The Tampa Bay Rays

Introduction

The Tampa Bay Rays are a baseball team based in Tampa Bay Florida, who compete in the American League East. The name was changed in 2007 from the Devil Rays which was a reference to the famous manta rays which can be found in the area. A picture of one of these marine killers still remains on the club logo.

The word ‘Ray’ in the Tampa Bay Rays is also meant to be a reference to Florida being the ‘Sunshine State’. They have continually been overshadowed by the Florida Marlins, who represent the same region.

Unlike the Marlins, who have won two World Series titles, the Rays have finished bottom of each of the leagues in which they have played. 2004 is the only season that they did not finish bottom, but they are yet to make it into the playoffs.

Origins of the Club

Chuck La Mar was the first senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager of the Devil Rays franchise which was established in 1995, and began playing minor league matches the following season.

Ironically, the first player drafted into the team was Tony Saunders, who came from local rivals, the Florida Marlins. Bobby Abreu left the club in 1997, before becoming a hugely successful player with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Opening Seasons

The first matches for the Rays were fairly disappointing and they lost their opening match to the Detroit Tigers on the 31st March 1998. After a few matches, however, things looked more promising.

Some excellent performances from Wade Boggs with the bat helped the Rays to have 11 wins under their belt, compared to only 8 losses. Boggs’ performance was commemorated with his number being retired when he gave up the sport at the turn of the millennium.

The club attempted to turn things round by making some fairly ill-judged signings. These typically involved picking up players who were evidently past their prime. Batters, Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughan, are prime examples and neither of these players made a name for themselves with the club.

In an even more desperate attempt to shake off their losing streak, manager Larry Rothschild chose another tactic: he altered the colour of the team uniform. This proved to be last straw for the franchise holders and he was sacked.

Hal McRae took his place and shook the team up somewhat by employing a number of far younger players. This was a stark contrast to Rothschild’s attempt to prolong the careers of established players. Sadly, this did not do anything for the team’s luck either and the Rays had another dreadful season in 2001. Failure to turn the team around cost McRae his job.

The position as manager for the Rays seemed doomed. Former Yankees boss, Lou Piniella, however, saw it as a challenge. He was a man who had brought several failing teams to the top. It was not an easy task, and nobody had expected a miracle.

Piniella managed to improve on the previous season with the club finishing last, but with seven more wins under their belt than the year before. The 2003 season, predictably, saw the Rays finish bottom once more. Rocco Baldelli still managed to make a name for himself at the club as one of the best rookies in the major league.

2004 – The Turnaround Season?

Hopes had fallen to an all-time low for the Rays after six consecutive seasons finishing at the bottom of their league. Hope came in the form of three young players, signed only a few years earlier.

Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were fast becoming big name hitters in the baseball league. Another young star came in the form of Scott Kazmir, who was traded from the New York Mets. He became the team’s most successful pitcher to date and was a contributing factor in the team, finishing 4th for the only time in their history.

The following season, the Rays lost Baldelli to injury. Crawford managed to lead the two new additions to the batting squad to scoring decent averages. The team’s average was third highest in the American League at one point. This, however, was not enough to save the team from their abysmal pitching results.

The second half of the season was slightly brighter and the team finished 67-95. This was not enough to retain Piniella’s confidence in the team and in the club’s owners, and he did not honour the final year of his contract with the Rays.

2005 – Another Shake Up

Stuart Sternberg came storming into the ownership group for the Rays in 2004. Controversially, he fired long term manager, Chuck La Mar, and much of La Mar’s cohort. Andrew Friedman was chosen to stand in as Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations.

Matt Silverman was appointed club president, the other of La Mar’s roles. On the pitch, much of the emphasis remained on young players and infielder, Jorge Cantu, was a most notable addition to the established team.

The changes also extended to the ground management. Major improvements in the ground were put in place. These included a new Hitters Hall of Fame and a Museum.

Ticket prices were lowered, parking restrictions loosened and visitors were allowed to bring their own refreshments into the ground. These efforts to lure people back to the Rays were relatively successful. Attendance was at a record high since the club began in 1998.

The Future of the Tampa Bay Rays

It is hoped that the new name, the Tampa Bay Rays, will breathe new life into the club. A new set of uniforms were presented in November 2007, which are navy and Columbia blue with gold trimming.

The emblem now has a sunbeam emanating from it, intended to brand the club as a beacon for the area. The rebranding of the club alone is, however, very unlikely to improve their playing record. The line-up is currently set to be very similar to the previous year. There are talks in place for free agent signings and short term deals to inject some new energy into the team.

Some of the players who are being considered are considerably older than the current squad and it is a serious worry that a ten year cycle could be taking place. The attempts at using experienced names, rather than talented players, could cost the team highly.

Tropicana Field

The Tampa Bay Rays play at the Tropicana Field, on the site where the Florida Suncoast Dome was built at a cost of $138million in 1990. In 1993 the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL team expanded, resulting in the ground’s name being changed to The Thunder Dome.

In 1996 it was renamed the Tropicana Field, after an agreement between the Rays’ franchise and the Tropicana Dole Beverages company.

Following the renaming of the ground, an $85 million dollar renovation took place to expand the ground and to include an enormous shopping and entertainment complex. The capacity is around 30,000, and the ground has seen record attendances for a number of different sports.

A further $10 million dollars were spent on the ground in 2006 which only covered improvements to the toilets, paint and lighting. This massive figure reflects the sheer size of the complex.

Tickets

The most expensive seats are in the Home Plate Club, which is situated directly behind the batter on the pitch. Prime games cost $270 per person, and regular games $210. The next best set of seats is the Whitney Bank Club which cost $150 and $110 per person for prime and regular games respectively.

Fieldside Box seats cost $115 for prime games, and $85 for regular games. Seats in the Lower Box, Press Level Box, Baseline Box or Lodge Box cost between $22 and $70 depending on position and game type.

Tickets for seats in the outfield cost $21 for prime games, and $16 for regular games. Seats in the Upper Deck cost $14 for prime, and $9 for regular games. All prices are for advanced tickets. On the day of the game the price increases by $2 per ticket. A prime game is any game against the Cubs, Yankees or Red Sox.

Getting to the Tropicana Field

The gates to the park open up to two hours before the game begins. Patrons are advised to get there early to make the most of the free parking. Vehicles with fewer than four passengers will be charged $10 to encourage lift sharing. Owners of full season tickets are able to reserve VIP parking spaces; these are located near the ground and cost $567.

The Tropicana Field is located east of the interstate 275. The region is St Petersburg and can easily be accessed from the I-375 and I-275. If coming from Tampa in the north, take the I-275 south to exit 23B at the 5th Avenue North. Take 20th Street south to 1st Avenue South. If coming from the south take the I-275 north to exit 21 at 31st Street. Follow 31st Street to 5th Avenue South.

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