ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You may have heard by now that professional sports in Tampa Bay have faired pretty well in the past year with the Buccaneers, Lightning and Rays all reaching their respective league championships.
But the only championship victory that eluded Tampa Bay was a World Series winner.
So, as spring training gets underway and the Rays begin their quest toward baseball’s ultimate prize, we’re helping you jump on the bandwagon this season. Below are seven ways to transform even the most fair-weather of Rays fans into diehards.
Get your peanuts and Cracker Jacks ready. Class is in session.
Know your talking points
With 162 games on the schedule, baseball lends itself to plenty of topics of conversation throughout the season. But, if you’re not tuning in to each and every game, “Did you catch the game last night?” is a question that can only get you so far.
Fear not, as any of the talking points below will leave you looking like a lifelong Rays season ticket holder, even if you’ve yet to watch an inning.
Rays World Series history
The Rays have reached the playoffs six times in the team’s history, making it to the World Series twice (2008 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, 2020 vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers). However, in each of their World Series appearances, the Rays were unable to capture glory. In fact, the Rays are one of six MLB teams to never win a World Series. Sound smart by knowing the other five: Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres.
Bonus Points: The Phillies beat the Rays in the 2008 World Series in five games. The Dodgers beat the Rays in the 2020 World Series in six games.
Dropping the Devil
On March 9, 1995, two new expansion teams joined Major League Baseball: the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Three years later, on March 31, 1998, the Devil Rays took the field for the first time as a Major League franchise. Sound smart by knowing that they lost to the Detroit Tigers 11-6 in that first game. The loss foreshadowed a harrowing first decade for the team in which it never saw a winning season. The Devil Rays’ average record in those first ten seasons was a dreadful 65-97.
Then, after the 2007 season, everything changed. According to ESPN, the team wanted to reinvent itself and did so by dropping the “Devil” from its name to simply become known as “the Rays.” The team also unveiled new colors and uniforms. It was a top-to-bottom makeover for a franchise desperate for a spark.
Whether it was by sheer coincidence or some divine miracle, dropping the “devil” coincided with the team’s first winning season ever in 2008 and, even more shocking to the baseball world, a trip to the World Series.
Bonus Points: The team’s mascot, Raymond, made his debut on June 21, 1998, and remained the mascot despite Tampa Bay’s name change.
The Stadium Saga
If you’ve spent any time in St. Petersburg, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed Tropicana Field. Whether you think it's an eyesore or the perfect place to take in a game, it’s the center of an ongoing saga between city leaders and the Rays.
The Rays are locked into a lease at Tropicana Field until 2027. That hasn’t stopped the team from considering other options for a new stadium.
During 2008, amid the team’s rebirth, the Rays considered seeking voter approval to build a new stadium on the city’s waterfront, but they backed out when it appeared likely the question would be defeated. Multiple efforts ensued in the years to come, including in 2018 when the team set its eyes on a stadium site in Ybor City that ultimately never gained traction.
Sound smart by knowing that the city is in the process of redeveloping the site of Tropicana Field with or without the Rays. There are several proposals on the table, click here to learn more.
Bonus Points: Tropicana Field came to life on Oct. 3, 1996. It was known as the ThunderDome prior to the name change.
Know what players to root for
He’s the longest-tenured Rays player on the team, and according to MLB, he’s statistically the fourth-best player in Rays' history. Sound smart by knowing he made his debut on Sept. 30, 2013, and has been a supreme defender in center field in the years since. He has three Gold Gloves and a Platinum Glove. He’s also been named defensive player of the year twice by Wilson and once by MLB.com.
Bonus Points: Kiermaier’s nickname is “Outlaw.”
He made his debut with the Rays in 2012 and remained a staple in the rotation until he was traded to Pittsburgh in 2018. He became a free agent after the 2020 season, and the Rays saw it as an opportunity to welcome him back. Archer didn’t fair as well in Pittsburgh as he did during his first stint with Tampa Bay, battling injuries that included a season lost to thoracic outlet syndrome, which MLB.com says is a “significant operation that’s derailed some pitchers’ careers.”
Sound smart by knowing Archer was a two-time All-Star with the Rays in 2015 and 2017. If he can return to that level of success, he could have a profound impact on a team that just traded ace Blake Snell and is seeking a return to the World Series.
Bonus Points: With the Rays, Archer finished second in strikeouts in the American League twice with 233 in 2016 and 252 in 2015.
The LA Times deemed Choi “a fan favorite in Tampa Bay and one of the most popular players in his clubhouse” during last year’s World Series. Sound smart by knowing he’s from South Korea and comes from humble beginnings in which he struggled mightily in the Majors before finding a home in Tampa Bay.
He’s since left jaws on the floor with his acrobatic defense at first base. He’s also known for a smile and personality that seemingly beams from the television screen.
“Ji-Man Choi is the man,” pitcher Tyler Glasnow told the LA Times.
“He’s always smiling, always cracking jokes, having a great time, dancing during batting practice,” outfielder Hunter Renfroe echoed. “I think the fans really love and embrace guys who look like they’re having fun and go all-out during the game. I think he does that with the best of them.”
Bonus Points: Choi’s nickname is “G-Money.”
Honorable Mention: Randy Arozarena, Tyler Glasnow
Arozarena is coming off one of the best World Series performances in baseball history and all eyes will be on him this season to see if he can replicate that production in 2021.
Glasnow has shown flashes of brilliance and has all the tools and potential to become a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher. He and Archer leading the rotation could be bad news this season for opposing hitters if all goes according to plan.
Know your rivals
The Tampa Bay Rays are in perhaps the hardest division in baseball: The American League East. It features two of the sports’ most renowned franchises in the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
As Rays fans, we don’t like them. Like, at all.
Sound smart by knowing the Yankees have a whopping 27 World Series wins which are by far the most in baseball. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have won nine World Series titles, with four of those coming since 2004.
For the Rays, a team still seeking its first championship, it’s easy to see why Rays fans despise the Yankees and Red Sox. Root against them at all costs.
Bonus Points: The Rays have faced the Yankees only once in the playoffs, beating them in five games in 2020’s AL Division Series. Meanwhile, they’ve faced the Red Sox twice in the playoffs, beating them in seven games in the AL Championship Series to advance to the World Series in 2008 and losing to them in the AL Division Series in 2013.
Get your Rays apparel
OK, so you now know enough to play the part of a Rays fan. Now, it’s time to look the part.
Stock up on Rays gear throughout the season at the Rays Team Store located near Gate 1 at Tropicana Field. Its operating hours as of this writing are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. with COVID-19 safety protocols in place to keep customers safe.
Look like an old-school fan and get yourself a vintage Devil Rays jersey, block out the sun with a Rays ball cap or stay warm during those chilly months with a Rays hoodie. Whatever your needs are as a fan, the team store is sure to have what you’re looking for, including game-used memorabilia that’ll have you looking like a diehard in no time.
Bonus Points: Get yourself a cowbell and ring it loud and proud. Fans have used cowbells to pump their Rays up for more than a decade. The tradition stems from the popular SNL sketch in which Christopher Walken as a music producer insists, he “needs more cowbell.”
Know how & where to watch
The Rays are planning to welcome fans back to Tropicana Field this season after the pandemic kept fans away in 2020. Seating will be limited and COVID-19 safety measures will be in place, according to the team.
Although individual-game ticket information has yet to be released, fans can purchase a “Rays Season Membership” to catch their team in action in 2021. Find more information by clicking here.
If you want to catch the Rays during spring training, click here.
If you can’t land tickets, but still want the atmosphere, then look no further than across the street from Tropicana Field. Ferg’s Sports Bar calls itself “the official gathering spot for Tampa Bay Rays fans” and has more than 90 TVs, food and drinks and indoor and outdoor seating.
Not ready to venture out in public? Most games can be seen on Fox Sports Sun or you can stream the games on Fox Sports Go. Check your local listings.
Follow the team and players on social media
Now that you know how to walk, talk and watch like a Rays fan, you’re oh-so-close to stamping your ticket aboard the bandwagon.
It’s time to put that follow button to good use and follow the team and players on social media. Click the names below to be taken to their Twitter accounts, and tweet with the hashtag #RaysUp to be apart of the chatter all season long.
- How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants?
- Third stimulus check: Bill with $1,400 payments may have to lose $15 minimum wage
- Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine less effective than others, but not where it matters most
- 'Very unlikely' Tiger Woods returns to professional golf, orthopedic trauma surgeon says
- African American museums, historical resources around Tampa Bay
- More Americans identify as LGBTQ than ever before
►Breaking news and weather alerts: Get the free 10 Tampa Bay app
►Stay In the Know! Sign up now for the Brightside Blend Newsletter