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Rays VP helps fans get the Trop rocking

Darcy Raymond calls Rays fans “the 10th man nation” to show just how crucial they are to the team.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Darcy Raymond calls Rays fans “the 10th man nation” to show just how crucial they are to the team.

ST. PETERSBURG — The man they call D-Ray worked until 2 a.m. Tuesday. Six hours later, he was back in his office above Tropicana Field taking phone calls.

No, they still haven't confirmed who is performing the national anthem.

No, they haven't figured out how many staffers to assign to the standing-room-only section.

The World Series was only 34 hours away and the Rays' vice president of fan experience still didn't know who was going to throw out the first pitch.

"I've got meetings all day," he said, "about everything."

• • •

Two years ago, Darcy Raymond was hired to rebrand Tampa Bay's struggling baseball team — and re-energize the few fans it had.

Today, when 42,000 baseball fanatics stream into the Trop, D-Ray will have overseen "everything they see, hear, touch, smell and taste."

"It won't be much different than what our fans have experienced during the rest of the playoffs," he said. "You gotta admit, it's been working."

• • •

In fall 2003, Raymond left his job at Proctor & Gamble, where he had helped introduce the Swiffer mop. He enrolled in Harvard Business School and met Brian Auld, who nicknamed him D-Ray — as in Darcy Raymond, not Devil Rays. "It was an A-Rod thing," he said, "first initial, shorten the last name."

Two years later, when Auld was recruited to be a Rays VP, he introduced his boss to his buddy D-Ray — and Rays executives hired Raymond to survey season ticket holders. "Only 46 percent of the people buying tickets were rooting for the Rays," he said.

In January 2006, the Rays asked Raymond to convert baseball fans to Rays fans and to bring a new crop to the Trop: people who didn't know much about baseball.

He implemented theme nights: Tuesdays for retirees featured Elvis impersonators. Sundays meant kids could run the bases.

"If we were going to turn this team around," Raymond said, "we had to make the fans feel like part of the team."

He called the fans "10th man nation," the most important part of the roster. After asking ushers to identify the most enthusiastic cheerers, he started a group of 500 Maddon's Maniacs who meet between games and agree on new chants. Raymond coordinates their plans with the producer who runs the Trop's video screen. When they say, "Tampa!" the screen says "Bay!"

Blue disco wigs and cowbells. Pepsi bottle races and kiss cams. Carvel cup switches, trivia contests, Spot the Cow. Fans come to expect those segments, he said. The promotions become part of the fabric of the field.

Major League Baseball won't allow local branding for the World Series, so Raymond spent Tuesday trying to figure a way to have bottle races without the labels and kisses without e-Harmony's endorsement.

• • •

About 11 a.m. Tuesday, Rays president Matt Silverman ducked his head into Raymond's office. "We got it," he said. "Bob Stewart is going to throw out the first pitch."

"Mr. Baseball?" Raymond asked, referring to the Pinellas County commissioner.

He wrote himself a note, crossed that off his to-do list. Only 33 hours until the big show.

Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825.

Rays VP helps fans get the Trop rocking 10/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 9:52pm]

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