ST. PETERSBURG — He acknowledges some of his sensibilities are steeped in yesteryear. Raymond Magro, 77-year-old retired firefighter from Westchester County on New York City’s northern fringe, has a soft spot for Tropicana Field.
So does his wife, Arlene. Rays season-ticket holders since 2003 (when Arlene’s all-time favorite player, Lou Piniella, became manager), they love the 72-degree year-round temperature of the 33-year-old venue, and its proximity to their home near Maximo Marina.
Heck, they were even fond of original Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli.
“To tell you the truth, I love this place,” said Raymond, raised in The Bronx. “Somebody said to me it’s old. Well, I’m old.”
Yet the parents of three grown kids have been around long enough to realize change is inevitable. Just so long as that change remains confined to a new stadium and not a new city.
“I’m happy they’re staying here,” Raymond said outside Tropicana Field, roughly 90 minutes prior to first pitch Tuesday between the Rays and Angels. “Been coming for 20-something years, I want to stay here.”
Such seemed the prevailing sentiment among Tuesday’s attendants, hours after club, city and county officials formally announced plans for a new $1.3 billion downtown ballpark near the Trop.
New digs? Wonderful. Same downtown? Even better.
“I think above all, the biggest thing is, we’re excited that the Rays are staying (in St. Petersburg),” said Palm Harbor resident Jennifer Hair, who purchased season tickets for the first time this year with her husband, Bill.
“We love coming to the Trop. Before this year, we probably came to maybe 10 games a year, and then we decided to make the plunge this year. Our boys (ages 23 and 19) are grown up, so now it’s just us.”
If ovations are any referendum, the proposed new park — and massive redevelopment of the 86-acre Historic Gas Plant District accompanying it — won the early returns. When acknowledged over the Trop public-address system prior to the bottom of the first inning, the news elicited a hearty roar from the audience of 15,176.
Though not quite as hearty as Yandy Diaz’s double (and his ensuing hustle to third on an outfield error) moments later.
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“I’m super happy (about the new stadium),” said Riverview’s Yanitza Santiago, who works for a Tampa bank. “Because we were worried about if they moved to another area like Orlando, so we are very excited.”
More than the new park’s pavilion-style roof, controlled temperatures or windows that can open to allow incoming breezes on bearable days, retiree Kris Kulaas seemed most pleased it will remain less than 2 miles from her home.
“I’m fine with the Trop, to be honest, but (club and local officials) are not,” said Kulaas, who attended Tuesday’s game with friend Ann Hiles of Tampa. “Several times a season, you’re sitting in there and it’s thunder and lightning outside. Or it’s 95 degrees, and you’re nice and cool because it’s air conditioned.”
In the palatial new park, that level of comfort isn’t going anywhere.
Far more comforting is the fact the team isn’t going anywhere either.
On Tuesday, fans and folk heroes alike were in unison on that point.
“I think it’s exciting for the people who are die-hard and also growing,” said Angels centerfielder Brett Phillips, a Seminole native and still one of the most popular players in Rays lore.
“You’ve got a lot of people having kids around here who are wanting to cheer on the Rays or play for the Rays. So it’s good that they’re staying.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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