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St. Petersburg giving 92-year-old Rays fan tickets for playoffs at 'home'

Exuberant Rays fan Elvira Mullin stands in Tropicana Field’s parking lot, on the former site of the two-story house that she lived in from 1940-58. The city is giving her two tickets to Friday’s game.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Exuberant Rays fan Elvira Mullin stands in Tropicana Field’s parking lot, on the former site of the two-story house that she lived in from 1940-58. The city is giving her two tickets to Friday’s game.

ST. PETERSBURG

Each morning at 7:30, a high-spirited Tampa Bay Rays victory parade begins in earnest along southern corridors of the city. The one-woman procession packs the punch of a contingent of fans.

Elvira Mullin, at an exuberant 92, has been waiting longer than most to see her favorite team make the playoffs.

The Rays are the only major league team she has ever seen in person, and if you ask her, she'll tell you exactly how they're going to finish this year. "We're going all the way man, all the way!"

Her morning strolls are an exhibition in Rays pride and history. She confidently sports her old Devil Rays cap and her newly acquired AL East Champs T-shirt. Starting at 38th Avenue S, she continues around her block until she returns home about 8 a.m.

What's remarkable about Mullin's support for the Rays is the history of her arrival in St. Petersburg. After living through the Great Depression and in the midst of World War II, Mullin moved here in 1940 at age 24.

The site of her first home was the former "gas plant area," a plot of low-cost homes built near what was then a large flea market and adjacent to a gas plant. What stands on the site of Mullin's old house today? Tropicana Field.

As she toured the area around the Trop in anticipation of the playoffs, she reminisced about her early days in St. Petersburg during the '40s and '50s.

"That used to be our church," Mullin said as she pointed to a light post in the parking lot of Tropicana Field.

She continued to explore the area with the help of her daughter, Delceda Thompson, and found the general area she had been looking for.

"It was right around there, my two-story family house used to be right over there," she said, pointing to a spot near the center of the sprawling parking lot. "That's where we lived for 18 years."

While Mullin moved out of the gas plant area in 1958, decades before Tropicana Field was erected, she says she "knew a lot of people who were displaced when they built the stadium, especially African-American families and businesses." This area of Rays history is still a sore spot for some in the African-American community, as many homes were razed to make way for the beginning of construction in the mid '80s.

"This area looks totally different than when I lived here," she said. Still, Mullin's support for the team is unfazed, a fact the City Council sees as an opening to help mend the friction of the past.

"I think this is a great opportunity. Here's a woman whose home was in the gas plant area, and now, despite all that history, she's still a Rays fanatic," said Jamie Bennett, chairman of the City Council. Bennett learned about Mullin from Terri Scott, the council's administrative officer, who by chance spotted her on one of her morning strolls.

"I think it's really remarkable how excited she was," Scott said. "She told me that she was a die-hard baseball fan and it was really great."

Of course, she was wearing her Rays gear. "I hope we can all be that committed to our team when we're 92," Bennett said.

Mullin has lived long enough to see baseball change over time. She was born in 1916 and started going to amateur league games in the 1920s.

"My grandfather used to take me to the games. My uncle was the catcher for the team back in Reddick," said Mullin, who grew up near Reddick, in rural Marion County. "My uncle and my grandfather really made me a baseball fan."

When she grew older, Mullin played amateur baseball for a short time in Marion County. "See, I'm really tall and strong!" she boasted. "Back then, I was a great batter, hit a lot of home runs . . . I also played outfield." Her favorite Rays player is leftfielder Carl Crawford.

After a lifetime of watching minor league games in Florida and major league teams on TV, Mullin saw her first live MLB game just two years ago at Tropicana Field. "It was one of the most amazing experiences," she said. "Being there in the stadium was spectacular."

Despite so many years as a baseball fan, Mullin never imagined having a chance to attend a major league playoff game. Yet according to councilman Bennett, that's all about to change.

"Tomorrow, she's coming here to City Hall and I'm going to give her two tickets to Friday's playoff game," Bennett said Tuesday. "It just makes all the sense in the world to do this," said Bennett, who is giving his "city issued" tickets to Mullin.

Mullin, who was ecstatic to learn about her tickets to the game, said she couldn't wait to go root for her favorite team. "We're going to be up all night!" she predicted, about herself and her daughter, who will accompany her to the game. "I'll be praying for them."

To no one's surprise, she described what her outfit will be Friday night. "I will be wearing my Rays hat and my Rays shirt!"

St. Petersburg giving 92-year-old Rays fan tickets for playoffs at 'home' 09/30/08 [Last modified: Sunday, October 5, 2008 9:44am]

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