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Tampa Bay Rays, fans give Pasco's Benedictine nuns VIP treatment

Sisters, from left, Donna DeWitt Mildred Gelis, Margaret Mary Roberts and Mary Romana Gomez gather around their small television to watch a recent Tampa Bay Rays game.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Sisters, from left, Donna DeWitt Mildred Gelis, Margaret Mary Roberts and Mary Romana Gomez gather around their small television to watch a recent Tampa Bay Rays game.

ST. LEO — The Benedictine Sisters of Florida didn't expect to go to more than one baseball game this year.

The cost of tickets and gasoline to get from their home on the shore of Lake Jovita to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg means the sisters usually support the Tampa Bay Rays from the simply furnished rooms of Holy Name Monastery. A friend took them to a game this summer — the first ever for some of them, like Sister Donna DeWitt, 70.

Sister Mary Romana Gomez, 79, prays that God's will be done each game. Sister Eileen Dunbar, 60, analyzes home field advantages and likes that the Rays are a young team. And 88-year-old Sister Mildred Gelis always stays up until the games are over.

But after a July 28 Tampa Bay Times article described how several of the 16 sisters get together to watch every Rays game — wearing jerseys, commenting on plays, cheering their favoring players — people started calling.

They wanted to donate tickets. They offered up new televisions to replace the sisters' old box TV with a screen smaller than those on some laptops.

About 40 people reached out, said Faith Pridmore, director of fundraising for the sisters.

Richard Waterfield, 67, of Odessa, was one of them. A former altar boy, he visited the monastery and gave the sisters some of his tickets to the July 30 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They sat about 10 rows behind first base. Their smiles were the reward, he said, and he wants to take the sisters to another game this season.

The biggest surprise came from the team itself. Rick Vaughn, the Rays' vice president of communications, said the Rays organization is waiting for the sisters to name a date to attend a game. They'll be treated to the Rays' own VIP seats and an up-to-date television to take home.

Vaughn said Cass Halpin, the Rays' director of guest relations, originally brought up the idea to Rays president Matt Silverman, who decided the organization should do something for the Benedictine sisters.

If the sisters would like to, they could even meet some of their favorite players, Vaughn said.

"I'm sure our guys would like to say hello," he said.

Pridmore said the sisters plan to choose a date soon.

They could not be reached for comment, as they just finished a five-day silent retreat.

Clare Lennon can be reached at clennon@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6262. Twitter: @clarelennon

Tampa Bay Rays, fans give Pasco's Benedictine nuns VIP treatment 08/06/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 6:36pm]
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