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Unyielding police rule is a baseball bonanza

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who gave away about 23,000 tickets to police officers for today's home game, thought it unfortunate that their hometown police were being left out.

St. Petersburg was the only police department in the Tampa Bay area to turn down the free tickets, refusing to bend its rule: Officers can only accept gifts or discounts that are offered to all city employees.

So on Friday, the Devil Rays offered baseball to all St. Petersburg city workers.

"Rules are rules. We understand that. It just didn't seem right that our own police, the police right here, weren't able to go," said team spokesman Rick Vaughn. "This way, the police officers have a chance to go now."

Today is the team's first-ever Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. In memory of slain Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero, the team gave law enforcement officers in six Tampa Bay-area counties complimentary tickets to this afternoon's game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field.

Friday afternoon, the team delivered 1,700 tickets to St. Petersburg City Hall. They were made available to all city employees on a first-come basis.

The city sent an e-mail to all its workers about 2:30 p.m., telling them they could pick up four tickets apiece at the city's marketing office.

"Within 15 minutes of the e-mail, we had a line outside the office," said city marketing director Anita Treiser. "We've had about 100 people come through here in two hours."

Everyone from police officers to clerks to print-shop workers were lining up. City employees with identification can pick up baseball tickets from noon to 2 p.m. today at the Mirror Lake Library.

The city has more than 3,000 employees, more than 500 of them police officers. It was too early to tell Friday whether the city would run out of tickets.

"We're moving through them. It's hard to judge," Treiser said. "Lots of people are calling, saying, "Put four away for me.' "

The Devil Rays decided to host the promotion after Marrero's death on July 6. She was shot by a bank robber.

The Tampa Police Department accepted 4,000 tickets for its officers. Police departments in Largo, Clearwater and St. Pete Beach as well as the sheriff's offices in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties also accepted tickets.

Gulfport police, citing ethical issues, took tickets but gave them to their Police Explorers, teenagers interested in law enforcement.

Only the St. Petersburg Police Department turned down the tickets.

Chuck Harmon, assistant chief of patrol, made the decision as acting chief while Chief Goliath Davis III was on vacation. Harmon said he appreciated the Devil Rays' gesture but couldn't bend the rules.

Friday, Harmon said, "We really want to thank the Devil Rays for stepping up to the plate and offering the discount to everybody."

For every regular and season ticket sold to today's 4:15 p.m. game, $2 will be donated to the Gold Shield Foundation, a charity that provides financial and educational support to families of fallen officers.