Rays fans gathered at St. Pete Beach on Thursday night to celebrate their team's first appearance tonight in the American League Championship Series.
There was music, food and lots of fun for the roughly 500 people who attended the free fanfest at the TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort.
"I drove all the way out here from Fort Lauderdale," said Barbara Martinez, 28, a diehard Rays fan. "All my friends are Marlins fans, and they have had plenty of time to celebrate. Now this is the time for the Rays to win."
Martinez brought her two children to St. Pete Beach and has tickets to tonight's Game 1.
Thursday's party included performances by Blue Oyster Cult lead singer Buck Dharma and the Greg Billings Band. There was free face painting for the kids, a giant inflatable blue-and-gold slide, as well as hot dogs, hamburgers and other treats.
On the beach, sculptors crafted a giant sand monument dedicated to the Rays. The sculpture included a mammoth photolike interpretation of the Rays logo. The team also broadcast inspirational videos documenting the Rays' rise from worst to first.
Finally, fireworks lit up the sky over St. Pete Beach.
"The drive was totally worth it," Martinez said. "For my kids to see the Rays fans celebrate, this could be once in a lifetime."
'Idol's' Archuleta will sing tonight
Tonight's starting lineup is pretty squeal-inducing. We mean the entertainment lineup, not the players. Local saxophonist B.K. Jackson will perform the national anthem before the first pitch, and American Idol star David Archuleta will sing God Bless America during the seventh-inning stretch. Ceremonial first-pitch throwers for the weekend are also set. Today, 11 original season ticket holders have been invited to throw the first pitch. On Saturday, noted Rays fan and basketball Hall of Famer Dick Vitale will have the honors. The 11 honorees today are Jack Critchfield, Clearwater; Bette Ra Ivey, Largo; David Parry, Brandon; Dr. Pedro Morales, St. Petersburg; Mark Donohue, St. Petersburg; Gene Oliver, St. Petersburg; Russ Cosser, Treasure Island; Beth Di Roma, Largo; Jeff Albrecht, Sarasota; Pedro Bajo, Tampa; and John Shoppell, St. Pete Beach.
Boston mayor sidesteps wagering
Baseball wagers between competing cities are as much a part of playoff tradition as bandwagon fans and ticket scalpers. But Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says he's sitting this one out. According to his staff, Menino only bets on championship games. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay officials are still waiting for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to send them their deep dish pizza. Don't hold out on us, Daley. We know where you work.
AL tickets more pricey than the NL matchup
Tickets to the ALCS are selling for nearly twice as much as those to the NLCS games, according to one online ticket merchant. The average for the Rays-Red Sox series is $248, compared with just $101 for the Phillies-Dodgers, according to Roger Hacker of RazorGator.com. "We monitor the ticket business all day, and this surprised even us," Hacker wrote in an e-mail. "Philadelphia and L.A. are major markets, but Boston and Tampa are pulling in the biggest prices for tickets." Fans of both series are paying more this year than last, Hacker wrote. The average League Championship Series ticket sold for $112 in 2007. This year, the average is $150.
Looper is doing super
St. Petersburg's downtown Looper trolley's ridership has gone up 16 percent this year, a gain that organizers say might be due to the Rays' success. About 10,500 more people boarded the trolley so far this year compared with the same period last year. Eric Carlson, transportation director for the Downtown Partnership, which operates the trolley, said there has been no change in marketing or service, so he really isn't sure why ridership has grown so much. But baseball is as good a guess as any.
Speaking of getting to the games, the shuttles will be operating anytime the Rays have a game from here on out. You can catch one at Central Avenue and Second Street (under the pedestrian bridge) and get off at 16th Street and First Avenue. Service starts at 6:30 p.m. and ends one hour after the game. The service is free, but bring money for the parking garage.