Rays usher in new era with new identity
Costner leads celebration introducing franchise's altered image
ST. PETERSBURG -- A palpable vibe reflecting a new beginning resonated throughout Straub Park on Thursday afternoon, where the Devil Rays officially became the Rays, and the colors of the team's uniforms changed from green to blue.
After months of speculation about coming changes, the Rays spilled the beans about the subtraction of "Devil" from the name, their new team colors -- navy blue and light blue -- and a new icon, a bright yellow sunburst invoking the magnificence of life in the Sunshine State.
More than 7,000 fans jammed the park to see 18 Rays players don the new uniforms and parade onto a stage to give a sneak peek at what fans can expect in 2008.
"It feels like a fresh start," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "It's like that feeling of going to school on the first day. You get to wear the new uniforms. It feels good. You know what they say, 'You play like you feel.' We feel good, we look good, so hopefully, we'll play good."
Crawford has seen his share of losing, but with the team the Rays had at the conclusion of the 2007 season, he has a renewed optimism about the direction of the franchise, and said that he felt the changes reflect that new direction.
"Most definitely, I'm the most optimistic I've been," he said. "I get to play beside B.J. Upton every day, hopefully hitting in front of him, and Delmon [Young], too. If you can't get excited about playing in that outfield every day, then you don't have a pulse. ... I think this is the best potential we've had since the club came into existence."
The new home and away uniforms, as well as the team's new primary logo, feature "Rays" in navy-blue lettering cast with a light-blue shadow. The sunburst gleams from the letter "R." The two hues of blue suggest the deep-blue waters and bright-blue sky for which Florida is known. The elongated tail of the "R" further reinforces the water imagery.
In the primary logo, the team name is set against a white baseball diamond with a prominent navy-blue outline. The diamond features base paths, bases and home plate outlined in light blue.
The new cap has a base color of navy blue, with white "TB" lettering cast with a light-blue shadow. The lettering was custom designed for the team, and selected for its elegant simplicity and classic look.
The new colors are unique within Major League Baseball. The Rays worked closely with MLB on the design, and also conducted internal research with employees, fans and local leaders.
In addition to the players and coaches, former Rays Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs modeled the new uniforms and licensed team apparel. The festivities continued with a concert performance by the actor Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West. A fireworks show and a pyrotechnics display of the new Rays logo put an exclamation point on the event, which was presented by Champs Sports, The St. Petersburg Times and Bright House Networks.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg wore a permanent smile at Thursday's event.
The event "was an 11 on a scale of 10, as Jackson Browne used to say," Sternberg said. "We were hoping to make a splash. I was a little skeptical about trying to hit this one out of the park. We wanted to do something tasteful, and I think we stepped outside of our normal comfort level and went for it. ... The players seemed to get into it, and certainly the crowd here was pretty charged up.
"We had no concept of what to expect. I was hoping to get a few thousand people. And we went way north of that. I think more than the amount of the people, there was really energy in the crowd."
Sternberg assumed his role as principal owner following the 2005 season and asserted that a change to the team's identity was necessary.
"I think this gives us as an organization and identity," he said. "It was something where we were tied to the past, and the past wasn't something we necessarily wanted to be known for. Nobody's running from it, or hiding from it, and we're proud of certain aspects of it. This is something the organization has really been able to put their arms around, and I'm hoping the fans will see it as a new beginning."
Whereas the initial reaction of the fans seemed enthusiastic, the team's reaction was two thumbs up.
"Love the colors," Upton said. "They're just classic uniforms, and I think it's going to be great."
Scott Kazmir had a sneak peek several weeks ago, and has been smitten with the new look ever since.
"I just like how simple [the uniforms] are," Kazmir said. "They're professional. They have the grays and the whites, there's not too much on it. Just professional."
Manager Joe Maddon likes the "simple elegance" of the uniforms.
"It's the kind of uniform that can stand the test of time because they're not real busy," Maddon said. "[They] have a classic look to them -- I like them a lot."
He added that he liked "the idea of the new uniform at this particular time."
"Because you're always looking for that symbolic moment to really move on to that next area where we want to within the standings, getting to the playoffs, et cetera," he said. "There are a lot of things coming together at the right time. This, and the way this has been done today. The fan response has been excellent."
Yet the organization will not remove all connection to its first 10 years of play as the Devil Rays. An updated Devil Rays patch will continue to be worn on the left sleeve of the jersey. The team will also continue to operate its popular touch tank filled with live rays at Tropicana Field.
The change will extend throughout the organization. Both the exterior and interior of Tropicana Field will be updated to reflect the team's new look. Raymond, the team mascot, has also been updated.
In addition, the Rays' official website has been changed to raysbaseball.com.
"Our new team name and new look express the vibrancy of our organization," said team president Matt Silverman. "The Tampa Bay Rays will shine, on the field and in our community. We will be a great source of pride for our region."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.