Results tagged ‘ 2011 Rays Fan Fest ’

Rays Throw One Heck of a Fan Fest


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The moments surrounding the entire exhausting day are still spinning around aimlessly in my head. Pulsating through my eyes and ears still are the photographic moments, enthusiastic greetings of baseball friends, and again hearing a buzz engulfing Tropicana Field. The last time I sat in this stadium, another team was celebrating.
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2011 Rays Fan Fest 002.JPGToday it was to again witness a seasonal rebirth, a reincarnation of the recharging baseball spirit. It was time to get our collective baseball on! When the doors finally were thrown open as a symbol of a new Tampa Bay Rays season,
 I was overcome with a emotion of the expectations, the unforeseen, and the grandour of another season “officially” being kicked off along with 25,000 of my fellow Rays fans.


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As I first rushed in from Centerfield, a Pepsi monstrosity met my eyes. I was the first Pepsi person to build a display for the Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame 7 years earlier, on my own induction day. Before me stood a wall of power, agility and almost 20 hous of labor. But it was a labor of baseball love, and bigger than anything I could of ever imagined. Then out of the corner of my eye was the object of that day’s affection for me. 


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2011 Rays Fan Fest 005.JPGThere on pallets stacked almost 4 feet tall were 1 foot square parcels of the old Tropicana Field FieldTurf. The same turf that saw champagne dripped on it in 2008 and again in 2010. The same turf that was in place during the first Rays No-hitter in 2010 by Matt Garza, or the first Rays cycle by B J Upton in September 2009. So much history had been spilled both by sweat and celebration on that dark green carpet. Now it could be all ours with a $ 25 donation to the Rays Baseball Foundation. A small price for something that holds so many memories in its fabric.

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So much to do during Fan Fest, and so little time. I decided to take astroll back towards the Centerfield entrance and view again, the Rays Holy Grail, The 2008 American League Trophy.stood before me with a brilliant Rays inspired background. To this day, that trophy still has a special allure,and makes me want to embraced it  just like I did back before the 2009 season. But this time, it was out there front and center for all Rays fans to also celebrate and have their photos taken with this glorious piece of hardware. That is what Fan Fest is all about…possibilities.

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Suddenly my eyes began to refodus towards Home Plate, and lo and behold stood new Ray Johnny Damon dressed in a “22” jersey giving a high-5 to a young Rays fan who had just finished running the bases. It was great to see new Rays Johnny Damon take some time out of his busy day to come greet a few special Rays youngsters as they crossed the plate.  Damon had a prior committment that day and only had a few moments, but a few kids will get a moment that will be cherished when they get older. Thank you Johnny!



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2011 Rays Fan Fest 015.JPGI spent a few moments listening to Damon during his radio interview with local Brighthouse Sports anchor Rock Riley before taking a trip down “booth row”. This houses all the radio station, special promotional partners of the Rays, plus the Rays club tables. I stopped by the “Maddon’s Maniac table and met for a fewmoments with coordinator Matt Fitzgerald looking at the new 2011 gray “Maddons Maniac” design. Fitzgerald also pointed out the new dark blue T-shirts for the “Golden Rays” (over 55 Rays) which also had a beautiful new “GR” insignia on the design. Both designs were amazing, and sure to be popular Trop items this season.



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After a quick check-in at the Wall of Fame table to let them know “Mr. Lucky” from the class of 2004 was in attendance, I was off to the Yard Sales of all Yard Sales located in the Corona Beach area in Leftfield, and also out in Leftfield Street in the stickball court region.




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Used game jerseys from the past, including the 10th Anniversary jerseys were going for only $ 100. Along with signed balls, used bats and even a few other momentos most would have thought long gone. A 2010 Rays Media Guide, Yearbook went for the unheard of cost of only $ 2 (they cost $ 20 in the Team Store during the 2010 season). Buyers were everywhere getting some of the best Rays deals, and also helping the Rays Baseball Foundation. 


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2011 Rays Fan Fest 046.JPGI took another lap around the stadium watching as kid’s played numerous games from a speed trial while running from first to second base. A wiffle ball Home Run Derby area that looked like Ebbets Field, plus the always popular pitch speed booth where young hurlers could see if their velocity had improved over the Winter.

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 045.JPGTook in the numerous vendors selling Rays merchandise along the curve of the infield clay and also experienced  a small sampling of the “Little Cooperstown” baseball display that an avid Rays fan has assembled throughout his life. Took the yearly visit through the Rays Clubhouse where I got to see the now famous GTMI Board. GTMI stands for “Get The Man In”, which Maddon stressed profusely during the 2010 season. Those 4 letters might have been a small catalyst that eventually got them the Rays second American League East title in three seasons. 

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 058.JPGIt was only a little after 10 am and already the autograph line was getting full for the 12 pm signings for Evan Longoria (Table 1) and B J Upton (Table 6). I strolled around the ballpark a few more times even hitting “radio row” again, plus the Fox SunSports table where roving television reporter Todd Kalas was signing for fans.

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 052.JPGKalas was at Fan Fest for a long time today considering he had to do a telecast for the USF Bulls Basketball game that evening. That just shows the dedication goes beyond just the players for this event. Before he left that afternoon, Kalas had stripped off his Carolina blue Fox/FSN polo shirt and reappeared in a dress shirt and tie ready for his departure to USF. But the mood was upbeat and extremely enthusiastic all over the stadium about this 2011 Rays team.

It was now about 12 and Longoria and Upton had not arrived yet to the Trop. Seems there was an accident on I-75 coming Northbound. For those who do not know, the I-75 corridor from Palmetto to Naples is under going some construction and repair work to widen the highway. One section of  I-75 North was already 2-lanes before the accident. Afterwards it pushed everyone into a single lane for a short distance, which backed up traffic for miles.  

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2011 Rays Fan Fest 048.JPGI took another lap around “Radio Row” which was just in front of the Rays home dugoutnear the area between the two dugout. I made sure to stop by the Rays Radio Network table and congradulate Dave Willis on his recent 3-year deal to stay as a voice of the Rays. In front of the visitor’s dugout was the MLB Alumni signing tables. There event featured 40 former MLB players signing FREE autographs for the fans.


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I was looking forward to seeing ex Rays Dave Eiland (now a Rays Special Assistant), OF Jason Romano, and relievers Roberto Hernandez and Travis Phelps.  Hernandez was accompanied by his young son, who also is a local budding baseball player. But I was intriqued to see Phelps wholast pitched a few years ago for the Tigers in the Spring. People forget he is always going to hold a distinctive record in MLB history. Phelps was drafted by the Rays in the 89th Round of the 1996 MLB Draft. No one else…ever will make it to the MLB level from that spot.


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It was now around 12-ish, and Evan Longoria and B J Upton had not arrived yet for their 12 pm signings. Word spread quickly back behind the blue curtain that an accident had traffic backed up a bit on I-75 coming North from Port Charlotte,Florida. The Rays were enroute, but were delayed by traffic. The section of road from Palmetto to Port Charlotte is undergoing a huge upgrade in lanes and interior changes. I know from traveling the route just a few days earlier that not paying attention could cause a huge mess.


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Finally both Upton and Longoria arrived and began signingfor the fans. The 1pm and 2 pm Rays players also had a bit of a delay, but it was much less than the huge time lapse of Upton and Longoria. Rays RP Andy Sonnanstine also wore a T-shirt honoring the two slain SPPD officers during his Season Ticket holder photo op, and his panel discussion with fellow pitcher Jeff Niemann. J P Howell took a moment to chat with me before heading off to do his photo opportunity with Sonnanstine, then do his “Reading With the Rays”.

Even with a few bumps in the road. The new AstroTurf at Tropicana Field brought about some comments as to its “bumps”, but after 25,000 pairs of feet, plus the upcoming gymnastics event and St. Petersburg Boat Show, the turf should have settled a bit more in place. No matter what, Dan Moeller and his Rays groundscrew will have theTrop  surface in tip top shape before the Rays final Spring Training game on March 31,2011.


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The Rays Fan fest attracted 25,000 Tampa Bay fans. It also helped raise over $100,000 dollars for its affiliated charities through donations and the Yard Sale. It was the perfect ending to a great day of celebrating the upcoming season, plus remembering those less fortunate in our community. Once again the Rays showed they know how to throw a Fan Fest. Sure there were a few flies in the ointment, but that will only make the Rays staff work harder to bring another great event in 2012…I can’t wait!





Just a Tip of the Rays Fan Fest Iceberg




With the time ticking away faster towards the doors finally opening at the Rotunda entrance to Tropicana Field, maybe I can give you some information that could make your day more organized. In this post I will be including the (subject to change) Autograph locations, including Table numbers for all Tampa Bay Rays players and minor leaguers participating in the Fan Fest experience.

You might see pretty marquee names missing from the tentative list. Johnny Damon has a prior commitment on this day, but rumor has it that he might just be somewhere in-house at Tropicana Field, possibly greeting the early admitted fans. When the Rays list went to print there was no indication that Manny Ramirez would be participating, but if the last few days have been an indication…We might have a ManRam sighting within the Trop.

But before I get to the recent list and locations of both Rays players, plus the more than 30 Major League Baseball Alumni who will be singing for FREE during Fan fest. There are a couple of other activities I think you will want to Make time for, because they should be interesting and entertaining for all involved.

The first would be the “Reading with the Rays” program which will be held in RightField Street. The event will give you child a chance to sit and listen to an actual ballplayer The Rays have found this reading experience well received in the past as Rays players visited Tampa Bay area school during the regular season.

Starting the event off at 1:15 pm will be recently acquired OF Sam Fuld. At 2:15 pm, OF Brandon Guyer will begin reading and turn the book over to Rays reliever J P Howell at 3:15. Possible Rays Opening Day starter James Shields will begin the last segment of the day at 4:15 pm. This should be an excellent chance for your kid to meet and listen to an authentic MLB player share the gift of reading.

The Pepsi Stage area should be another high energy hub of fun and frolic as the Raymond Stage Show begins the day’s festivities at 11 am, then is followed by the Induction ceremonies for the class of 2011 Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame. Right after the conclusion of the Wall of Fame inductions, at 1:15, Rays top prospect Desmond Jennings and local resident Casey Kotchman will begin the first of four Panel discussions.

They will be followed at 2:15 by pitchers Jeff Niemann And Andy Sonnanstine taking the stage to talk about the upcoming 2011 edition of Rays baseball. At 3:15 the fellow pitching duo of David Price and Dirk Hayhurst will take to the mike and possibly be one of the more entertaining events of Fan Fest. You can almost anticipate the “Garfoose” questions even now. Batting clean-up this day for the panel discussions will be Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports fame at 4:15pm.

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Time Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4 Table 5 Table 6
12:00 – 1:00 Evan Longoria Sam Fuld Casey Kotchman   Reid Brignac JJ Furmaniak B.J. Upton
    Chris Carter Desmond Jennings     Russ Canzler  
1:00 – 2:00 Ben Zobrist Rob Delaney Leslie Anderson Tim Beckham Sean Rodriguez   Jeff Niemann
    Ray Olmedo Daniel Mayora Alex Cobb Brandon Guyer  
    Justin Ruggiano Chris Bootcheck Albert Suarez    
2:00 – 3:00 David Price Alexander Torres Chris Archer Joel Peralta Felipe Lopez Jake McGee
    Jose Lobaton Robinson Chirinos   Dirk Hayhurst  
3:00 – 4:00 James Shields John Jaso Bobby Ramos Dave Martinez   Matt Bush Kelly Shoppach
    Richard De Los Santos   Derek Shelton Jim Hickey Jonah Bayliss Juan Cruz
      George Hendrick   Ricky Orta  
4:00 – 5:00 Don Zimmer Nevin Ashley Cesar Ramos Tom Foley Cory Wade Jeremy Hellickson
    Craig Albernaz R.J. Swindle Stan Boroski Brian Baker  
    Cesar Cabral Stephen Vogt   Dane de la Rosa  

The always popular Metro PCS Call-A-Friend event will be back again in 2011 with Rays OF Matt Joyce and starting SS Reid (Briggy Baseball) Brignac taking the stage to call your friends, neighbors or possibly a jealous friend who had to work on Saturday. Replacing them at 2:15 will be Uber-utility man Ben Zobrist and 2B Sean Rodriguez. Remember , all proceeds from today’s event will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation, the ALS Foundation, the St. Petersburg fallen officers through the Jeffery Yaslowitz and Thomas Baitinger Memorial Fund and the Salvation Army. Be sure to go on over to the first annual Rays Yard Sale where collectibles and memorabilia from 1998 to today can be purchased with the proceeds going to the above charities.

Also you will have a chance to buy a MLB Authenticated Mumm’s champagne bottle from the 2008 playoff celebration, plus a 1 foot piece of the champagne soaked clubhouse carpet for just $ 25. You can also get a piece of the former playing surface of Tropicana field for another $ 25 donation. Both items are in limited supply and should go quickly.



Also on hand will be over 40 former Major League Baseball players including a signing time from 11am to noon that will feature former Rays players P Dave Eiland, closer Roberto Hernandez, RP Travis Phelps and recently retired OF Jason Romano. This free event will also have a collectible MLB Alumni poster that will feature the name and player photo of a majority of the players signing on that day. Below is a list providing all the players and their times that will participate in the FREE Fan Fest autograph signing.


Tomorrow during the Fan Fest event I will also be Tweeting live @Raysrenegade starting around 1 pm giving some interesting tidbits of information every 15 minutes on several members both new and returning that have been invited to the Rays Major League Spring camp. Going to be a great day, and those in attendance, come on by the RF seats and say hello. I would be glad to meet you…personally. Got to go now, so much to do, and so little time…..




Cardinals Autograph Fees versus the Rays $40  All-Inclusive



More and more I am being assured that we, as Tampa Bay Rays fans have been spoiled by this organization. Here we are just a few days before the 2011 Rays Fan Fest and decided to look at the recent St. Louis Cardinals Winter Wind-Up event. Suddenly I see just how different and special the “Rays Way” of producing their Fan Fest far exceeds the norm in the MLB.

It is really wild how every single team in Major League Baseball does their own separate and unique versions of fan and player interaction events. I have mentioned in the past how some do exclusive Winter or pre-Spring Caravans or team whistle stops (Reds, Braves and Pirates) with players appearing and signing at one of their team’s top local sponsors or special “friend” locations of the franchise

Then there are the events held by teams like the White Sox or Brewers over multiple days that have their fan experience in convention centers with isolated rooms where if you have a purchase a pre-paid ticket or lucky pass to get a players signature and purchase an additional ticket for a possible photo opportunity with one of your favorite players.

ff64.JPGJust reading about idea of pre-paid tickets purchased in advance, with certain designated autograph times in isolated rooms, segmented away from the public just makes the whole Rays Fan Fest format extremely fan-friendly. We have surely been spoiled in the past years with FREE admission and FREE autographs, plus other opportunities for players to interact with fans at numerous other events during the day. Maybe that all is about to morph into a new animal or idea in the future.

 The Cardinals are not the only MLB team to put on a multiple day Fan experience, but from that point things go a bit…well off the charts. Their 2011 fan event was held from January 15-17th at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. The pre-event details and autograph pricing list definitely had me twitching at the keyboard wanting to state my opinion.

The idea of paying $ 40 for the Rays autograph wristband is no biggie to me, but the pricing list for autographs at the Cardinals event left me a bit….hoping the Rays did not venture into these waters….yet.

I am definitely starting to feel that maybe we all have been extremely spoiled by the Rays generosity in the past by not pushing their autograph session to this kind of level, and keeping the players basically in front of the fans.

Thumbnail image for ff004.JPGYou get a special rush in you as you snake through the autograph line to finally get to walk towards the podium and get a signature and possibly chat for a moment with the player before embarking on maybe standing in another line for another signature before an hour time elapses and the next band of signers’ take their spots.

I still remember when the Rays Fan Fest was a 2-day event, and maybe the Rays have been giving all of us so much for literally nothing all these years that I forgot the true fan advantage that we, as Rays fans have over some other teams. We have some of the most accessible and personable players in the MLB, and that is a great gift. But maybe the era of something for nothing is about to close. It is part of the evolution, the process, the way thing eventually go or flow. Change happens.

Just like the Rays, the Cardinals asked their fans to purchase via a charitable donation, a limited amount of pre-priced autograph tickets prior to their event. The Cards gave you the option of buying your player’s autograph ticket online, or possibly with fingers, eyes and knees crossed, there would be a smattering of leftover tickets available the day of the event. As you can guess, that second option was as viable an option as the proverbial needle in the haystack.

From there the Cardinal autograph sessions further separated themselves from the Rays format of a one-time $ 40 donation for a Rays Fan Fest wristband (if you are over 14). At the Cardinals Winter Warm-Up event there was a rolling list of prices that ranged from 54 players from the Cardinals past and present signing for FREE including ex-Rays broadcaster Joe Magrane and local resident Danny Cox.

From there the Cardinals scale quickly went from $ 5 for an autograph from relievers Jason Motte, Trever Miller or Kyle McClellan all the way up to $ 100 for Matt Holiday, or $ 175 for Albert Pujols. A interesting side note, Pujols signature actually has stayed sort of “recession proof” at the same autograph pricing for the past three Winter Warm-Up events. Not sure of what price I would estimate or guess an Evan Longoria, Johnny Damon, David Price or Manny Ramirez would bring, but it would not be set in stone at $40 total price for all 4 signatures.

Cardinal Baseball Hall of Fame members Bob Gibson ($ 125), Bruce Sutter ($100) and Lou Brock ($100) also had autograph tickets available in the 3-digit range. You could also purchase tickets for autographs from former Cardinal greats Ray Lankford ($10), Vince Coleman ($10) Jack Clark ($5) if your autograph needs were dictated by a shoe string budget. By comparison, the Rays will have 30 MLB Alumni members including Mark Whiten, Von Hayes and former Rays closer and All-Star Roberto Hernandez signing for FREE during Fan Fest.


ff30.JPGBefore all of you Rays supporters get all upset and rant and rave about this pricing structure, remember it is all going to Cardinal Care, the St. Louis charity that mirrors perfectly with the Rays Baseball Foundation. Cardinal Care is the primary charitable arm of the Cardinals organization that provides financial help in the surrounding communities. This Winter Warm-Up event is one of their biggest donation events of the year.

But if the sticker shock of seeing $ 175 get to you, there are a few other possible options if you happened to sleep in and missed the Pujol’s online ticket auction. You could be one of the top bidders in an exclusive 10 bid online auction that will position you as one of the first 10 spots in line for Pujol’s autograph, plus you will received 2 Winter Warm-Up passes, and the added bonus of two future tickets to the all-inclusive Champions Club for a game during the Cardinals 2011 season.

If that is still way out of your economical range, you could purchase a $ 1 scratch-off ticket that will get you an instant opportunity for a Pujols autograph. Oh, and Pujol’s will only be signing baseball and bats. No jerseys, photos or posters at this event. $ 40 is starting to look real cheap right now to those people over 14.

For some reason I am starting to get the sneaking feeling that the Rays exclusive $ 40 offer, or that the present format of tables set on a podium in plain sight of the public right on the NEW AstroTurf of Tropicana Field might go the way of the dinosaur at some future point. The Rays Fan Fest has always been a free day of family and baseball related fun and frolic from the player’s autographs, to kid’s hitting wiffle balls, to the Metro PCS Call-A-Friend promo, to the roundtable discussions with some of those in the MLB trenches.

Sure the Cardinals have a larger two hour total window for player signings, but if you miss your “window of opportunity”, you are left totally holding the ball (literally). You also might not get that air of personal interaction with the player that has been one of the things I have come to love about Fan Fest.

Thumbnail image for ff34.JPGPlus there is a extremely affordable advantage that Rays Fan fest as always, has FREE admission. If you wanted to attend the 3-day Cardinals event, you had to purchase a $40 Entry Pass and have it displayed you at all times. At Fan Fest, you just park your car, walk into the Rotunda towards the field and enjoy the festivities.

More and more that $ 40 for fans over 14 for a Rays autograph wristband feels like a sure fire MLB bargain. But if you are a kid under 14, the autograph event is still totally free, which feels amazing especially after you get that much wanted David Price and Evan Longoria autograph…without a single ticket.