The Commissioner's Trophy made its grand entrance just past 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Petersburg's City Hall. After opening remarks by Mayor Rick Baker, the 200 or so fans waiting in a line got their chance to see the glimmering gold trophy up close and take pictures. But absolutely no touching. In fact, DHL delivery man Michael Capobianco and Baker donned white gloves while placing the trophy on a display table in the lobby. "It's definitely my coolest delivery," said Capobianco, whose company is charged with transporting the trophy for a similar viewing at 10 a.m. today at Tampa's City Hall, then on to Philadelphia after Game 2. This marks the first time Major League Baseball has showcased the trophy publicly before the start of the World Series. "We're always looking for ways to engage the fans," said Matt Bourne of MLB public relations, "and we thought this might be a neat way to have the fans be able to get ready and excited for the World Series." The trophy features 30 gold-plated, hand-furled flags, one for every major-league team. The flags rise above what resembles the top of a baseball, with 24-karat vermeil baseball stitches and latitude and longitude lines that symbolize the world. It's 24 inches tall (not counting the base), 11 inches around and weighs 30 pounds.
It was first awarded in 1967, when St. Louis defeated Boston. Unlike the Stanley Cup, which is passed down from team to team each year, a new commissioner's trophy is made each year. Unlike the NFL, NBA and NHL, it's the only championship trophy not named after a person.
More? The trophy was originally designed by Lawrence Voegele of Owatonna, Minn. The current trophy was redesigned a bit in 1999 and made by Tiffany & Co., presented for the first time after the Yankees' 2000 World Series triumph. And its estimated value is $15,000.
Where does the trophy — which contains an inscribed signature of commissioner Bud Selig — reside between stops? Matt Bourne, MLB public relations, smiled and replied, "That's top secret."
Quote of the day
"Just winning. Getting the ring, celebrating. We battled together for eight months and then to come out on top was just a great feeling. It was weird for me in the last round — to be part of that Red Sox team last year and then see them lose this year. I have a lot of friends over there, but I was real happy to be over here, on the winning side."
Eric Hinske, who won a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox in 2007, on what he remembers most about the experience
"Sluggers" with a Tampa Bay touch
The Louisville Slugger bat company is offering a special line of commemorative bats for Rays fans. The bats will feature logos of the Rays and the World Series and can be personalized with your name etched into the barrel. The bats cost $75 (including shipping) and can be ordered by calling 1-866-785-2287 or visiting the company's Web site at sluggergifts.com
The Emblem Guy
The Rays and Phils will be donning new hats with a World Series emblem attached to the side. They got there courtesy of Dave Aichinger, team service manager of the New Era Cap Company of Buffalo, N.Y. Aichinger traveled to St. Petersburg this week, arriving with his own heavy-duty steam press machine. One by one on Monday, he slid a hat onto the machine and applied the logo. "We do this process for the All-Star Game and the World Series, or a special event like the closing of Shea Stadium this year. We did a patch for that," he said.
Former Mets outfielder Ron Swoboda remembers getting caught up in the "magic" of the Miracle Mets' improbable run to the World Series title in 1969. And Swoboda now can't keep his eyes off the TV when the Rays are playing. "I've stayed up and watched every pitch of every game," he said. "Even that extra-inning game (vs. the Red Sox), I couldn't turn away.
"Obviously," Swoboda said via phone from his New Orleans home, "I'm a Rays fan."
Swoboda said that even though the Rays may not have a starting pitcher the stature of a Tom Seaver, he sees plenty of similarities between the '69 Mets and '08 Rays. "We did it in 1969 and those comparisons are not that far off in my book," he said.
So if the Mets were called the "Amazins," what would he call the Rays?
"Amazin' is the word you'd have to use," Swoboda said. "Amazin' — and leave the 'g' off."
Grounds crew gears up
Rays head groundskeeper Dan Moeller and his staff have been busy getting the field in shape, including removing the recent ALCS logos along the first- and third-base lines. "It took us about three hours to paint both logos," Moeller said. "And it takes roughly three to four hours just to remove one logo."
The logos were gone by Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday afternoon Moeller and Co. had added the new World Series logos.
Hitting coach reunion
Turns out that Rays hitting coach Steve Henderson lent a valuable helping hand along the way to Phillies hitting coach Milt Thompson. Henderson was a coach with the Houston Astros when Thompson played there in the mid 1990s. A career .274 batter with 1,029 hits, Thompson says Henderson helped him both as a player and a hitting coach.
"I got traded to Houston at the end of the '94 season right before we went on strike and played the '95 season there," he said. "Steve's like me. I was an aggressive hitter and I was always ready to hit a ball in the zone. We were both from the same mold. I greeted everything he said as far as a hitting coach, and I just went on with it when I became a coach myself."
Thompson coached briefly in the Rays' farm system in 1997 before joining the Phillies in 1998, eventually becoming hitting coach in 2004. "When I coached him in Houston, Milt already knew how to hit, I can't take any credit," said Henderson, in his 11th season with the Rays. "As for the coaching part, I just always tried to help him as much as I could."
Fan close to a big Rays payday
David Marger was in Las Vegas in November, several weeks after the Red Sox swept the Rockies in the World Series. The 46-year-old real estate investor from St. Petersburg was in Bally's to play poker. And on a whim, he checked the odds of his favorite baseball team — the Tampa Bay Rays — winning the World Series in 2008. Marger, a season-ticket holder since the team's inaugural campaign in 1998, saw they were 200-1.
"I went up to the window and was told the odds had just gone up to 250-1," he said. "So I thought, 'What the heck, I'll put down $100.' " Marger never expected to see his modest investment come to fruition. But by the All-Star break, with the Rays within a half-game of first, he felt pretty good. His spirits have naturally soared during the postseason — thrilled to see the Rays succeed and excited at the chance to claim a cool $25,000 if they defeat the Phillies in the Series.
Marger, whose mother Mary Ann was a longtime art critic for the Times, knows how he'll use some of the money if he wins: "I'm going to Vegas and throwing a big party." For the record, Vegas oddsmakers favor the Rays to win the Series, so chances for that party are looking pretty good.
Dome roof has a Phillies connection
Long before it was dubbed Tropicana Field, and long before baseball arrived in Tampa Bay, the big fabric-top stadium was called the Florida Suncoast Dome. It was 1991 and the area was hoping to land an expansion team. Phillies chairman Bill Giles, who served on the expansion committee, wondered if outfielders would have a hard time tracking fly balls against the white fabric overhead.
So Giles had Von Hayes and John Vukovich, then stars with the Phillies, drive down from spring camp in Clearwater. There was no turf in place, just concrete floors. Vukovich stood where home plate would be and whacked a fly ball to Hayes, while Giles and team and city officials looked on anxiously.
"John hits this ball that I can see is coming right at me, like it might hit me in the head," Hayes, a St. Petersburg resident, said Tuesday. "I just froze and it whizzed right by my ear. I could see it fine, but I acted like I was in shock — just to get a rise out of the officials. I know they were worried. But then I said, 'I'm just kidding.' "
Hayes proceeded to put on a fly-ball catching show that pleased everyone. Now an Independent League manager in Lancaster, Pa., Hayes will be back in the stands tonight. "I'm a little torn because I've followed the Rays from the start, but I'm part of the Phillies family," he said. "I'll root for both and I won't be heartbroken whoever wins."
Lights, camera, action
The entrance to the Rays player parking lot is a tangle of trailers and wires, an easy sign that the World Series is in town.
All eyes are going to be on the Trop for tonight's Game 1. Fox Sports has brought in up to 200 workers — from producers to broadcasters — for its TV broadcasts of the Series, said technical director Johnathan Evans, a Lakeland resident.
It's no doubt the spotlight is brighter in the World Series, and Fox promises more views of the action. Fox will have 20 cameras and 12 replay machines in use, an upgrade over the eight cameras used for a regular-season broadcast and likely a Trop first.