tampabay.com

Rays make their pitch to reconnect

By By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 3, 2005


There are a few new things to check out at Tropicana Field this season: the state-of-the-art video message board that hangs on the front of the Beach; a kids activity area being installed beyond the centerfield fence; and the addition of a Herman T's barbeque stand.

But, Rays officials say, the biggest change will be in attitude as they make a renewed commitment to connect their players with their fans.

"We've given a lot of thought to help make the experience better and we're going to use the players as the centerpiece," said Dave Auker, senior vice president of business operations. "That's what people were screaming for: a connection. Chuck (LaMar, the general manager) and Lou (Piniella, the manager) were understanding. And I think we're being pretty aggressive."

Rays players and coaches will sign autographs before every weekend game, with four players available for 10-minute sessions on Friday and Sunday in addition to the regular 30-minute Saturday sessions.

Ten times during the season, Rays players and coaches will greet fans at the gates.

All fans will now receive a free program, called Rays Insider, that has rosters and player information.

The most visible improvement at the ballpark will be a 250-foot-long, 6-foot-high, full-color, fully animated video board that will display out-of-town scores, game info, ads and interactive messages. Outside the Trop, an electronic marquee should be in place around May 1.

A kids play area is being built on the old Warning Track party deck just to the rightfield side of the Batter's Eye restaurant. When it opens around May 1, it will be a place for kids to run and climb while their parents watch the game. Kid-priced concessions will be available.

A series of activity booths is being planned for Rightfield Street. Other activity areas, such as the pitch speed and batting cage games, are being upgraded.

The barbeque restaurant is the only significant addition to the food fare. There is talk of setting up a smoker outside the rotunda.

The Rays are touting their value-priced seating, with nearly 15,000 upper-deck seats available for $5 for the 56 nonpremium home games.#