The Tampa Bay Rays are an American professional baseball team based in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Rays compete in Major League Baseball as a member club of the American League East division. Since its inception, the team’s home venue has been Tropicana Field. Following nearly three decades of unsuccessfully trying to gain an expansion franchise or enticing existing teams to relocate to the Tampa Bay Area, an ownership group led by Vince Naimoli was approved on March 9, 1995.
Professional baseball in Tampa Bay
Former civic leader and St. Petersburg Times publisher, Jack Lake, first suggested St. Petersburg pursue a Major League baseball team in the 1960s. The notable influences Lake held in the sport are what led to the serious discussions that changed St. Petersburg from a spring training location to a major league city. He spoke to anyone who would listen about his desire to see the city of St. Petersburg have a Major league baseball team.
When Major League Baseball announced that it would add two expansion teams for the 1993 season, it was widely assumed that one of the teams would be placed in the Dome. However, in addition to the application from St. Petersburg, a competing group applied to field a team in Tampa, prompting much conflict over the bid. The two National League teams were awarded to Denver and Miami instead. In 1992, San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie agreed in principle to sell his team to a Tampa Bay-based group of investors led by Vince Naimoli, who would then move the team to St. Petersburg.
Finally, on March 9, 1995, new expansion franchises were awarded to Naimoli’s Tampa Bay group and a group from Phoenix. The new franchises were scheduled to begin play in 1998. Next for the Tampa Bay franchise was selecting a nickname. Naimoli wanted a name that would include Rays somewhere in it. The city and team agreed that the team should be called the Tampa Bay Sting Rays. But there was a problem as the Maui Sting Rays already held the rights to the name and wanted $35,000 to buy the name. Instead, the team opted for a local variety of the ray, the devil ray.
The name Tampa Bay is often used to describe a geographic metropolitan area which encompasses the cities around the body of water known as Tampa Bay, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, and Sarasota. Unlike in the case of Green Bay, Wisconsin, there is no municipality known as Tampa Bay. The Tampa Bay in the names of local professional sports franchises, such as the Rays, Rowdies, Buccaneers, Lightning, and the former Storm, Bandits, and Mutiny, denotes that they represent the entire region, not just the city of Tampa. The tradition of naming teams after the entire Tampa Bay Area was started by the original Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1975 as the first professional sports team in the area.
Tampa Bay’s primary rivals are the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The Red Sox/Rays rivalry dates back to the 2000 season, when Devil Ray Gerald Williams took exception to being hit by a pitch thrown by Boston pitcher Pedro Martínez and charged the mound, resulting in a game full of retaliations and ejections on both sides. There have been several other incidents between the teams during the ensuing years, including one in 2005 that resulted in two bench-clearing fights during the game and a war of words between then-Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella and then-Boston pitcher Curt Schilling through the media in the following days.
As a fellow member of the AL East division, the Yankees and Rays play many times each season. There has always been some feeling of a rivalry between the teams because the Yankees make Tampa their spring training, as well as having a minor league team in the Tampa Tarpons; home and fan loyalty in the Tampa Bay area has historically been divided, especially among transplants from the northeastern U.S.
The rivalry became more heated in spring training of 2008, when a home plate collision between Rays outfielder Elliot Johnson and Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli was followed the next day by spikes-high slide by Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan into Rays’ second baseman Akinori Iwamura, prompting Rays outfielder Jonny Gomes to charge in from his position in right field and knock Duncan to the ground. The Rays and Yankees met in postseason for the first time in the 2020 American League Division Series in which Tampa Bay won in five games.
The Citrus Series is the name given to the interleague series between the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays in Major League Baseball. The Marlins broke into the league in 1993 as the Florida Marlins, while the Rays had their first season in 1998 as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The first meeting between the two teams took place on June 22, 1998 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Currently, because the Marlins play in the National League, and the Rays in the American League, the only possible postseason matchup the teams can have is in the World Series, though this has never happened. Both teams have had appearances in the Fall Classic, however. The Marlins have won both of their World Series appearances in 1997 and 2003.
Weeks after the Marlins concluded a characteristic fire sale that brought in less expensive players such as Yunel Escobar from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Marlins traded Escobar to the Rays for minor leaguer Derek Dietrich. Currently, the two teams play each other four times each season.
The Rays have played at Tropicana Field since their inception in 1998. The facility, which was originally called the Florida Suncoast Dome, was built in the late 1980s to attract an MLB team through either relocation or expansion. After St. Petersburg was awarded an expansion franchise in 1995, the dome underwent extensive renovations and naming rights were sold to Tropicana Products, which was based in nearby Bradenton.
The Rays’ current ownership has long hinted that Tropicana Field does not generate enough revenue and that it is too far from the Tampa Bay Area’s population center. In 2007, the team announced a plan to build a covered ballpark at the current site of Al Lang Field on the St. Petersburg waterfront, and a local referendum was scheduled to decide on public financing. However, in the face of vocal opposition, the Rays withdrew the proposal in 2009 and stated they had abandoned all plans for a ballpark in downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
Since 2009, local officials, media, and business leaders have explored possibilities for a new stadium for the Rays somewhere in the Tampa Bay area. However, St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster has repeatedly insisted that the Rays honor their lease agreement with the city, which runs through 2027 and prohibits the team from entering into talks with other communities, resulting in a protracted stalemate.
On February 9, 2018, the team said that Ybor City is their preferred site for a new stadium. However, at the December 2018 Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Sternberg announced that plans for the proposed stadium in Ybor fell through, meaning the Rays were still on track to play at Tropicana Field until 2027. Later in December 2018, the team sent a letter to St. Petersburg’s mayor, Rick Kriseman, foregoing an extension to search for a new stadium outside of the city.
The current Rays primary uniform has been used with little change since the team officially shortened its name from Devil Rays to Rays for the 2008 season. The home jersey is a traditional white with the name Rays in dark blue across the chest and a yellow sunburst on the letter R. The Rays’ road uniform is gray, also with a sunburst and the team name across the chest. Both feature dark blue piping and caps featuring a white TB logo.
The Rays’ first alternate jersey also features the name Rays and a yellow sunburst on chest, but is a dark blue material with Columbia blue piping, white characters for the player name, and player numbers that are simply a white outline. This alternate jersey is worn both at home and on the road with either white or gray pants. The Rays’ second alternate jersey is similar, but is a light Columbia blue.
During their first three seasons, the Devil Rays wore traditional white home and gray road uniforms with the text Devil Rays and Tampa Bay in an unconventional multicolor rainbow across the chest. The inaugural caps were also unusual: black with a purple brim at home and all black on the road, with both versions featuring a devil ray graphic and no letters at all.
In 2001, the Devil Rays dropped the multicolor text and de-emphasized purple in favor of more green. They also changed the font on their jersey tops and shortened the name on the home whites to read simply Rays while keeping Tampa Bay on the road grays. In 2005, the home uniforms were again tweaked to include still more green. The primary home whites became a sleeveless jersey worn with green sleeved undershirts, and the primary home caps were changed from black to green.
Radio: WDAE has been the flagship station of the Rays radio network since 2009. The play-by-play announcers are Dave Wills and Andy Freed with Neil Solondz serving as the pregame and postgame host. Rich Herrera served as the host during pre- and post-game shows for the Tampa Rays Baseball Radio Network from 2005 to 2011. The Rays original radio team consisted of Paul Olden and Charlie Slowes, who broadcast games from 1998 to 2005. Slowes went to the Washington Nationals, where he is now lead announcer, while Olden pursued a photography career before replacing Bob Sheppard as the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium in 2008. Rays games have been aired on WFLA 970 AM and WHNZ 1250 AM in the past.
Television: Fox Sports Sun broadcasts the Rays’ games on television. Through the 2008 season, many games also aired on Ion Television affiliate broadcast stations throughout the state of Florida, with WXPX-TV in Tampa as the flagship. However, after the 2008 season, Fox Sports signed an agreement to become the exclusive local broadcaster of the Rays, and will air 155 games per year through 2016.
Dewayne Staats and former MLB pitcher Brian Anderson are the TV voices of the Rays. For the first 11 seasons of the franchise, Staats teamed with former MLB pitcher Joe Magrane on the Rays’ TV broadcasts. Magrane departed after conclusion of the 2008 season to take a position at the MLB Network. Early on, as Staats’ first wife was battling cancer, Paul Olden would occasionally fill in for Staats. As a result, Paul Olden ended up calling Wade Boggs’ 3,000th hit.
Bobbleheads 2013: This year the Rays released several bobbleheads. The first was released on April 22 and featured David Price’s dog Astro. On April 24 the Rays released the famous Joe Gnome bobblehead. May 24–26 saw the release of the Fernando Rodney bobblehead in his famous shooting-the-arrow position. On July 6 the team released the Evan Longoria retro bobblehead.
Bobbleheads 2012: The first bobblehead released was Kyle Farnsworth on May 24. June 3 saw the release of a Desmond Jennings Bobblehead. Coach Joe Maddon saw his bobblehead released on June 15. On June 29 the Rays released the whimsical Zim Bear. Although this was not a bobblehead, the likeness of long-time coach Don Zimmer proved to be a fan favorite. July saw the release of two bobbleheads with James Shields on July 1 and Matt Moore on July 22. The last bobblehead was Matt Joyce on September 23.
After a slow start to the 2008 season, the Rays began to pick up speed and found themselves among the best teams in the league that year. Maddon had blue T-shirts made with the phrase on the back in yellow, representing the team’s new colors, and gave them to the players during the season. His idea to put the slogan on the back of the shirt, rather than the front, was that a person who was walking behind someone wearing the shirt would see it.
A week before Spring training for the 2009 season, Maddon introduced a new slogan, ’09 > ’08. The meaning of his new idea was that he doesn’t like to use the words great or greater, but would rather the phrase be spoken as better than. His only problem was that there is no symbol for better than. Originally thinking about creating a new symbol to mean better than, he admitted that he didn’t want to get too nuts, so the symbol for greater than would have to do.
For the 2010 season, another slogan was created. Unlike the previous two seasons, this slogan did not involve any sort of math. The slogan was WIN, an acronym that stood for What’s Important Now?, with the message being stay in the moment. In his explanation of the slogan, Maddon credited Ken Ravizza, the performance consultant of the Rays and a sports psychologist, as the creator. Maddon stated, It’s always about staying in the present tense and having a higher state of awareness.
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