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Rays' brass take a turn as fan greeters

Andrew Friedman, right, the Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, welcomes John Hume to Tropicana Field on Monday night. Friedman and Matt Silverman, the Rays’ president, served as Fan Hosts, passing out programs to fans before the Rays’ 4-0 victory over Oakland.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Andrew Friedman, right, the Tampa Bay Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, welcomes John Hume to Tropicana Field on Monday night. Friedman and Matt Silverman, the Rays’ president, served as Fan Hosts, passing out programs to fans before the Rays’ 4-0 victory over Oakland.

ST. PETERSBURG

Two hours before game time Monday, the president of the Tampa Bay Rays strode down a long concrete ramp, into the bowels of Tropicana Field, and stood in line at a wardrobe window. The woman behind the counter handed him a navy blue "Fan Host" jersey, which he buttoned over his starched Oxford shirt.

"I haven't worn one of these since we designed them," Matt Silverman, 32, told Andrew Friedman, the team's executive vice president. "It's a little big, but …"

Friedman, 31, pulled one of the navy jerseys over his polo shirt. Monday night, instead of sitting in the owners' box overseeing the business of baseball, the two young executives would be on the front lines, acting as ushers.

All summer, executives in the Rays' office staff have been shadowing staffers, trying to build a better connection with their employees and their fans. While players warmed up to take on the Oakland As, the team's president and vice president suited up to take their turns.

"Okay, listen up," called a woman who said her name was Wendy. "The gates open in five minutes. So grab your programs and take your posts." Standing in the vaulted rotunda of the stadium, she scanned the glass doors, where hundreds of fans were waiting.

Silverman and Friedman exchanged glances. "Okay?" Wendy shouted. "Let's go have some fun!"

A smiling, bald man, wearing that same ushers' jersey, walked up holding out his hand. "Mr. Silverman?" he asked. "I'm Jim Adams. I'll be watching you today." He loaded a pile of "Inside Pitch" programs into the president's arms. "We gotta get them fired up here, today."

Adams, a 63-year-old retired teacher and restaurant owner, worked the crowd, high-fiving, fist-bumping, slapping backs.

Silverman hung back. "Welcome to Tropicana Field," he said softly. "Would you like a program?"

Most people didn't look up to see who was offering the glossy guide. Many folks who saw Silverman didn't seem to know who he was. A few walked past, turned and scrunched their brows. "I know I know you," a man said, wagging his finger.

Silverman smiled. "I'm Matt," he said. "Would you like a program?"

Fans who recognized him all shook his hand; a boy wearing a Rays cap asked him to sign his blue plastic bat. Others offered advice: You gotta get us a right-handed slugger. When are you going to buy another pitcher?

"You know what you all need?" asked Claire Brantley, who was at the game with her husband and 9-year-old son. "You need to get pink T-shirts that say 'Mrs. Longoria.' " She was referring to Evan Longoria, the Rays' young, single rookie slugger on the cover of the program. "You'd sell millions."

A man with a gray goatee called, "See you at the World Series!"

"Can't you get us cushions for the seats?" begged an 86-year-old woman in a wheelchair.

"I've been coming here for 11 years, long before you got here, and I tell you: Those springs are shot."

Silverman squeezed her hand. "I'll see what I can do."

Two minutes before the game began Monday, the president of the Tampa Bay Rays unbuttoned his "Fan Host" jersey and smoothed his starched Oxford shirt. He checked his watch. Just enough time to get up to that owners' box, entertain those Clearwater businessmen.

"Thanks, Jim," Silverman said, walking toward the usher he had followed. "It's been fun."

Jim Adams high-fived another fan, then turned to his boss. "You bet," he said. "Hey, and now that you know where I work, can I come upstairs and see your office next time?"

Rays' brass take a turn as fan greeters 07/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 5:02pm]
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