Rays raise banners to salute '08 feats
Pregame ceremony includes Gov. Crist's first pitch
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' home opener at Tropicana Field felt like none other in team history on Monday night, when banners were unfurled commemorating the club's 2008 American League championship and the 2008 AL East division crown.
Rays principal owner Stu Sternberg said the ceremony translated to permanence.
"You see the pictures of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers and they raise this banner, and I just had this picture in my head when we designed this thing and it was about making something that is permanent," Sternberg said. "And obviously, we'd like to ring the place with banners, but putting up the first two we know they're going to be there for generations wherever the next building is. The next ballpark is traveling with us. They're ours. They're everybody's."
The pregame ceremony began with a three-minute introduction of the Yankees, which were accompanied -- by of all things -- boos. Historically, when the Rays have played the Yankees or Red Sox, Tropicana Field has echoed like a home game for either of their Northeastern visitors. Not Monday night.
At approximately 6:43 p.m. ET, Michael Buffer began a more prolonged introduction of the Rays accompanied by raucous applause, the cowbells familiar to Tropicana Field and shooting flames from several contraptions located just past the infield clay. All of the players, coaches and staff introduced received loud standing ovations, but the pitch clearly went up a few decibels when manager Joe Maddon, Don Zimmer and 2008 AL Championship Series MVP Matt Garza were introduced.
After the introductions, a flag the size of the outfield was rolled out in advance of teen saxophone sensation B.K. Jackson performing the national anthem. Jackson was a crowd favorite throughout last year's postseason run by the Rays, and once again, they responded to the talented youngster's performance.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist threw a strike for the ceremonial first pitch before the Rays cued up a film that played on the scoreboard entitled, "The 2008 Rays: A Team of Champions."
The main event followed when Fernando Perez and Shawn Riggans left the area in front of the home dugout carrying a rolled-up banner, as did Garza and James Shields. With music blaring, they walked deliberately around the perimeter of the outfield, accompanied by the entire team, until they reached left field. That's when the much maligned "C" ring catwalk came into play for a unique banner-hoisting display.
Players and staff of the 2008 AL champions were on the ground, while the Rays' special guests from the Joint Communications Support Element from MacDill Air Force Base pulled the banners into place as if on a commando raid, one at a time to each banner's final resting spot suspended above the "D" ring catwalk.
"To be out there and see all the fans again," Sternberg said, "it very much brought back Game 7 against the Red Sox, which really made it all possible, because I don't get the chance to go out into the middle of the field and see everybody and the place again pulsating and everybody getting into it. It was great."
And the banners said it all, "AL East 2008 Champions" and "American League 2008 Champions."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.