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Rays fans celebrate opening day together, but apart from their team at Ferg’s

Rays fans were not allowed inside Tropicana Field, so they gathered across the street at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill to celebrate baseball's return.
Rays fans Kim Snyder and Teresa Zeoli, center, start a wave with their "baseball tribe" while watching the game at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg on Friday. The group said they have cardboard cutouts of themselves in seats at the stadium since they couldn't physically be there amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rays fans Kim Snyder and Teresa Zeoli, center, start a wave with their "baseball tribe" while watching the game at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg on Friday. The group said they have cardboard cutouts of themselves in seats at the stadium since they couldn't physically be there amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 25, 2020|Updated Jul. 25, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Casual fans and diehards convened at Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill Friday night for Rays opening day after months without baseball.

Many were sports starved. Some said they had even resorted to watching NASCAR. Clearly, they were happy to have baseball back, even if they couldn’t join the team for a reunion inside Tropicana Field.

Rays fans Mark Berry and Diana DeVercelly kiss with their masks on.
Rays fans Mark Berry and Diana DeVercelly kiss with their masks on. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

But when 6:40 p.m. rolled around and the game was supposed to begin, instead of seeing Rays pitcher Charlie Morton take the mound, there was an error message. “DIRECTV Signal loss,” read dozens of TVs around the popular Rays fan destination.

It was peak 2020 — barred from the stadium over COVID-19 concerns, fans came together outside of it only for inclement weather and poor signal strength to nearly extend their baseball drought.

Rays fans Anthony DeMarco and Matt DeMarco  look for a seat to move to as the opening-day game plays in the background.
Rays fans Anthony DeMarco and Matt DeMarco look for a seat to move to as the opening-day game plays in the background. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The picture returned just in time for the first pitch of the Rays’ 2020 season. Bo Bichette fouled off a fastball from Morton. Strike one.

The scene at Ferg’s combined coronavirus precautions — masks and social distancing — with people’s urge to return to normalcy — watching a baseball game with friends over beers. Signs posted around the bar and grill read, “no mask, no entry” and “remember to social distance,” and masked servers flitted around to groups of less than 10 with beer buckets in tow.

Diana DeVercelly, center, and her "baseball tribe" react to a play.
Diana DeVercelly, center, and her "baseball tribe" react to a play. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“We want to be safe, but at the same time we still want to come support our team, even if it’s outside,” said Dylan Harrelson, a lifelong St. Pete resident.

Harrelson, 37, said he used to tailgate in a nearby parking lot before games, but since that wasn’t permitted, he came to Ferg’s with friends to watch the Rays.

Some in attendance were happy to be watching the team but thought they could safely populate the seats of Tropicana Field.

Rays fan Beth Venson wears a mask with baseballs on it while watching the season opener.
Rays fan Beth Venson wears a mask with baseballs on it while watching the season opener. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
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“I’ll figure it’s big enough to easily do 6 feet apart inside the stadium,” said David Meri, 49, a St. Petersburg resident.

Jeff Schuler also thought fans could realistically watch games from inside the stadium and said he’s hopeful the Rays will open up Tropicana Field if COVID-19 numbers begin to decline.

“I gotta say, they could have fans in there,” said Schuler, a 56-year-old from St. Petersburg. “You could social distance easily, especially in Tropicana.”

Rays fan Brian Branscum, center, sports team merchandise while watching Friday's opening game.
Rays fan Brian Branscum, center, sports team merchandise while watching Friday's opening game. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

There was at least one staple of Tropicana Field and ballparks everywhere that made it to Ferg’s for the opening day festivities: beer vendors.

Ray Miller has been a vendor at Tropicana Field since opening day in 2015. He said he was selling beer at spring training games in West Palm Beach when COVID-19 halted the season and with it, his paychecks. Miller said he was tagged in a Facebook post from Ferg’s owner Mark Ferguson about bringing in beer vendors to work at the bar and was happy to do so.

Rays beer vendor Ray Miller, right, helps Diana Miya, left, find his account on Venmo to pay for her beer.
Rays beer vendor Ray Miller, right, helps Diana Miya, left, find his account on Venmo to pay for her beer. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“It’s just a cool concept to have beer vendors from the Trop,” said Miller, 31, nodding to one of his former coworkers from Tropicana Field who was also working the rounds at Ferg’s with a full beer case in hand.

He said he recognized a few fans from games, and they recognized him as well. Miller was happy to be back making money, albeit to a smaller crowd of beer-thirsty fans.

It was harder than usual, he admitted, to do his beer-selling routine with a mask on.

Contact Kyle Wood at kwood@tampabay.com. Follow @Kkylewood.

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