1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

Rays fans overcome roadblocks, pack the Trop for Game 3

Despite traffic and an early start, the crowd of 32,251 combine with the Rays’ big hits to produce an electric atmosphere.
Tampa Bay Rays fans cheer in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Oct. 8
Updated Oct. 8

ST. PETERSBURG — It took the first two innings of action and a bucket of Rays runs, but 32,251 baseball fans came through Monday to fill Tropicana Field for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Astros.

“The crowd was tremendous,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “Thank the bay area fans. It was awesome.”

The Rays were buried in a 2-0 hole in the series. The deficit, along with an inconveniently scheduled 1:05 p.m. first pitch, did little to set Rays fans up for success.

Despite the hurdles, the crowd persisted.

Dasean Thomas, a 25-year-old Rays fan from St. Petersburg, said city traffic made it difficult to get to the ballpark on time. It took him 30 minutes to drive the short 13 blocks to Tropicana Field. Thomas couldn’t get into the Trop until nearly 2 p.m. Closed parking lots presented another roadblock, delaying fans’ entry into the ballpark by as much as 45 minutes.

The Rays announced rosters and opening lineups to a warm, but not yet electric, crowd 20 minutes ahead of first pitch.

Fans waved yellow rally towels, which they were handed as they walked in the gates, and Charlie Morton gave them something to cheer for right away when he got Astros outfielder George Springer to ground out on the first pitch of the game.

Through the first inning, fans slowly filtered into the stadium. Still, the Trop needed a spark.

Kevin Kiermaier helped with a three-run home run in the second inning, but it was Ji-Man Choi who really ignited a playoff atmosphere.

With his solo shot in the third inning, Choi gave the Rays a 4-1 lead and sent a nearly-full Trop into a frenzy.

“Seeing everyone with the towels and every fan through every pitch, it was insane,” Kiermaier said. “That’s something that I’ve never experienced before.”

William Tilford, 27, made the two-hour drive from his home in St. Cloud to attend his sixth Rays game of the season. Seated in Section 324, Tilford was thankful to have the upper deck of the Trop re-opened.

“It’s really nice to actually see people here,” Tilford said.

Tilford normally sits in the rightfield corner of the lower bowl. On Monday, he opted for the $40 seats.

“Especially for the playoffs, I’m really happy with my seats,” he said.

Fans came from across Tampa Bay for playoff baseball, but very few faced a longer commute than the Byrds. The family of four made a 13-hour drive from Robbins, Tenn., to vacation at St. Pete Beach, and they were lucky to have their fall break overlap with ALDS action.

“Our plan was to do a tour (of Tropicana Field) because I wasn’t sure there would be a game,” said Joni Byrd, who took in the playoff atmosphere with husband Wade and sons Jackson and Jacob.

As the Rays poured it on, the crowd got louder. Chants of “Ji-Man Choi” broke out every time the first baseman stepped up to the plate. The roar of cowbells took over until Colin Poche recorded the last out in a 10-3 win.

Even outfielder Tommy Pham, who has spoken out about the Rays’ regular-season attendance woes in the past, couldn’t help but grin when asked what he thought about Monday’s turnout.

“(It’s) about time.”


  1. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talks with reporters in the dugout the day after clinching a playoff spot. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Ray Rocco Baldelli wins top honors after his first season with the Twins, Aaron Boone was second.
  2. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, addresses the media during a press conference at Tropicana Field Friday, Oct. 11, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Award came from a vote of team executives; Yankees Cashman was second.
  3. Flanked by his mother, Michelle Alonso, left, father Peter Alonso (blue shirt, standing), girlfriend Haley Walsh, right, and friends, New York Mets rookie first baseman Pete Alonso, 24, reacts as he finds out he has won the National League Rookie of the Year award on Monday at his home in Tampa.  Alonso, a Plant High graduate, made a grand entrance to the big leagues, hitting a major-league rookie and team-record 53 home runs for the Mets. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The easiest part of the day for the travel-weary first baseman may have been receiving the prestigious award.
  4. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash speaks at a news conference before an Oct. 1 American League wild-card game practice in Oakland, Calif. JEFF CHIU  |  AP
    Marc Topkin: The Twins Rocco Baldelli and Yankees Aaron Boone are the other two finalists for the hard-to-define award.
  5. Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe (8) is showered with sunflower seeds after hitting a solo homer in the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in Game 3 of the American League Division Series Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Former Plant High and Florida star Pete Alonso a favorite for NL Rookie of the Year, to be announced Monday
  6. Erik Neander, Tampa Bay Rays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager, says of the general manager meetings, which start this week, "We’d love to find a way to score a lot more runs without sacrificing run prevention.'' DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Rays Tales: Erik Neander says 2019 success provides “a stronger starting point” than they have had in a while. Plus, rumblings.
  7. Manager Kevin Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back seasons of 90 or more victories. He finished third in the American League Manager of the Year voting in 2018 and is one of three finalists again this year with the winner being announced on Tuesday. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    John Romano: His profile is as low as Tampa Bay’s payroll, but AL Manager of the Year candidate Kevin Cash consistently gets the most out of the Rays.
  8. ALLIE GOULDING   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro (33) talks to umpire Bruce Dreckman at the bottom of the fourth inning against Texas Rangers on Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. 
 ALLIE GOULDING  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The other finalists, per a report, are Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
  9. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) pumps his fist while walking onto the field just prior to taking on the Houston Astros for Game 3 of the American League Division Series in St. Petersburg. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Charlie Morton is in the top 3 for the Cy Young Award and Brandon Lowe for Rookie of the Year honors as well.
  10. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16) smiles in the dugout just prior to the Rays taking on the Houston Astros in Game 2 of the American League Division Series Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Houston. DIRK SHADD  |  Times
    Manager Kevin Cash seems to have the best chance to be among the top three for the four major awards.