Rays to be feted at Friday rally
Despite loss, fans proud club reached World Series
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays may have fallen short of a World Series title, but that's no reason for the region to postpone a party.
St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker said Thursday morning that plans were in the works to host a rally commemorating the Rays' historic season, which ended with Wednesday night's loss in Game 5 of the World Series.
The rally is scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m. ET in St. Petersburg's Straub Park and will feature manager Joe Maddon and several Rays players.
"We are getting all kinds of calls from fans and media asking where the celebration is going to be," Baker said in a phone interview on Thursday morning. "So we are going to try to honor that."
Baker agreed with Rays owner Stu Sternberg's comments that the club's successful season has opened up baseball to the entire Tampa Bay area. In fact, Baker was willing to take Sternberg's assessment one step further.
"It's had an incredibly positive effect, I think, on the whole west coast of Florida," Baker said. "There's been so much bad news right now. This has been such a lift in the sprits for people in the community."
The mayor made an appearance in Orlando, Fla., a few weeks ago, and he received thunderous applause from the crowd of approximately 600 by starting his speech with the simple phrase of "Go Rays."
"You want to win the World Series. I think there's no doubt about that," Baker said. "But I don't think there's any doubt that this has been anything but an incredible season."
A season which the Rays' growing fan base -- although disappointed with Wednesday's loss -- is still excited to celebrate.
According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, patrons at El Cap, a local hamburger joint, were applauding and screaming for the Rays within seconds of the club's loss.
"I've never been in a bar where a team lost and they got a standing ovation," 26-year-old Kate Hester told the Times. "It's huge progress forward, and you have to be proud of that ... but it's bittersweet."
That was a common reaction by fans on Thursday morning, as many were left with a bad taste in their mouths following the Rays' exit from the World Series, which culminated in their fourth loss in five games on Wednesday night.
"Rays Careful Planning Goes for Naught," read one headline in the Times on Thursday, and early talk radio was dominated by fans who were disappointed with the decisions and outcome of Wednesday's conclusion of Game 5.
After all, these weren't the Rays they had seen all year, said one call-in to Tampa-based ESPN Radio 1040.
Other morning headlines encouraged fans to embrace the good in 2008, with stories titled, "Magic Season over, Effects will Last" and "Remember the Good Times."
But for some fans like Mike Jameson, the painful end to the season made it hard to look back and appreciate the ride right away.
"In a day or two, I will probably be able to think, 'Wow that was an awesome year,'" said Jameson, a St. Petersburg resident. "Right now, I am still in shock. I'm proud of our guys, though, I really am. It's still a great thing to be a Rays fan."
Bradenton, Fla., resident Tanner Regan agreed.
Sporting a Carlos Pena T-shirt, Regan was upset the Rays didn't win the World Series, but he was more than happy that he still had bragging rights over his friends who support the Yankees and Red Sox.
"They just need to keep playing hard and just keep going with what they were doing, and then they will be able to come back next year," Regan said. "But they absolutely turned this whole area on to the Rays."
Which brings up the most telling headline summarizing the Rays' season: "It's Been Fun."
"The community is so proud of the fact that these young guys got into the World Series," Baker said. "It's so positive, and I think it's going to roll right into next year."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.