Monday will be a banner day as the Rays raise and hang the flags commemorating their stunning 2008 AL East title and AL championship. Tuesday, the ring will be the thing as they hand out the bling marking their World Series appearance. There will be pregame ceremonies both days, and yes, the Yankees have to watch.
The Rays are giving out nearly 300 rings, basically to everyone who played in the majors or worked full time for them last year. There are three versions (read: levels of bling): team, organization and affiliate. (And a fourth if you consider the way-cool replica they're giving fans Tuesday.) The players, 23 are expected, including demoted-to-Durham David Price and injured Chad Bradford and Fernando Perez, and major-league staff get theirs in an onfield, pregame ceremony. Employees get theirs Wednesday. Ex-Rays will get theirs delivered — some by team officials, some, such as Dan Johnson, playing in Japan, shipped.
The rings will be sharp, "pretty similar" to the replica ring, Silverman said, but with more details and real diamonds. But don't expect anything like the Phillies' 4-carat monster. "This is not to be confused with a World Series ring," Silverman said. "It celebrates an American League championship but gives us room to grow when we accomplish the ultimate prize."
Actually, the Rays did not, as team officials claimed last week, request to open at home this season, but next. … So former boss Vince Naimoli is selling his Avila home, valued by the tax appraiser at $3.64 million, for $14 million with no word yet if he's leaving the area. During his miserable eight-year reign, the Rays drew about 11.4 million fans. So for about $1.25 apiece. … RHP Dewon Brazelton, who got $4.2 million and won eight games from 2002-05, is making a comeback, signed by the independent Camden (N.J.) team after showing up unannounced at a recent tryout. … Wednesday's game is at 4 to accommodate the Yankees, who open their palace Thursday at 1. … New chef at the Trop: Joshua St. Pierre.
Gotta minute? Joe Nelson
Best meal you can make? Grilled cheese sandwich. I don't burn it, so that's the reason it's the best meal I can make.
Karaoke song, if you had to? Friends in Low Places because halfway through everybody starts singing with you.
Guilty pleasure at the mall? Chik-Fil-A. I'm not a big shopper.
Who plays you in the Joe Nelson movie? The guy from The Shield (Michael Chiklis). Us bald guys have to stick together.
With your wife's permission, dream date? Aside from her, Angelina Jolie.
The Rays are trying to keep details (such as how they look and who is hoisting) under wraps. But there will be two banners, more than 15 feet wide, horizontal in orientation, that will hang above leftfield near the D-ring. They are said to be "very traditional," even "classic" in design and, surprisingly, not blue in primary color. "We expect that these two banners are the first of many," team president Matt Silverman said. The league championship, known as "winning the pennant," is the bigger accomplishment, but the Rays see the season-long division race as the larger challenge. So the banners will be the same size and might be even if the Rays win a World Series. "The pennant is special," Silverman said. But the AL East banner "is even more special."
The phrase is the Rays "won" the pennant, but they have to buy their own prize. MLB provides the AL championship trophy, the William Harridge Award, but the Rays have to design, produce and pay for their own banners.
Sign of success
The banners celebrate, but they also motivate. Joe Maddon felt it for three years after the Angels won the 2002 Series and every morning this spring in Port Charlotte. "When you walk into the ballpark on a daily basis, you see it," he said. "It serves as a reminder in all the positive ways and all the good ways. But it also makes you want to put more up there."
Some teams mark accomplishments with fixed signs, and the Rays have wall space at the Trop. But they had their reasons to go the traditional banner route. "The banners," Silverman said, "will be among very few things that will be transferable to a new ballpark."
Lord of the rings
The Rays' king of bling, of course, is senior adviser Don Zimmer, who has six World Series championship rings — two as a player, four as a coach with the Yankees — and another handful for league championships. Among others: Maddon, Troy Percival and bullpen coach Bobby Ramos have Angels '02 Series championship rings; Gabe Kapler has Red Sox '04 and '07 rings; Joe Nelson an '04 Sox ring. Pitching coach Jim Hickey and Dan Wheeler have Astros '05 NL championship rings. Percival also has a Tigers '06 AL ring.
In the neighborhood
The Lightning has banners hanging from the St. Pete Times Forum roof commemorating their two division, one conference and ’03-04 Stanley Cup championships (with a cool die-cut design of the Cup). The Bucs fly a flag commemorating their 2002 Super Bowl championship from the Raymond James Stadium pirate ship and another on game days from the top of the stadium.