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Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest gets a head start on baseball season

We say it every year when we see the hordes of people trotting into the Trop for the Rays Fan Fest: If only the team could draw these crowds during games maybe we wouldn't be having such an awkward time with stadium talks. • But people love free stuff and they sure do love Joe Maddon, Evan Longoria and David Price. And don't forget DJ Kitty. • We have some insider tips on how you can make the most of this free day at Tropicana Field with your kids on Saturday. Meet players, run the bases, tour the clubhouse and maybe even have Evan or David phone a friend for you.

Say it in 140 characters

Social media is playing a much bigger role in this year's Fan Fest. You'll be able to win prizes through the team's main Twitter account @RaysBaseball, and fans can get up-to-date information on events happening throughout the day and answers to questions about Fan Fest. Twitter users can also have their messages posted on the RaysVision video board at Tropicana Field. The twitter account is @RaysBaseball, and #RaysFanFest is the main hashtag.

Kids rule

The team promises even more things for kids to do this year with special youth stations with clinics by Rays coaches. They can also run the bases and receive high fives from players as they cross home plate. There will be photo opportunities with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty.

To promote "Reading with the Rays," the club's summer reading program, Rays players will read select stories to kids.

Hitting and pitching clinics will be held throughout the day allowing kids to receive free instruction from the Rays major league coaching staff.

Players will also be at the MOR Kids Interactive Zone as the kids swing away in a big league batting cage, try out their fastball in the speed pitch booth and swing for the fences in the Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby. Other interactive activities include the MLB 2K station, the "Home to First" challenge, Pop-A-Shot booth, a horse race carnival game and Family Feud.

• • •

Autographs and meeting the team

While all of this year's players are expected to be there — including Longoria, Price, Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Matt Moore, Ben Zobrist — alumni who will be on hand include Toby Hall, Ron LeFlore, Mike Devereaux, Travis Phelps and dozens more.

If you do decide to brave the autograph lines, you will have two dozen former big-leaguers to seek out who will sign for free, along with the radio and TV reporters you've come to know, not to mention current Rays players and coaches.

There also is the option of buying a $50 wristband that grants the opportunity to get autographs from some of the more popular Rays players. Autographs are free, but that wristband, which benefits the ALS Association, gets you better access. For bigger rollers, the Exclusive Signing Opportunity gets you even one step better. For $200 to $500 you can get one of just 15 spots for the most popular players and a wristband for the other autographs. A $500 ticket gets you Longoria and Price, for example. See tampabay.rays.mlb.com for details.

• • •

Joe's cooking

Tickets to Rays Manager Joe Maddon's traditional Thanksmas meal during Fan Fest are still available. You get Maddon's famous Thanksmas meal (spaghetti, meatballs, pierogies) and an exclusive question and answer session with Hall of Fame baseball writer and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons. It runs from noon to 2 p.m. during Fan Fest on Saturday. Tickets are $75 and must be purchased by today at tampabay.rays.mlb.com. All proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation.

• • •

Buy some memorabilia

The Rays Charity Yard Sale returns for a third year, putting game-used jerseys, balls and autographed memorabilia up for sale, dating to the inaugural season. Some items in the past have ranged from as low as $5 to more than $5,000.

This year's sale will feature autographed jerseys from the 2008 World Series and Turn Back the Clock memorabilia from past seasons. The proceeds benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation.

• • •

Talking baseball

Is Grandpa a baseball fan? You can stop by the MetroPCS Call-A-Friend station and have Rays players Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings or Sean Rodriguez call him for you.

For baseball geeks, Rays broadcasters and special guests such as Gammons, MLB Network personality Sam Ryan and more will be on the stage for panel discussions throughout the day.

• • •

Some must-do activities

• One of our favorite things to do is hit the batting cage, where you can bop one into the cheap seats. Even if it is a Wiffle ball, the feeling is so satisfying.

• Be sure to check out the tours of the players' locker room. That line moves pretty fast, and the view inside is pretty cool.

• Radio and TV stations set up broadcast tents near home plate, which is the best place to catch a player or coach on his way from an interview to an autograph signing. Catch Zobrist high-fiving folks running around the bases or give Longoria a tip of the hat.

If you go

Rays Fan Fest 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at Tropicana Field, 1 Stadium Drive, St. Petersburg. Free.

Spring training games get started around the Tampa Bay area the weekend of Feb. 22. The first Rays home spring training game is Feb. 23 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 1:05 p.m. at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.

The first home game of the regular season is April 2 vs. the Orioles at 3:10 p.m. See tampabay.rays.mlb.com for schedules and tickets .

Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest gets a head start on baseball season 02/13/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 8:35am]
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