DAYTONA BEACH — As Major League Baseball adapts to its pandemic-shortened 60-game season, a Daytona Beach business has become ground zero for Tampa Bay Rays fans.
Well, two-dimensional versions of them, at least.
With no crowds allowed in ball parks, the Rays and other teams have turned to selling oversized cutouts of fan photos to populate grandstands and offer an entertaining diversion amid the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic.
At Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, those graphically generated fans are the creations of DME Visual, a Daytona Beach wide-format printing company.
The company already has produced roughly 1,500 of the 18-x-30-inch photo cutouts that the Rays debuted at Tuesday night's home game against the Boston Red Sox in St. Petersburg.
And there are more on the way, said Kevin Majeski, the company's operations manager.
"There are more coming this week," Majeski said. "We can produce hundreds a day."
For DME Visual's nine-member staff, the process at the 8,000-square foot production center on Mason Avenue unfolds as efficiently as a well-executed double play. It starts with digital images received from the team that are reproduced in groups of six on 4-by-8-foot Coroplast sheets.
Within minutes, the images are sent to a cutting device and then to another work station where grommets are added to affix the cutouts with zip ties to grandstand seats throughout Tropicana Field.
The cutouts have become so popular among fans that the Rays extended the deadline for fans to purchase them an additional week, through midnight Sunday, Aug. 9, said Eric Weisberg, the team's vice president of Marketing & Creative Services.
"It has been a really positive, overwhelming response," said Weisberg, adding that orders have been received from fans that include Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and sports commentator Dick Vitale. Many fans submitted photos of their dogs, cats or other pets, he said.
Those interested in ordering a cutout can find details through midnight Sunday at raysbaseball.com/fancutouts, where a link is available to walk fans through uploading a photo.
Cutouts cost $40 each for season ticket holders and $60 each for all other fans. At season's end, fans will receive their cutouts as a souvenir, Weisberg said.
In the stadium, the team is placing the cutouts in various sections of the grandstand just above the outfield fences and near the dugouts and bullpen areas, he said.
"It's fun to play a 'Where's Waldo' to look for where some of these people are," Weisberg said. "As the ball goes out there to the outfield wall, you will definitely see a lot of the faces."
The Rays settled on DME over other printing companies in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area mainly because of its commitment to a speedy turnaround, Weisberg said.
"DME really stood out from that perspective," he said. "Their turnaround time is very, very good. They are wonderful to work with and the work has really been outstanding."
At DME, the Rays project was the brainchild of Tyler Reyno, a print production specialist and avid baseball fan who had noticed the cutouts on games he had been watching on TV.
"I thought, 'I really should give them a shout-out here and see if we could do it for them,'" he said. "And it worked out."
He has made production of the fan cutouts a priority, he said.
Reyno admits that he's "surprised" that the team went with a Daytona Beach company rather than a business closer to Tropicana Field, but credits the decision to DME's commitment to the project.
"It was a combination, obviously, of our bid, but also I think it was because they were my only client, so to speak," he said. "I was fully dedicated and focused on getting this done."
Majeski and Reyno both plan to order their own cutouts, but haven't had time in the midst of filling the team's orders as well as a big rush for graduation boxes by an assortment of NCAA Division 1 schools where traditional ceremonies were canceled because of the pandemic.
Majeski was considering a picture with his dog. A lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, Reyno briefly toyed with another idea.
"I'd like to put a Red Sox jersey on, but I don't think that would be acceptable," he said. "So I might do one with my mom."
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