As the Tampa Bay Rays prepared for the second American League Division Series game against the Boston Red Sox Friday, fans flooded Tropicana Field in an unusually packed night.
“It’s great to see the place crowded,” said 51-year-old Rays fan Tom Brock. The St. Petersburg resident donned a Rays baseball cap and a Randy Arozarena jersey to attend Friday’s game. He had watched in amazement from the stadium the night before as Arozarena scored the Rays’ final run.
“As soon as he left, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s gonna steal home,’” Brock said, as he enjoyed a Cuban sandwich before the game.
He’s not thrilled about the prospect of the team spending half their season in Canada, and he said he feels that hearing the talks of Montreal diminishes what he described as the “best Rays season ever.” But at least until 2027, when the Rays’ lease is up, he’ll be attending games in his hometown.
“I’ll be coming here until then,” he said. “I hope they stay here, but we’ll see what happens.”
After a season in which most fans were unable to see playoff games in person due to pandemic restrictions in 2020, many expressed gratitude to be back and have a chance to cheer on the team.
“It’s pretty awesome — it’s nice to be here surrounded by people and also other loving fans,” said 30-year-old Brandi Kemp of Riverview as she attended her second game of the season. “The atmosphere is so different. Everybody’s ready for the Rays to come back again.”
Kemp said she started to follow the team more closely after high school. She’s heard the talk about splitting the Rays’ season between Tampa Bay and Montreal, and discussion over where to build a new stadium for the Rays. But Kemp thinks that if the team does decide to move, it should build a new stadium at the old greyhound racetrack on Gandy Boulevard.
“I feel like it’s a mess, and I think we should keep it at one spot,” she said.
Stephanie Garcia, of Tampa, was attending her first game in four years of living in Tampa Bay on Friday night. The 30-year-old came with friends Cass Bivens, 30, and Amanda Henry, 27.
“It’s great, it’s actually a playoff game,” Garcia said.
After missing the 2020 season in person, it felt good to be back, said Henry.
“This place seems a lot more alive,” said Bivens. And the friends all agreed it was good to see the stadium packed full of fans — even if some were Red Sox fans, who tend to be drawn to St. Petersburg for Rays games.
Traveling from Orlando for the Rays game Friday night, Liz Long, 50, and Spencer Ashford, 51, were rooting for different teams. Long has lived in Orlando for 18 years, but she said she grew up in Massachusetts and she’s been a Red Sox fan since she was 4 years old. Long wore a Red Sox hat Friday night, while Ashford donned a Rays baseball cap. Still, despite their rivalry, the two said they were happy to be attending a game in person and eager to see their teams face off. They said they usually attend one or two games a season.
“It’s amazing to see all the fans back in the ballpark,” Long said.
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