ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' annual Fan Fest will be different this year, with a new date, a changed format and fewer players participating.
Due to scheduling issues, the Rays are staging Fan Fest on Feb. 4, before the start of spring training in Port Charlotte rather than during camp.
As a result, many players won't yet be in the area and won't attend. A preliminary list released Wednesday had only 17 confirmed players, including fan favorites Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier and Jake Odorizzi, but not veteran Evan Longoria, All-Star Alex Colome, Brad Miller or any of their free agent additions. (Longoria was out before the recent trade of Logan Forsythe, which he was not happy about.)
The other big change is that only current season-ticket holders will have the opportunity to get autographs from Rays players, with a $100 donation to charity required for three.
Fans who aren't season-ticket holders can get autographs at no charge from a group of about 40 former major-leaguers, including Glenn Beckert, Tom Hume and Travis Hafner, and ex-Rays including Rolando Arrojo and Roberto Hernandez.
Parking and admission remain free. Hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m., with season-ticket holders admitted at 10 to Tropicana Field.
"We realize there have been some changes to Fan Fest, but we are thrilled that many of our players volunteered to participate," said Jeff Cogen, Rays chief business officer.
Typically the Rays hold Fan Fest on a Saturday early in spring training, but they made the change this year due to several conflicts, primarily an earlier start to camp because of the World Baseball Classic, which has them beginning games Feb. 24. Another factor is not wanting to lose most or all of a workout day in Port Charlotte, as camp report day is Feb. 12.
The Trop was unavailable Jan. 21 (college football), this week (home show) and Feb. 11 (gymnastics), leaving a choice between Feb. 4 and Feb. 18.
The Rays have been trying for several years to shift the focus away from autographs, given long wait times. Last year they sold a limited number of player-specific autograph passes for $25 each, proceeds going to charity.
Among other free events are clubhouse tours, dugout photos and tailgate-style games against Rays players. Kids have the opportunity to run the bases, high-five players, have a story read to them, receive instruction and participate in interactive baseball activities. There also will be the annual charity yard sale of game-used and other memorabilia, including Don Zimmer items, and a social media zone where fans can get photos with players and trophies.
In other Rays news:
• In seeking to add a right-handed bat after trading Forsythe, they have checked in on arguably the top remaining option, Mike Napoli. Other candidates include Chris Carter and Mark Reynolds.
• Among a dozen or so players working out at the Trop this week, outfielder Corey Dickerson stood out. That's because there was less of him. He lost 25 pounds with changes in diet and a training regimen that reshaped his now 200-pound body: "I feel completely different. The way I run. The quickness in the way I move. … My swing is quicker. The ball comes off my bat better. … The way I throw is different. It all benefitted me.''
• Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said his recovery from September left hip surgery is going well, which he showed during running drills in the Trop outfield.