Rays' fans celebrate at rally
Thousands turn out to rejoice in team's World Series season
ST. PETERSBURG -- Judi Sidney went to work an hour and a half early on Friday morning, a trick that cleared the St. Petersburg resident for an early departure.
And the subsequent Halloween treat couldn't have been any better.
Sidney, a Chicago native who adopted the Rays as her team when she relocated 11 years ago, joined a few thousand fans at the Rays Rally in downtown St. Petersburg's Straub Park.
The rally -- which kicked off a 4 p.m. ET -- was devised as a way for the Tampa Bay area to commemorate the Rays' amazing season.
In the franchise's first trip to the postseason, the Rays captured the American League Championship.
"I don't think these guys should be discouraged in any way," Sidney said of the Rays' World Series loss to the Phillies. "They achieved such incredible success, and it was absolutely an amazing ride."
Although typically the team who loses the World Series doesn't get the party, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker couldn't imagine the Rays season ending without one.
"It really needed to be done," Baker said. "There was so much demand in the community. They didn't win the World Series but they won the AL. And we want to celebrate that and thank them."
Baker was on hand in full Rays garb on Friday and was joined on stage by Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who addressed and fired up the already-enthused crowd.
There may have been a World Series parade in Philadelphia on Friday, but the crowd assembled in St. Petersburg greeted a quartet of Rays players -- James Shields, Ben Zobrist, Carlos Pena and Grant Balfour -- with affection that was second to none.
Following a highlight reel of the season shown on a screen onstage, each player was introduced and joined team president Matt Silverman and manager Joe Maddon in thanking the community for its support.
"It's really been a remarkable season," Maddon said to the cowbell-clacking Rays legion. "And we could not have done it without you folks. And you have to believe that, and understand that."
And if Maddon's words weren't enough to spin the crowd into frenzy, Pena's upbeat message was plenty.
The Rays first baseman joked of the "breaking news" he heard on CNN Friday morning: that the Rays postseason opponents were suffering from SDDC.
"That's Sleep Disorder Due to Cowbells," Pena said, causing a flurry of noise-makers and shouts of approval.
"We made our mark on the Major Leagues this season," Pena said, gesturing toward his teammates. "But the fans from Tampa Bay have also made a mark. You're on the map."
And Ray fans have every intention of keeping it that way.
"It was a great year and there's lots to be excited about," said Cary Strukel. The famed fan known as "The Cowbell Kid," Strukel proudly held up one side of a custom-made blue and white banner reading, "Rays Republic -- It's Only the Beginning."
"Look out world, here we come!," Sidney said, as she ran down the long list of expected Rays returnees in 2009. "Obviously our goal was to win the World Series. But, now it's a dream we get to keep dreaming."
And a promise Maddon and the Rays look forward to honoring.
"Hopefully, we can celebrate every Halloween out here," Maddon said.
And as the Rays skipper, players and fans alike, joined in singing "Take Me out to the Ball Game," the scene on Friday night was a magical one. And it had little to do with the calendar reading Oct. 31.
"The Only Real Holiday is Rays' Day," read one sign.
And judging from Friday's events, the Tampa Bay area is starting to believe it.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.