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Tampa Bay Rays World Series: For fans, it's all about the experience

PHILADELPHIA — Tampa Bay Rays fans were specks of blue on a field of red at Citizens Bank Park for the World Series in Philadelphia.

Before Game 5, they gathered around the Tampa Bay dugout as the team warmed up.

A cold mist looked like snow as it fell through the bright lights of the ballpark.

The Rays fans didn't mind the weather or the heckling. All they cared about was that they were at the World Series.

When Matthew Russo, 13, was barely old enough for school, he watched the World Series for the first time. His team, the Yankees, won.

Then they started losing.

And losing.

The New Yorker was heartbroken when they lost the 2001 World Series to the Diamondbacks. He was angry when they lost to the Marlins in the 2003 Series.

Russo, who plays baseball for school and a league team, decided he was a sore loser. A bad sport.

"I just had a bad attitude in sports," he said. "I never accepted losing, and I realized I should accept it because it's part of sports."

To discipline himself, he decided to root for 2004's worst team in baseball — the Rays.

He says it helped him get through tough times in school and in life, when things don't always go your way.

But this year, everything has been different.

He's alone being a Rays fan in New York, but he has enjoyed rubbing it in to his friends who still back the Yankees.

Now, he handles losing better, which has helped as he has watched the Rays struggle in the Series.

When Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton hit a homer Sunday, he just turned off the TV.

"I didn't cry, first off, which I did when I was 6," Russo said.

He decided he had to go to a game. It took him two hours to drive from New York and cost $2,000 to get a ticket.

On Monday, he waited by the Rays dugout in a light drizzle wearing a Carlos Pena jersey and a blue Mohawk, prepared for anything. Root for home team

Riley Duffy's reason for supporting the Rays was simple. He listened to the song.

"I watch them because they're the home team," said Duffy, 18, of Clearwater.

A huge baseball fan, he played on a Little League team named for the Rays. He has memorized all the stats. When he makes a comment about a game, the sportscaster says the same thing right after.

For years, he watched games on the TV in his parents' bedroom. This year, he said, his parents let him watch games on the big screen. "He converted us," said his dad, Pat Duffy, 48.

"He converted all of us," echoed step-grandmother Nancee, 55.

His grandfather promised to take him to an away game if the Rays made it to the World Series. Patrick Duffy, 70, of Venice said he fully expected it to happen, only he thought he'd be in Los Angeles. He takes all his grandkids for trips when they graduate high school. He estimated the trip for four cost about $10,000.

Duffy cut two days of classes at St. Petersburg College. He didn't ask his professors if he could go. He told them he'd be gone.

So how is it?

"I walked in and I just stopped thinking," he said, because the experience was so overwhelming. "I don't know how to say it."

He wanted the Rays to win Monday night but said he would be happy no matter the outcome.

"They're in the World Series," he said. "You cannot say they're losing again. You've got to give them credit for being here." Fan through friendship

Two years ago, Wyatt Paden and his dad were eating lunch at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore for an Orioles game.

At the table next to them was Pena. They didn't recognize him, but he told them he played for the Rays. He couldn't finish his chocolate cake and offered it to them.

"I thought it was amazing," said Paden, now 10, from Allentown, Pa.

Paden's dad argued with Pena until the player allowed him to pay for his lunch.

Paden became a Rays fan, going to see them when they played in Baltimore. One time, Pena introduced Paden to his favorite Rays player, Delmon Young. Another time, he signed a bat for him.

He has never been to Tropicana Field, but he always watches the games on TV.

"Since Carlos Pena is me and my dad's friend, we always watch to see how he's doing."

He came to the Series in Philadelphia because it's only two hours away. He couldn't believe how cheap tickets were in St. Petersburg. "There must be bad fans in Tampa," he said.

Paden thinks his friend deserves to win the World Series. He was really hoping to see Pena next season with a championship ring. But the season has been greater than he ever hoped.

"I thought they were going to be better than they were last year," he said. "I didn't even think of them getting to the playoffs." Family connections

Nicco Maddon and Jacob Mishinski used to root for the Los Angeles Angels. But they became Rays fans as quickly as their second cousin, Joe Maddon, was hired as manager.

"It's family. It's Aunt Beanie," said Mishinski, 24, referring to Maddon's mother. "You gotta go for them."

Maddon, 16, and Mishinski are from Hazleton, Pa., where Maddon grew up. They see him every year around Christmas, but they don't talk baseball. Maddon is just Little Joey then.

"It's such an accomplishment for them to make it this far," Mishinski said. "That's something to be proud of right there."

Nicco wore a Mohawk and glasses styled after Maddon's. Mishinski works full time at the Third-Base luncheonette, where Maddon's mom has worked for nearly 60 years.

They couldn't get tickets through Joe, so they scraped up the money to buy tickets on StubHub. They wouldn't say how much they paid.

While the Rays practiced, Maddon looked up at the fans leaning over the dugout and saw them.

"How'd you get in?" he shouted with wonder.

"We got in," Jacob said, smiling.

Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.

Tampa Bay Rays World Series: For fans, it's all about the experience 10/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 7:40pm]
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