ST. PETERSBURG — The price of fame has gone up.
Or, at least, the price of famous Rays players' autographs.
At next month's Fan Fest, the cost of an autograph from the Rays' three biggest names — Evan Longoria, Wil Myers and David Price — will be $125 each.
The prices (set by the team) for most of the other prominent players will be $25.
All proceeds from the autograph sessions go to charity. And there will be plenty of free activities, including a group of lesser-known players signing for kids 14 and under (and anyone who pays for one of the other players), dozens of former big-league players signing for free, and a number of activities that include interaction with players. Plus, there is no admission or parking charge to the popular annual event, set for Feb. 22 at Tropicana Field.
But, still, $125 for an autograph?
Last year, fans paid $50 for an armband that got them access to as many autographs as they could get. But the Rays said many stood in line for hours and got only one or two players, or didn't get the player they most wanted.
So this year, the team changed the pricing structure and format of the autograph session, trying to encourage fans to spend more time with the other free activities rather than stand in line.
To guarantee that the fans who really want — and are willing to pay for — an autograph, a limited number of passes (60) will be sold for each player, with proceeds going to the Rays Baseball Foundation and the ALS Association.
"Fan Fest is a great way for the Rays to reconnect with our fans and celebrate the beginning of the baseball season," Rays president Matt Silverman said. "Each year we look to add greater interactions between our players and fans, and this year we will be high-fiving kids as they run the bases, participating in coaches clinics, taking photos with fans, and even serving ice cream, all of which are free. The paid autograph signings benefit charity and are a minor component to the event. We are selling certain players' autographs in advance to ensure that fans can receive them without having to endure a prolonged wait."
Autograph ticket sales — available only via raysbaseball.com — launched Wednesday for season ticket-holders, who got a small discount. General ticket sales start Friday at 4 p.m. All must be done in advance, with no passes sold the day of the event.
Players with the $25 price tag include Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, David DeJesus, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Yunel Escobar, James Loney, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Grant Balfour. The Rays say select other players and coaches (around 20) will be available to sign for free.
The Rays also will sell tickets starting Monday on raysbaseball.com to a Joe Maddon Thanksmas event to be held at Fan Fest.
NOTE: Left-handed reliever Pedro Figueroa was claimed on waivers by Texas. The Rays claimed him from Oakland on Jan. 7 but designated him for assignment last week to make room for Balfour.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.