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For Rays fans, New York pilgrimage is worth the cost

How much would you pay to watch the Rays’ final game at Yankee Stadium?

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How much would you pay to watch the Rays’ final game at Yankee Stadium?

Steve Seemann grew up in New York, sporting Yankee pinstripes, flipping baseball cards of Bucky Dent and Reggie Jackson.

Keith Franzese, was born in Boston. His childhood dreams were of the Green Monster and those who played in its shadow. Names like Yastrzemski, Evans and Rice.

So why are these two guys from northern cities steeped in baseball tradition, guys who can rattle off a who's who of diamond legends, spending hundreds of dollars to fly to New York to see the likes of Sonnanstine, Iwamura and Upton — when last fall at this time, it was a challenge to get anybody to see them for free?

The answer: To usher in a first and be a part of the last.

Seemann, 40, and Franzese, 42, who attend a dozen or so Rays home games each season, said they didn't want to miss a chance to root their adopted team to its first division crown while at the same time bidding farewell to the monument that is Yankee Stadium. They're among a group of about 40 Rays fans traveling to New York this weekend to watch the Rays' final series in the House that Ruth Built.

"In terms of sports history, is there any other place as hallowed?" Seemann said. "My Dad was a huge Yankees fan and I grew up dreaming of going there, but this will be my first time. So for me to go touch the statues of Mantle and Gehrig, it will be quite a thrill."

"For years, a bunch of us guys have been saying we were going to go," said Seemann's brother-in-law, Rick Caldevilla, 43. "And now that it's the last year (for Yankee Stadium), nobody backed out."

Even in a city like New York, where a hamburger can cost you $15 and a martini will run you $20, front-row seats to a piece of baseball history are steep. Some Rays fans are paying up to $700 for a ticket (face value: $100) to Saturday's matinee — pricey by Tampa standards, but a bargain compared with tickets for the Yankees' final regular-season home game on Sept. 21, some of which were listed at more than $16,000 on StubHub.com.

And while this group of Rays fans considers themselves highly dedicated, they'd like to get into the game and still have money left over to hit a few Manhattan watering holes and participate in New York's other favorite pastime — shopping. A pass by the San Gennaro Italian festival in Little Italy is also on the itinerary.

For Caldevilla's wife Patti, a self-described baseball purist who vividly recalls the family trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown some 25 years ago, the journey is about the love of the game.

"Baseball had been getting a bad reputation in Tampa, but I'll tell you what, if you're in the circuit, there are a lot of baseball fans here," she said. "Some people say it may be boring, but take somebody to enough games and they will love it. I prefer it over football."

Patti falls into the "married group" going to New York, and plans to hang out with the other baseball moms from Wellswood Youth Baseball League, in which her son plays. Seemann and Franzese have a much later curfew. They say trips like these make them feel like kids again.

Whatever you do, don't label them bandwagon fans.

"I've been to Rays home games when you can yell at people on first base side from third base side," Franzese said. "I'd be making this trip regardless of our record, because this is history — something we will probably be talking about 10 years from now."

For Rays fans, New York pilgrimage is worth the cost 09/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 2:09pm]

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