ST. PETERSBURG — Still in its youth by baseball standards, the Tampa Bay Rays franchise launched the celebration of its twentieth birthday today at Tropicana Field.
On display for media, employees, sponsors, and some long-time season ticket holders: a new anniversary logo, new merchandise and even a new, Tropicana-Field-only sandwich.
First, the stuff: the Rays will wear an anniversary logo on their uniforms and caps, and this logo can be found on much of the merchandise that will be available for purchase in the coming weeks. In addition, long time (Devil) Rays fans will be pleased to know that the team will wear throw back Devil Rays jerseys on four home dates in 2018. The first will be March 31, the anniversary of the team’s first game.
Second, the food. The Rays now have a new concessions contract with the Levy company (after severing their contract with Centerplate at the end of the 2017 season. Details about what we will be eating and drinking during games are still a bit fuzzy – media will be invited to see the complete lineup and renovations to concession area in March – but the promise is that food and drink will be more and better, with many local touches after a $4 million investment from the team to expand and improve operations.
This Reuben Cuban sandwich, which actually has a hot dog embedded within the meat and cheese, has been created by Levy for the 2018 season. (Your reporter tried one after being reassured that it was EXTREMELY HEALTHY. It was delicious and clearly includes all the major food groups).
For those of you wondering whether Ducky’s will return: that is not yet clear. Levy is negotiating with them as well as some other local food establishments and we’ll know more in March.
Three Rays executives – principal owner Stuart Sternberg; President Brian Auld; and Senior VP William Walsh – were on hand to answer questions about the 20th anniversary celebration (although one clever reporter did manage a sort of baseball question – “After several losing seasons and the trade of Evan Longoria, how will you get fans excited for the 20th anniversary year?).
- There will be an Evan Longoria Game 162 bobblehead for sale at Fanfest, with proceeds benefiting the Rays Foundation. This is the first of what will be many community and charitable initiatives as part of the anniversary year.
- Expect a smattering of ticket packages commemorating 20 years as well, including flex packs that include some smart pint glasses, and for season ticket holders a coffee table book authored by longtime beat writer Marc Topkin, also for sale in the Rays stores for $98
- Marc Topkin noted that the Rays current leadership seemed to take pains to distance themselves from the team’s first decade when they first took control, but this latest round of branding has a number of shout outs to earlier teams, with throwback jerseys and Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez bobbleheads. Sternberg acknowledged that shift. Taking over a losing and maligned franchise necessitated a clear separation with the franchise’s first iteration. But at this juncture, as we welcome the first crop of adults who were born into Rays fandom, it makes sense to embrace the team’s full history.
- Why celebrate this year, which is the actually the team’s twenty-first season of play? Sternberg said this is typically how teams do it; also that we celebrate our human birthdays at the end (and not the start) of the year. But I think the decision was also shaped by the success of the 2008 team. Celebrating in 2018 allows the Rays to pay tribute to that unexpectedly successful 2008 season (the August 4th game against the White Sox will include that AL Championship team), and the inaugural season (1998) on a like-numbered year (2018).
- Our community has always enjoyed seeing Stu Sternberg, baseball fan, on Rays broadcasts, and that famed personality showed up today as well. Reminiscing about Aki’s ALCS winning put out and DanJo’s Game 162 home run, Sternberg looked like a guy reliving his favorite moments.
It looks like it’s going to be an exciting season for Rays fans.