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When the Tampa Bay Rays made a heart-pumping run through the playoffs last year, many longtime fans wondered if the often silly but lovable Trop entertainers would still be a part of the big show. While the Chik-fil-A cow disappeared from the playoffs and World Series, the appearance of the familiar Pepsi Racing Bottles, the "More Cowbell" skit on the video screen and the antics of Raymond reassured fans that this was still the Rays experience they had come to know and love. That experience will continue in '09, with more concerts, more giveaways and more Raymond. Here's a preview.

This year, with the Rays poised for greatness after winning the AL pennant last year, mascot Raymond has his job cut out for him.

First of all, this is an all-new Raymond under all that fuzzy blueness. The team parted ways with Kelly Frank, the woman who had danced and cavorted around in the suit for the astonishing 2008 season and four before that.

Now, the person inside the persona is a closely guarded secret. So secret that this interview was done through e-mail.

Still, we wanted to see what Raymond was going to do to top his performances last year. So we asked him to take time out from his own spring training to discuss the upcoming season, plus give us a little insight.

After just coming up short in the World Series last year, what can you do, Raymond, to put the Rays over the top?

Belly wiggling is the easy answer here, if I can spin and shake my belly just a few more times during the game, distract the other team, it will help the Rays go all the way this year.

Are there any new dance moves planned for the year?

(There'll be) a new dance called the Cow Bell Shake.

What's your favorite stadium treat?

Spilling pop corn on a Red Sox or Yankee fan is a real treat for me. Watching the other team lose to the Rays is a treat for me as well.

Have you ever bet on the bottle races? You know, just a little friendly wager? Did you win?

No, I never bet on anything; a guy named Pete gave me that advice. So I never bet. But I cheer for Sierra Mist, since she is a pretty lady. She wins a lot; sometimes I help her win.

If you could play any position for the Rays what would it be?

I'd pitch. My windup would include a lot of belly shaking, then I would kick my Size 40 shoes in the air, spin my head around a throw a sea-dog fastball-slider-change-up pitch and strike out every batter I would face. Especially that Youkilis guy. That way he holds the bat and wiggles is ridiculous, so he would get a Raymond Message Pitch.

Come on Raymond, fess up: Have you ever sneaked into Joe Maddon's office, just to peek at the wine rack?

Joe and I have very deep conversations about strategy, but I'm not old enough to drink, so I just give Joe all my ideas for strategy. His glasses? They were my idea.

* * *

Returning favorites

Cow-a-bunga! The Chik-Fil-A cow is back. For those unfamiliar with this bovine bit, the cow is placed somewhere in the stadium, and a fan has only seconds to identify the section it's in. (It's totally harder than it sounds.)

BK's back. Young saxophone sensation B.K. Jackson, a hit with players and fans alike, will play the national anthem for the home opener and the next day's game. Other singers haven't been announced.

Free doughnuts*. Note the asterisk. Last year all fans had to do was go into a Dunkin' Donuts after a Rays win and they'd get a free doughnut if they said Go Rays or wore Rays gear. This year, the doughnut's free, but you have to buy a beverage to get it.

Racing Bottles. Watch for Pepsi to trip up Aquafina, then for Raymond to pummel Aquafina so Sierra Mist can win. Now we know why (see Raymond interview, left).

That Cotton-Eyed Joe guy. You see him every time the Trop cranks up the song, a wild-looking old guy with a long white beard and unruly hair doing a jig. He actually was caught on camera several years ago, so don't go looking for him at the Rays touch tank.

Post-game concerts. These proved very popular last year, with acts such as LL Cool J, Trace Adkins and Kool and the Gang. This year, the only confirmed act so far is the B-52s. Stay tuned for more announcements as they sign the contracts.

An emotional video from the 2008 season. Last year, fans who attended later games saw a short film right before game time that beautifully documented the team's rise to the top. Teary-eyed fans ate it up. Although there is no official word, we're pretty sure a new video will finish off the quest in a fitting way.

Cowbells. Yep, they're still giving them away and selling them. And in all kinds of colors. The one for the Maddon's Maniacs membership is quite yellow. We're sure it will help with the heckling factor.

Lots of brooms. Now that Rays fans have a championship team, there'll be a little more swagger and less intimidation by the Yankees and Red Sox fans.

* * *

10 Trop Tips

Here are some insider tips to up your game at the Trop.

The back row of the 200 level can be a great place to watch the game because you can catch replays on the TVs meant for the suites.

The wait for on-field access for postgame concerts (you'll need an armband) can be brutal. If you want a position up front, head for the line after the 7th-inning stretch.

The cleanest restrooms are on the 200 level.

If someone offers you a Whitney Bank Club ticket gratis, take it in a heartbeat. Free beer and wine (the mixed drinks are wicked expensive, though), plus a buffet, plus nice private bathrooms. And that's just inside the place. The seats are nice and plush and offer a sweet view.

The area behind the tbt* party deck is a cool place to watch the game. With its full bar and tables where you can stand and chat, it's a good place to hang out if you don't like your seat up in the nosebleeds.

Don't even try to get into the area where the suites are unless you have a ticket. They always check. Always.

When you're leaving the Trop from the 300 sections, it's faster to take the down ramp outside than to negotiate the escalators and crowds inside.

Ride a bike or a scooter and you can park right near the rotunda entrance for free. You can come in off the Ninth Street entrance, or you can enter from 11th Street near Ferg's.

If you have four people or more in a car, you can park for free in most Trop lots (Except Lot 1, based on availability). If you have fewer people, plan on paying $15 per car, or $30 for an RV.

If you're hungry and on a budget, bring a snack. But all food brought in must be contained in a clear plastic bag. Bottled water must be sealed and no more than 1 liter in volume.

* * *

You might be a Rays fan if ...

You didn't hear this from us, but there was a little bit of tension last year during the Rays' playoff run between longtime fans and, ahem, bandwagon jumpers. (Hey, we didn't call them that; the longtime Rays fans did.) So to clear up any misconceptions about whether you're a Rays diehard or not, we offer you this guide to assessing where you rank on the scale of Rays loyalty. Where do you fall on the list?

... you know where the Guinness stands are

... you still call thetbt*party deck "the beach."

... you still have a purple Rays T-shirt.

... you know where Dick Vitale sits.

... you know that the B.J. in Upton stands for Bossman Junior. His real name is Melvin.

... you can spell Dewon Brazelton.

... you got a RayHawk ... in 2007.

... you can recite from memory the amount of money spent/wasted on contracts for the likes of Juan Guzman and Greg Vaughn. (Greg Vaughn $34 million, 4 years $8.5M ... Juan Guzman $12.5 million, 2 years $6.25M)

... you've ever taken Matt White or Bobby Seay in your fantasy draft.

... you own a piece of St. Petersburg White Sox or St. Petersburg Giants memorabilia.

... you have Vince Naimoli's autograph.

Opening week

If you don't already have tickets to Monday's home opener against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field, good luck with that. It's sold out. (The freebie is a schedule magnet.) But try Tuesday's game, also against the Yankees, at 7:08 p.m. Tickets start at $16; 1-888-326-7297 or The give-away is a cool A.L. Championship replica ring for all fans. And next week, there are three more AL Championship giveaways: A cowbell on April 15, a replica trophy on April 18, and a pennant for the first 10,000 kids on April 19.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: April 11, 2009

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