Pregame festivities celebrate rise
First pitch thrown by politician who helped bring MLB to area
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field appeared to be the unlikeliest of venues for Game 1 of the World Series when the 2008 season began, but on Wednesday night, a packed house of frenzied Rays fans rose to their feet to again salute this storybook year during a rousing pregame ceremony.
After the two teams were introduced -- Phillies first, then the home-team Rays -- multiplatinum pop group the Backstreet Boys, including Tampa, Fla., native Nick Carter, performed the national anthem as a giant American flag was unfurled in the outfield, extending from corner to corner.
Flag volunteers were a mixture from the U.S. Coast Guard, St. Petersburg sector, and the 6th Air Mobility Wing from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
As the U.S. Central Command Joint Service color guard exited the field, the crowd erupted in a "Let's Go Rays" chant that was silenced only when the Rays scoreboard crew played Bill Murray's famous "It just doesn't matter" rant from the original "Meatballs" movie.
Ceremonial first-pitch honors went to Bob Stewart, a member of the St. Petersburg City Council. Stewart was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Suncoast Dome -- currently Tropicana Field -- in the 1980s and was a key member of the team that worked to bring Major League Baseball to Tampa Bay.
Stewart has served as a Pinellas County Commissioner for many years, and is currently one of 11 members of ABC [A Baseball Community], a coalition of prominent local leaders who are working to help solidify the future of the Rays in the Tampa Bay area.
Stewart is known throughout the region as "Mr. Baseball". Many in the Rays organization contend the team would not be here today if not for Stewart's leadership.
The first-pitch ball was delivered by 17-year-old Justin Manuel Martinez from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay -- George W. Jenkins Family Jackson Springs.
Martinez was born and raised in Tampa and has been a member of the George W. Jenkins Boys & Girls Club since 1997. He is currently a senior at Tampa Bay Technical High School, where he studies business administration. He hopes to attend a university next fall, majoring in business (entrepreneurship) with a minor in music.
Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who won a World Series title with the Phillies in 1980, introduced the Phillies starting lineup for the FOX broadcast, while the Rays players taped their introductions during batting practice, each starter saying their name, their position and where in the order they were hitting.
Military personnel from the Tampa area were slated to perform "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.