ST. PETERSBURG — If only for one night, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport was a cowbell-clanking, stereo-pumping, banner-waving good time.
Several hundred fans filled the baggage claim area Sunday night to welcome home their playoff-bound Rays from their last regular-season road trip.
They stood shoulder-to-shoulder on baggage conveyer belts and hopped up on rental car counters for a glimpse of their favorite players. They clicked photos, took video and used their cell phones to relay the scene to family members at home who couldn't make it to the rally.
Those who did make it out said there was nothing else they'd rather be doing.
"I just felt like we had to be here," said Ronnie Thomas Jr., of St. Petersburg.
Thomas brought his 12-year-old son to the rally.
"We owe them a debt of gratitude for having such an excellent season," said Thomas, 37.
Richard and Deborah Nordstrom of Tampa brought their 3-year-old chihuahua and Pekinese mix, Harley.
The couple said they didn't have time to make a sign — they were too busy getting Harley's outfit together. The tiny dog wore a B.J. Upton jersey and gold chain with a baseball glove charm. His headgear consisted of a miniature batting helmet with a Mohawk attached by Velcro.
"Harley was always for the underdogs. He watched them all year, from worst to first" said Richard Nordstrom, 54.
Nearby, Michael Zabriskie was sporting his new hairdo, too. The 40-year-old Clearwater resident got a Mohawk on Wednesday.
"It's electric," Zabriskie said of the crowd. "Even if I didn't have a Mohawk, my hair would still be standing up."
Justin Nash, 14, predicted the Rays were going all the way to the World Series. The ninth-grader at St. Petersburg High School, who was at the rally with his mom and grandparents, said he just had to come out to support his favorite team.
As for school Monday?
"I'm going, I don't care if I'm tired."
When an announcement was made about 8:30 p.m. that the Rays' plane was over Georgia, the crowd erupted.
Forty-five minutes later, as the team filed in fresh off the plane, the sound was deafening.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to the city," said John Medina, 32, of St. Petersburg. "We're going to go all the way. We believe. There's no doubt."
Medina and others at the rally seemed to share the same philosophy as Scott Young, 49, of St. Petersburg.
"They may go again but they'll never go the first time again," he said. "This is history."
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or [email protected]