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Taking care of team business

Just as the team and staff are growing on the field, the business side of the Devil Rays' operation is expanding as well.

The team hired three executives to handle sales of sponsorships and season tickets and plans to add a half-dozen more, including a director of merchandising. Also in the works is a direct mail season-ticket campaign to individuals and corporations throughout the area.

"What happened is that once we hit 1997 and spring training was here, all of a sudden you could reach out and touch it," said David Auker, general manager of sales and marketing. "In '96, it was millenniums away. In '97, it's just a season away. When we hit 365 days, that means something."

New to the staff are:

Larry McCabe, as director of corporate sales, focusing on regional/local sponsorships; Christine Porath, as sponsorships coordinator; and Bina Kumar, to handle corporate season-ticket accounts in Pinellas and Hillsborough.

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD: Managing general partner Vince Naimoli and players Hector Salinas and Dwight Smith will take part in Railfest '97 from 1-4 p.m. today on the north side of Tropicana Field. Railfest '97 is a monthlong series of events designed to educate residents on the possibilities of an area-wide rail transit system. A number of politicians will be present and pizza, soft drinks and music will be provided.

NEW GENERATION: Naimoli said Major League Baseball's marketing agreement with Pepsi should be good for the Rays, who already had signed their own deal. "I'm sure there will be something mutually beneficial on the local level," he said. Already, about 700 Pepsi trucks throughout western and Central Florida sport Rays signs.

OFFICIAL BUSINESS: Naimoli will attend a series of owner committee meetings next week in Palm Beach and may be appointed to one of the key groups. The realignment committee is expected to make a report to the Executive Council, but Naimoli does not expect any binding action. "It's just supposed to be kind of an interim report and they will continue to narrow down the alternatives," he said. The Rays will be in the AL West for at least the 1998 season.

WELCOME HOME: The Florida State League St. Petersburg Devil Rays will be officially welcomed to town by the City Council during a brief ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at City Hall.

HOLA: GM Chuck LaMar and Naimoli attended the opening of the Mexican League season Wednesday and said it went extremely well. The Rays have a working agreement with the Mexico City Tigers and have five players there. "It's exciting," LaMar said. "Opening day of any season is exciting, and when you have the rivalry between the Tigers and the Reds and you have a crowd of about 20,000, it's a great atmosphere. It was a good two days." Said Naimoli: "I was very impressed with the entire Tigers organization."

HOO-RAYS: Representatives of the Rays' Charleston, S.C., and Princeton, W.

Va., affiliates were in St. Petersburg last week. Noted consultant Andrea Kirby will conduct a media workshop for Rays players Friday. Season ticket-holders will get a copy of the team's first media guide in mid-April. Over the past 12 months, Rays officials have made more than 350 public appearances and donated to more than 150 area charities.