheesy piano tunes: 9.8 million views) and Rally's advertising attempt at Rap Cat (a stuffed cat in a leather jacket, rhythmically meowing: 44,087 views).
Somehow, DJ Kitty is different. Maybe it's the way he throws his paws in the air like he just don't care. Maybe it's the song's catchy chorus: "I'm so wasted, she so wasted ... party, party, party, let's all get wasted."
Maybe it's that most baseball games are more than three hours long, and sometimes not a lot happens.
Darcy Raymond, the Rays' vice president for fan experience, said no one predicted any of this. "Never in our wildest dreams," he said.
"The genesis really came from the players. They sparked it," said Raymond, better known as D-Ray.
That was when D-Ray went all CIA on us. He wouldn't say which players suggested the gimmick. Wouldn't say much more about who made the video, or how they got that cat to spin a turntable. (We're thinking: Turn on your video camera, wake up the cat from a dead sleep, wave its paws around with your hands.)
He was especially cagey about the cat. "We're not publishing who plays our mascot," he said. "That would be like admitting who's inside Mickey Mouse."
Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn echoed the gag order. In response to an e-mail seeking information about the cat, Vaughn wrote: "We would prefer to keep the DJ Kitty a mystery."
Intense investigation yielded this bit of kibble: The kitty belongs to D-Ray. When confronted, he didn't deny it.
Whatevs. You can see the cat for yourself when the Rays open their playoff series against the Rangers on Wednesday.
People say DJ Kitty looks sad. Or upset. Maybe even stoned. "You would too," said D-Ray, "if you slept in the sun 20 hours a day."
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825.