Play ball! It's opening day for the Tampa Bay Rays. Sure, the Rays lost a few key parts. No more Carl Crawford. No more Carlos Peña. No more Matt Garza or Rafael Soriano. But there are still plenty of reasons to go out to the ballpark. Our reasons why you should go see the Rays at Tropicana Field in 2011:
To see Manny being Manny.
That might mean going 3-for-4 with two homers and six RBIs. Or it might mean missing first on a stand-up double and getting called out. It might mean a walkoff dinger. Or it might mean jogging while hitting into a 5-4-3 double play. It might mean a circus catch in the outfield. Or it might be just a circus, period. Either way, Manny being Manny is always something to see.
. To watch the best left-handed pitcher in the majors. Yep, you heard us. You can have CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee. We'll take David Price, above. Today, tomorrow, next year and five years from now.
. To chow down. There are plenty of new foods to sample this season. We'll be in the line for the pulled-pork nachos or the Cuban burger at the new Burger Up! restaurant.
. If it's cool enough for Dickie V, it's cool enough for us.
. To boo B.J. Upton when he takes a called third strike. Again.
. To cheer B.J. Upton when he makes a sprinting, over-the-shoulder catch in deep left-center. Again.
. When it's 92 degrees or raining sideways, is there anything better than sitting in air-conditioning while chomping on a hot dog?
. At least you don't have to worry about watching Carlos Peña flirt with the Mendoza Line.
. One word: catwalks.
. You can still bring your own food. Try that at Yankee Stadium.
. To boo Red Sox leftfielder Carl Crawford, above. Hey, it's not 2008 anymore. He plays for the other guys now. He won't mind. His heart is in Boston, right?
. Hey, the past two NL MVPs — St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Cincinnati's Joey Votto — come to town for interleague play, not to mention former Rays slugger Jonny Gomes (Reds) and the best manager to ever come out of Tampa — St. Louis' Tony La Russa. Don't believe it? Just ask him.
. To hear all those cowbells. Oh, wait. That's a reason not to come to the Trop in 2011.
. Sit in the outfield and there's a decent chance you'll catch a ball just pitched by James Shields.
. To sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Think about it, other than Happy Birthday, it might be the most well-known song in America. And is there anybody who doesn't like that song?
. If you don't show up, we have to listen to the national folks ripping Tampa Bay for not supporting the Rays. So show up!
. To see two things the Trop has that Fenway Park and the new Yankee Stadium don't have — two AL East championship banners in the past three years.
. To watch Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter jump out of the way at a pitch over the inside corner of the plate.
. Without Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano closing out games for the Rays, the final two innings should at least be eventful.
. If it's a Tuesday night against Baltimore or Kansas City, you can have a whole row to yourself.
. To watch the pitcher who will win the American League rookie of the year award — Jeremy Hellickson.
. So you can tell your grandkids someday that you saw Joe Mauer, Ichiro Suzuki, Josh Hamilton, Dustin Pedroia and Mariano Rivera in person.
. To smell the grass. Wait, we meant to see the grass. Wait, that's not right, either. Well, at least the new AstroTurf looks good.
. You don't need sunscreen.
. To cheer Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, above, when he makes a diving stop and guns the runner out at first. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)
. You're going to need something to do after the Lightning gets knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
. You're going to need something to do because there will be no NFL training camp.
. To see Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, who is going to make fans forget all about Jason Bartlett.
. He's no Lou Piniella, but Rays skipper Joe Maddon is usually good for one or two meltdowns a season.
. To boo umpires such as Angel Hernandez and Gary Cederstrom. You usually have good reason before the third inning.
. After years of booing Johnny Damon, you can cheer for the idiot. And we mean that as a compliment.
. You might run into Don Zimmer, who knows more baseball than anyone alive.