By Christina Cadicamo
The Tampa Bay Rays Fan Fest on February 21st was filled with excitement, as the start of baseball season is quickly approaching with Opening Day on April 6th. It was an enduring, lonesome four months without baseball but that time is coming to an end.
Approximately 16,000 Rays fans stormed into Tropicana Field on a beautiful Saturday afternoon for Rays Fan Fest. Rays Fan Fest is a free annual event that draws in thousands of Rays fans every year in the month of February before baseball season begins. Rays fans eagerly walked into the stadium and were greeted by the Rays coaching staff, including 1st base coach Rocco Baldelli, 3rd base coach Charlie Montoyo, bullpen coach Stan Boroski, and major league coach Jamie Nelson. Rays fans got the opportunity to meet their favorite players, coaches, and mascots throughout the event.
Fans took part in various activities such as getting autographs and pictures with their favorite Rays players and coaches, making a surprise phone call to a friend or family member at the Phone-A-Friend station with selected Rays players of his or her choosing, Reading With The Rays for children, Clubhouse Tours, and a Kids Interactive Zone for children to play sports games with their role models. In addition, children were able to run around the bases and give certain players a high-five at home plate.
Phone-A-Friend was the most popular activity on the field that involved highlight reel defensive outfielder and fan favorite Kevin Kiermaier, ace pitcher Alex Cobb, pitcher Matt Moore, or relief pitcher Jake McGee. The lines were completely filled as fans looked on at the players speaking to people on their cell phones, excited for it to be their turn to have a surprise phone call made for a loved one or for themselves. Kevin Kiermaier had the longest line for this activity. He enjoyed his time with each person he spoke to and joked with fans, displaying his outgoing, energetic personality. Kiermaier left several thoughtful messages to fans and seemed ecstatic for this season to begin.
Another popular activity at this event was the Gold and Elite Member Photo Line. Rays Season Ticket Holder members had the opportunity to meet new and returning Rays players by taking pictures with them. One of the players chosen for the photo station was outfielder, Steven Souza Jr, a new top prospect and a hopeful breakthrough star, who recently won a GIBBY award for Play of the Year for an outstanding catch he made for the Washington Nationals, saving pitcher Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter. Fans told Souza that they were very excited to have him on the team and how they cannot wait to see him play. He told fans that he was looking forward to this upcoming season with the Rays and that he was happy to be here in Tampa Bay. Everyone was laughing with one another and having a great, memorable time with all of the players that attended.
Throughout this event fans also got the chance to listen to new Rays Manager, Kevin Cash, speak for the first time in person to Radio Broadcasters Dave Wills, Andy Freed, and Neil Solandz at the Pepsi Main Stage to hear what he had to say about being a manager for the first time and his thoughts on his team for this season. After speaking with Rays Radio Announcer, Dave Wills, he said, “It’s like orientation for the new season. Always great to be back at the Trop and it wets your appetite for the baseball season. It gives me the chance to talk face to face with the fans and get their thoughts on the upcoming season.”
There were clubhouse tours where fans got to walk through and take pictures of the Rays clubhouse to see where their favorite players get ready for the games. At the Social Media Zone presented by the Tampa Bay Times, fans got to share their favorite moments on the Rays social media sites and take photos with the 2008 American League Championship Trophy and with the Captain and face of the Rays, third baseman, Evan Longoria’s Gold Glove Trophy. Fans could visit the Ted Williams Hitter Hall of Fame and meet the entertaining Rays Television Broadcast Crew for autographs and pictures. There was also a Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association station set up for fans to meet Major League Baseball Alumni players, including former Rays relief pitchers Dan Wheeler, Andy Sonnanstine, Trever Miller, infielder Aaron Ledesma, outfielder Rich Thompson, and pitchers Travis Phelps, Bryan Rekar, and Doug Waechter.
Rays fans of all ages had a fun-filled day with all of the exciting activities they got to experience with the players, coaches, staff, broadcast crew, and others in the Rays organization. It was a day full of pleasure for everyone who came out to support this years’ highly anticipated team to watch for in the American League East division. Now everyone looks ahead to this upcoming season with a whole new look about it and all of the many thrilling moments, awesome plays, and great memories that await for Rays Nation.