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The loyal Rays season ticket holders who have been here from the start

Meet the faithful fans who have rooted for the Rays through all the lows (that first decade of losing, stadium roulette) and highs (playoff runs, major milestones).
 
Fans cheer as the Rays line up for introductions prior to taking on the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
Fans cheer as the Rays line up for introductions prior to taking on the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL Division Series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 30, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — They were here before there ever was a team. Long before that first game at Tropicana Field in 1998, before the Rays became the scrappy team that has won two American League pennants, there were baseball fans in Tampa Bay just waiting for a team to root for.

“I had hoped that we would eventually get a team and we’re huge baseball fans. So the idea of Major League Baseball here was wonderful,” said Michael Percifield, who handed over money for season tickets years before the Rays were a reality. “After a while, they asked us do we want our money back or do we want to just leave it on deposit? So we said leave it on deposit.

“That happened twice before we finally were awarded a franchise. So then we had our seats and we’ve been in them since Day 1.”

Devotees like Percifield believed that if MLB brought baseball to Tampa Bay, more fans would come. It hasn’t exactly been easy though.

Nancy and Michael Percifield had the team's organizing group offer their ticket deposit back twice before they got to see a game at Tropicana Field. They have been there since Game 1.
Nancy and Michael Percifield had the team's organizing group offer their ticket deposit back twice before they got to see a game at Tropicana Field. They have been there since Game 1. [ KRISTIE ACKERT | Times ]

Around the league, the Rays are mocked for the Trop attendance. Only the Marlins and A’s had fewer fans in 2022. Tampa Bay finished 28th in average attendance at 13,927.

And as the hardcore Rays faithful know, a lot of those numbers can include the influx of Yankees and Red Sox fans when those teams are in town.

A fact that can rankle some.

“The Yankees and the Red Sox fans, since they won about 20 years ago, they started to show up en masse, too, because they moved here,” said another original fan, Mitch Kanaan. “Some of the people that live here kind of resent that, because you live here now and you have to root for the locals.

“I was a Pirate fan for all my life, but even when the Pirates come here, I don’t make a lot of noise in the game, because I just think it’s hypocritical.”

Elliot and Marilyn Satinoff are excited about what this season will bring.
Elliot and Marilyn Satinoff are excited about what this season will bring. [ KRISTIE ACKERT | Times ]

Those who have been here for the entirety embraced the moments like Wade Boggs getting his 3,000th hit, the 2008 American League Championship Series clincher and Game 162 in 2011.

“Our favorite memory, of course, is when they won the 2008 ALCS and participated in a World Series; that’s a no-brainer,” said Elliot Satinoff, speaking for his wife Marilyn and family. “We had a wonderful time.

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“Hopefully they will repeat the American League championship. We think they have a good team. The pitching is excellent. The defense is excellent, maybe a little weak in the offense, but pitching, in our opinion, is a very important part of the game.”

There have also been some low points for this loyal core of fans, especially off the field when the future of the team has been bandied about between politicians and MLB over the last few years.

Teresa Hehemann has been at every game at Tropicana Field that fans have been allowed in. She has employers who let her work around the Rays' schedule. [KRISTIE ACKERT | Times]
Teresa Hehemann has been at every game at Tropicana Field that fans have been allowed in. She has employers who let her work around the Rays' schedule. [KRISTIE ACKERT | Times] [ KRISTIE ACKERT | Times ]

“It was hurtful to hear about the split season (plan), maybe half a season here and half in Montreal,” Teresa Hehemann said. “And actually, I was happy to hear when MLB finally came out and said that it’s not happening. So I am glad they will work on something either here or over in Tampa. I hope it stays here in the St. Pete area.”

Hehemann is a self-described super fan. She has followed the team on the road, become friendly with players like Kevin Kiermaier (now with the Blue Jays) — who sent flowers to her mother’s funeral — and has never missed a game at Tropicana Field.

“I’ve had two employers who have made it possible for me to be able to attend the games by me working certain days and having others off,” Hehemann said. “... And I love it.”

Through years of waiting, all the ups and downs, it’s been interesting, as the Rays’ most famous fan put it in a way that only he can.

“I’ll tell you what, watching these guys for the last 25 seasons, it’s been awesome, baby! With a capital A,” said renowned NCAA basketball announcer Dick Vitale in a video commemorating the 25th anniversary.

“I’m on the edge of my seat, over-the-roof excited and enthused with energy. I’m ready for another season. ... RAYS UP, baby!”

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