ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Once upon a time, when the Tampa Bay Rays were winning a lot, you could probably name half the roster and the team manager.
But with so many new faces, the team is almost unrecognizable to a lot of fans who showed up for the first game of the season as they took on the Boston Red Sox.
It’s no secret the Rays ownership wants to move the team out of St. Pete. So, how are fans feeling about their hometown team on this opening day?
“Everybody is undefeated today, right?” laughed Rays fan Paula Texel.
But ask even die-hard first-day fans to name three starting Rays players this season, and for many it’s a struggle.
“Kiermaier, Archer,” and then there was a long pause from Rays fan Janice Coulton.
“Who have we got today?” asked Dina Sotomayor.
“Is there a Cobb?” asked Trudie Conklin. “There used to be a Cobb,” her friends chimed in. “Well, another one gone, then,” said Conklin.
The Rays are coming off what they refer to in baseball lingo as a rebuilding off-season.
“I just hope they have made the right choices this year, and hopefully we are competitive. And that is all I really ask for, is that we are competitive,” said Rays Fan John Sotomayor.
The team released or traded-away big-time players -- and fans had no problem naming them.
“Evan Longoria, I know that. Because I couldn’t wear his jersey today,” said Rays Fan Holly Young.
“Pitching,” said season ticket holder Preston DeVilbiss, “Cobb. Odorizzi.”
“Souza was always fun to watch, so will have to see how the outfielders interact with Kevin,” said Christina Coulton.
“Yeah, we lost a lot of people. I kind of laugh about it and call them the AAA Rays,” said longtime fan Richard Johnson.
There are some who cynically suggest the Rays could be intentionally gutting the team, knowing they would probably save money, but lose more games and fill fewer seats. Then, some contend, the owners would claim they have even more reason to move the stadium to a different location, and perhaps even ask taxpayers to help pay for it.
The Rays have already made it clear they would prefer to be in Hillsborough County rather than St. Petersburg.
Frankly, that leaves some fans feeling jilted, wondering not just who they’re rooting for this season given so many new faces, but why.
“I am not a fan of the moves that that ownership made. It’s pretty sad that we have a hard-enough time getting fan support, and then you cut loose all the players that of been around since, for quite a few years,” said Rays fan Jay Parrish.
“Oh, of course it bothers me. Of course,” said Rays fan Paula Texel. “You want to see them in your own backyard. But, if it’s in the Tampa Bay area I’m going to be happy with that. As long as there is baseball in our area.
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