HOOO-RAYS! // What's in a name? Fans see plenty

Published March 10, 1995|Updated July 6, 2006

On a day of silver linings, it was the one dark cloud.

The Name.

For 18 years, St. Petersburg pines for baseball, and when at last it comes, it carries this curse: You can have a team, but you must also take this . . . this . . . peculiar name.

On what should have been his day of glory, the day major-league owners voted 28-0 to award him a franchise, Vince Naimoli had to spend much of his news conference in Palm Beach trying to explain why, out of 7,000 suggestions, he and his backers picked "Tampa Bay Devil Rays."

The name comes from "one of the gentlest and most majestic creatures in the sea," said the bedeviled Naimoli. He said it "looks like a huge, floating blanket" and its only wish "is to float peacefully in its water, taking in mouthfuls of its favorite foods, which are called plankton."

Hmmmm . . . a gentle and peaceful baseball team. So much for sliding in spikes-high.

Naimoli announced he had set up a phone line for fans to vote on sticking with the Devil Rays or changing to the Manta Rays. Call 813-288-8035.

Meanwhile more than 1,000 people called a special TimesLine number to voice their view on the team's name. The word "stinks" came up a lot.

Onetime Class AAA pitcher Ward Wilson, who retired from the marketing industry and now lives in Oldsmar, contended that any kind of ray is wrong. St. Petersburg should take its cue from the San Jose Sharks, he said.

"You need to bring to a nickname something of significant strength and maybe a little bit of fear," he said.

Some people said they only hated the first two words of the name: Tampa Bay.

"Had they called them the St. Pete Devil Rays I wouldn't say a word," said Emma Cluster of Clearwater. "I would like to see St. Pete get some of the credit it deserves."

Others opposed the third word. To them, it carried satanic overtones.

"The pleasure of having a team was spoiled by the name they chose," said Florence Warrington of Seminole. "I don't like that part about the Devil. I'm a Christian and I don't think there's anything attractive to having a team named that way."

Although the sale of team shirts and hats didn't appear to be harmed Thursday by an apparent linkage to the Prince of Darkness, some people swore they would have nothing to do with a team blessed by Beelzebub.

"I wouldn't let my kids wear a shirt that has the word devil on it, ever," said Skip Weintraub, who owns two baseball card shops in Tampa. He won't sell the shirts, either. "I will not give the serpent any credit whatsoever. We're a Christian family, and I think it's a disgrace to the community."

Besides, baseball fans have been praying God would give Tampa Bay a team _ why should the Devil get all the publicity now?

Some people didn't like any part of the name, demanding it be changed to Sunsets, Thunderbirds, Tornadoes, Tarpons, Pelicans or Manatees.

But among the fans battling to buy merchandise with the team logo Thursday, many admitted that big plankton-eating blanket was starting to grow on them.

"I think more and more people are saying, "I can live with that,' " agreed Cecil Englebert, whose tireless promotion of baseball in Pinellas County brought the Toronto Blue Jays to Dunedin.

Besides, there are worse baseball names than Devil Rays. Some former minor-league names include the Sterling Rag Chewers, Cedartown Sea Cows, Memphis Fever Germs, the Shenandoah Hungarian Rioters and the Iola Gasbags.

Leaving Thursday's rally outside the ThunderDome, Ray Moglia said he had no problems with the team's name. "Hey," he said, "my first name is Ray. So I have to like it."

_ Times staff writers Tim Roche and Marty Rosen contributed to this story.