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Up-close and personal will cost you big bucks

Published Aug. 25, 2005

Forget hiking ticket prices or adding luxury suites. Skip past all the game-used merchandise suddenly on the market. Teams are finding new ways to raise money by selling something else _ access.

On devilrays.com, bidding is up to $800 to meet Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer, along with two platinum club tickets and some extras for the May 27 game against Seattle.

At Saturday's seniors banquet, USF was to auction chances to travel with the football team and stand on the sideline, as well as to sit on the bench with the men's and women's basketball teams during Big East tournament play.

In Arizona, the Diamondbacks are selling just about everything they can: the chance to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, deliver the lineup card to home plate, be part of the grounds crew and take batting practice.

Eventually, all the Tampa Bay pro teams will jump on this trend. Just think of the possibilities of bidding on some of these opportunities:

1. Breakfast with Jon Gruden.

Get up with the Bucs coach at 3:17 a.m., watch him put his game-face on, spend a minute thinking about the future and a couple of hours discussing how to recreate the past. Remember to stay out of the way should someone overscramble his eggs.

2. A night out with Lightning stars Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards.

They're young, single, good-looking, rich, worldly and (still) have plenty of free time. Plus, they can change on the fly.

3. A guided tour of England with Malcolm Glazer.

See beautiful Manchester, see the famous Old Trafford stadium known as the Theatre of Dreams, see the traditional Manchester United uniforms, see where fans protested Glazer's purchase of the team, see where they plotted their boycott of Man U merchandise, see where they burned him in effigy. For an extra charge, get a souvenir package of British papers, including such (actual) headlines as "RED AND BURIED," "MALCOLM BLAZER, DREAD DEVILS, ONE YANK AND HE'S OFF."

4. Run the Devil Rays for a day.

See if you too can manage to alienate fans and area businesses, lose nearly two out of every three games, talk about building with young players but never get anywhere, hire a top manager and watch him suffer with an outmanned squad, raise ticket prices, spend as little as possible on players and have rigid rules that make it hard to enjoy being at the stadium.

5. Accounting lessons from Storm coach Tim Marcum.

See how he magically figures out ways around the Arena Football League salary cap, get his insight on those confusing insurance claims and listen to his interesting ideas on showcase jewelry.

SEEN AND (OVER)HEARD

Lightning frontliner Chris Dingman joined Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil and other celebs in the Skylar Neil Memorial Golf Tournament last week in Malibu, Calif. Storm players Clif Dell, Pat O'Hara and Nyle Wiren have roles as extras in the soon-to-be released Adam Sandler remake of the Longest Yard. Gruden was a consultant, designing plays for the prison team. Magic Johnson's visit to Tampa's Villa Madonna school on Wednesday may have worn him out _ he canceled a scheduled Thursday appearance in Rochester, N.Y. WTSP-Ch. 10 news anchor Mario Diaz was to handle the Spanish language HBO pay-per-view telecast of Saturday's Winky Wright fight from Las Vegas. Boxer Roy Jones and running back Emmitt Smith were guests at Derrick Brooks' recent golf tourney to raise money for the Brooks' Bunch trip to Africa. The Lightning baby boom continues, with Cory and Reagan Sarich recently welcoming Jada Lee.

NEWS BRIEFS

Buccaneers Mike Alstott, Michael Pittman, Chris Simms and Dave Moore, plus ex-Buc Mark Royals, are scheduled to participate in a fundraiser for the Admiral Farragut Academy from 3-4 p.m. today at the Wal-Mart at 3993 Tyrone Blvd. in St. Petersburg. It's $40 for all five autographs. Rays slugger Aubrey Huff will sign copies of the compilation CD Oh Say Can You Sing from 11-noon May 28 at the WestShore Plaza team store in Tampa. A portion of the proceeds from CD sales will benefit Huff's charity, the Sanctuary, an organization that helps single mothers. Having honored the top 50 moms in Tampa Bay at a luncheon, Bucs linebackers Ryan Nece and Shelton Quarles are seeking to do the same for dads in advance of Father's Day. Nominations are being accepted through May 30 at buccaneers.com. Bucs receiver Michael Clayton hosts the Raymond James/PARC golf tournament Saturday at the Bayou Club in Largo.

JUST WONDERING

+ With the Glazers buying the Manchester United soccer team to go along with the Bucs, will Vince Naimoli seek to buy a soccer team that has about as much chance as the Devil Rays to win a championship _ like the Rowdies?

+ Without getting into specifics, wouldn't you think that the Whizzinator fake penis apparatus isn't the only misdirection play in the drug-test beating game?

+ Can someone explain how the NFL doesn't have any problem allowing players who have been arrested on charges involving murder, drugs and guns on the field, but refuses to allow new 49ers coach Mike Nolan to wear a suit on the sideline because it violates their exclusive clothing deal with Reebok?

+ With all the other classy development in downtown St. Petersburg, how good would a state-of-the-art, retractable-roof baseball stadium look at the Progress Energy Park site overlooking Tampa Bay?

DID YOU KNOW?

61,155: attendance at four Yankees-Rays games.

58,500: attendance at one UF spring football game.

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