In section 114M, a few rows behind the dugout at Tropicana Field, you’re bound to find people who are proud to call themselves Tampa Bay Rays fans. For Billie Jo Bell, baseball season is a time to reconnect with life-long friends and to reminisce on how she found love again.
It all started in 1995 when Billie Jo and her first husband, Bob Skolmowski, put down a $500 deposit for season tickets after they learned the Tampa Bay area was officially getting a baseball team.
“I have been a full season ticket holder ever since,” Billie Jo shared.
Billie Jo and Bob reorganized their days to attend as many Tampa Bay Rays games as they could.
Every year since 1998, Billie Jo, who works at the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs, requests time off to see the Rays step up to the mound on opening day. In 22 years, she has yet to miss an opening day.
Within the first season, Bob was inducted into the team’s fan wall of fame and earned the nickname 'Iron Fan.'
“He attended 81 home games and several road trips,” Billie Jo recalled.
Two years later, the team named Billie Jo 'Community Cruiser' and gave her a spot on the team’s fan wall of fame. Billie Jo said she has a knack for bringing fans together at almost every game.
It goes without saying that the dynamic duo was honored to be in the circle of diehard Rays fans.
In 2010, life for the couple took an unfortunate turn. On Feb. 28, 2010, Bob died from a blood clot in a vein going to his liver. The loss was unexpected and hard for Billie Jo.
While trying to figure out what to do with Bob’s belongings, Billie Jo turned to her life-long friend Rob. Billie Jo and Rob’s friendship goes back nearly 30 years. When Rob’s wife lost her battle to cancer in 2008, Billie Jo was there to help him get through the pain.
So, when Billie Jo’s husband died, it was natural for Rob to help Billie Jo piece her life back together again.
The first step for Rob was to help Billie Jo sort through Bob’s warehouse of belongings.
“He helped me every day to clear out and move things,” she explained. “I had no clue what was worth [keeping] and what was junk.”
The task took months to complete. After hours of working on clearing out the warehouse, the two would end their evenings with engaging conversations over dinner. Occasionally, Rob would go to a Rays game with Billie Jo.
By 2011, Rob Bell proposed to Billie Jo. The two have been Mr. and Mrs. Bell since December 2011.
“We got married in front of 100 of our closest friends,” said Billie Jo.
After nearly eight years of marriage, Rob has grown to love Tampa Bay Rays.
This year, Billie Jo and Rob, packed up their van and made the trip from Seminole, Fla. to Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay Rays opening game.
Although Rob is not a diehard fan like Billie Jo, and he has no desire to get on the fan wall of fame, he wishes the team well.
“I hope they have a great year. I think they will,” he said.
For Billie Jo, baseball is more than just about being a fan of the Rays.
“It’s the connections, the people and the friendships I’ve made," she said.
And in this case…love.
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