The Tampa Bay Rays are celebrating two decades of baseball this upcoming season, and the team is embracing its past while thinking positively about the future.
On Wednesday, Rays leaders touted a new 20th anniversary logo and other plans to celebrate the occasion. But absent was mention of the team’s future in St. Petersburg, the loss of star players like Evan Longoria, and poor fan attendance.
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that although the team has struggled the last few years, a new season brings optimism.
“As they say, all the teams are starting even. And we’ve got to just win some baseball games come April, May, June, July to see how this thing plays out,” he said.
The Rays ranked last in the league in home game attendance last season, and was the sixth year in a row the team came at the bottom of Major League Baseball. Attendance shrunk from 2016 to 2017, down about 30,000 to 1,253,619, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.
Rays officials have expressed interest in moving the team to Hillsborough County, making its future in St. Petersburg uncertain.
Bill Walsh, vice president of Strategy and Development, said putting a great team on the field and improving fan experience are ways the team is moving forward in the face of such challenges. He adds that their needs are changing, turning ball games into more social and entertainment experiences.
“Whether you’re a die-hard baseball fan who wants to wear headphones and keep score, or whether you want to come for a great night out, we’re trying to make something for everyone here,” Walsh said.
The team is investing $4 million in upgrades of food, drink and retail shops at Tropicana Field. That includes adding food halls and a reinvention of menus, including a Reuben Cuban sandwich.
The Rays will celebrate the past with events all season long, including throwback jerseys bearing the original Devil Rays name and logo, and an opening weekend celebration of the inaugural team.
President Brian Auld said while the team is looking back, they're also celebrating their place in the community going forward.
"It really blows my mind to think about the fact that today there are 20-year-olds walking around Tampa Bay who have known no Tampa Bay without the Rays. I think that is the beginning of our generational fan base -- I know that that is the beginning of our generational fan base,” he said.
- Throwback jerseys will be worn March 31, June 9, June 23 and Sept. 8.
- Bobblehead giveways include Carl Crawford (April 14), Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez (June 9) Akinori Iwamura (Aug. 4), Wade Boggs (Aug. 25), Dan Johnson (Sept. 29).
- The 20th anniversary patch will appear on the left sleeve of all regular season jersey combinations and on the right side of the caps.
- Celebrations of the 1998 inaugural team on March 31 and the 2008 AL champion team on Aug. 4.
- On Opening Day, fans will receive a 20th anniversary cowbell.
- A 2-for-$20 ticket special for the party deck will be offered for half the home games, and $20 each for the other half.