TAMPA — Barack Obama has political stars fanning across Florida on his behalf this week, but none with the glow of those hugging him Monday in Tampa: members of the World Series-bound Tampa Bay Rays.
"What an exciting day for Tampa Bay," outfielder Fernando Perez told thousands of Obama supporters at George M. Steinbrenner Field, the morning after winning the pennant.
"We can change the nation, but people like you need to help us do it. Barack Obama will take this country in a new direction, but we're going to have to make sure that every voice is heard," said Perez, joined on stage by teammates Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson and David Price, who introduced the Democratic nominee.
Obama congratulated the team and appeared thrilled, despite being a devoted White Sox fan.
"I have said from the beginning that I'm a unity candidate, bringing people together. So when you see a White Sox fan showing some love for the Rays and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're onto something here," Obama said to cheers.
Obama noted that Tampa Bay Buccaneer Earnest Graham was also at the rally, and he joked that he had considered getting a mohawk as a show of solidarity with the Rays. "But my political advisers said they weren't sure how that would play with swing voters," Obama said.
Price said "it was cool" to introduce Obama, whom he described as "very knowledgeable, nice guy, good people skills."
Price kept it short and sweet: "Now please welcome the next president of the United States, Barack Obama!"
The surprise partisan appearance by several Rays players prompted some complaint calls to the team, but it's unlikely management will be bent out of shape.
Principal owner Stu Sternberg wrote a $2,000 check to Obama in April, and Rays president Matthew Silverman donated $1,000 to Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor, co-chair of the Obama campaign in Florida.
Staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.