They went out with a song, some speeches, a rain delay and a boo.
An emphatic loud boo rose from the sellout crowd when St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce chairman Dave Feaster mentioned this was the St. Louis Cardinals' last-ever home spring training game in St. Petersburg.
The Cardinals are relocating their spring training base to Jupiter next spring (or West Palm Beach if their new facility isn't ready), making room for the Devil Rays, who will be the first modern-era team to train in the same city in which it plays regular-season games.
Rather than a symbolic passing of the torch, they marked the occasion Tuesday night with a unique pitch. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt tossed out the first ball and Tampa Bay managing general partner Vince Naimoli stepped behind the plate and caught it (even though Rays minor-league catcher Matt Quatraro was on hand in uniform).
"The only thing we can say is, "Thank you,'
" Cardinals president Mark Lamping said. "We've had such wonderful support for 57 years.
"The community here has changed, and changed for the better. It used to be they gave their support for the old National League franchise from St. Louis. Now they have the opportunity to cheer on their own team. Hopefully the Cardinals played a small part in St. Petersburg becoming a major-league city.
"I feel sorry for the memories of the Cardinals. But today is really a day to celebrate the arrival of the Devil Rays."
Still, there was plenty of Cardinals history on display, including four of their Hall of Famers: Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst and Stan Musial, who provided the musical entertainment to the crowd of 6,616 with two renditions of Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the harmonica.
"It was a great place to train all those years," Musial said. "In a way it's sad. But today there's so many changes, it's part of the game, I guess."
Chamber officials unveiled one of the 85 brass home plates that will be installed from Al Lang Stadium to Tropicana Field to commemorate the city's spring training history. St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, whose own political future was being decided about the time he stepped on the field, proclaimed March St. Louis Cardinals month.
"We're sad to see them go, but the expectations for this city are so high with the Devil Rays coming that it's really a sad and happy day," Fischer said.
Though the Cardinals said goodbye Tuesday night, throwing caps into the stands during a pregame ceremony, they are not leaving just yet. They play in Dunedin today and in Tampa Friday afternoon.