ST. PETERSBURG -- Stu Sternberg was in town for Tuesday night's season opener, and the Rays' principal owner fielded questions about the state of the club.

With Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena in the final year of their contracts, the perception is that the 2010 season represents a critical period for the franchise, as some feel a window of opportunity could be closing.

"Critical's a tough word," Sternberg said. "I won't concur with that. You like to win with the players we have. This group, this core group, has been together now for three or four seasons. And it would be nice to see this group jell again. We've had some additions -- some guys last year new to the mix, some guys this year new to the mix -- and you'd like to see them all put it together.

"I know it's a team that can. They have the talent, they're working hard, and if the dedication is there -- and I'm certain it is -- it's a team that is absolutely built for the long haul."

Improving at the gate is a must if the Rays want to remain competitive in the American League East. When Sternberg was asked what he wants the attendance to be like at Tropicana Field this season, he smiled: "Full. Often. Often full or full often."

Sternberg said he had a desired attendance in mind in 2009, and as a result, has given up that practice. The Rays drew 1,874,962, which ranked 11th in the AL.

"Last year, I wanted to be average," Sternberg said. "It's not often in life I try to be average at anything. So this year, we'll play it game by game, pitch by pitch, inning by inning and see where it leads us. I would expect that we will be in contention, and I will expect that we will have a nice group of fans come out during the year."

And Sternberg's goal for the season has remained constant from what he stated at the beginning of Spring Training, in that he wants "to play meaningful games in September" and beyond.

Crawford starts eighth consecutive opener

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays left fielder Carl Crawford started his eighth consecutive Opening Day game Tuesday night. Only 12 other players have started the past seven Opening Days with their current team. Crawford's Opening Day starts are two more than any other Ray; Toby Hall is the closest with five.

Here's a list of players who have started the past seven Opening Days with their current team (total number of consecutive starts in parentheses):

Chipper Jones, Braves (14); Todd Helton, Rockies (13); Paul Konerko, White Sox (12); Jorge Posada, Yankees (11); Albert Pujols, Cardinals (10); Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (10); Derek Jeter, Yankees (nine); Michael Young, Rangers (nine), Roy Oswalt, Astros (eight); Travis Havner, Indians (eight); and Crawford (seven).

Five Tampa Bay players are experiencing their first Major League Opening Day: Reid Brignac, Wade Davis, Mike Ekstrom, David Price and Sean Rodriguez.

Brignac and Rodriguez have lockers next to each other, and each seemed composed, but excited about their first Opening Day.

"[I] try not to think too much about it, treat it like another game, then after the game, I can really think about it, kind of take it in like that, remember it," Rodriguez said.

Added Brignac: "It's been a dream of mine my whole life to start out and be on the big league team all year. It's the Opening Day, and I'm very excited to be a part of it."

Rays sell out fifth consecutive home opener

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tuesday night's game was a sellout, marking the fifth consecutive year the Rays have sold out the home opener.

Over the past two seasons, the Rays are 32-9 when playing in front of crowds of more than 30,000. Tampa Bay drew 97,971 this spring for 15 home dates, the second-highest total in club history behind the 2009 mark of 103,255.

Tickets for the remaining games on this homestand are available at raysbaseball.com and raysbeisbol.com.

Rays reach broadcast agreement

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays and Salem Communications Corp. have reached an agreement to broadcast the club's entire 162-game schedule, including pregame and postgame shows on Orlando radio stations WORL 660 AM and WBZW 1520 AM. All weekday games will air on WORL, with Saturday and Sunday games airing on WBZW. To ensure full coverage in the Orlando market, weekend evening games will be simulcast on WORL.

"We have always been focused on insuring the Rays are a regional team," Rays senior vice president Mark Fernandez said. "This exciting new partnership with Salem Communications allows fans throughout central Florida to enjoy every pitch of Rays baseball all season long."

In addition to the radio news, Bright House Networks announced that it will soon carry Rays and Marlins games in Spanish in the Tampa and Orlando markets. Fox Sports Networks will produce the games in Spanish and transmit the programming to local Bright House Networks systems, which means the games will be carried on Bay News 9 en Espanol in Tampa and News 13 en Espanol in central Florida.