Rays rescore error on Little Leaguers' tickets

The special discount for kids, coaches and parents was less than one handed out to a previous game's fans.

Published July 2, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Little League coach Carl Sankel and 562 other folks from around the state were already a little bummed when they left the Devil Rays home game on June 23. The Rays lost 3-4 to the Atlanta Braves.

As the exodus from the ballpark began, the group of Little Leaguers, friends, and family, in town for the first round of the Fossil Park Diamond Dust Dizzy Dean State Championship, were handed fliers advertising $5 tickets for the following night's game.

That did it for Sankel, who helps coach Trenton Thunder, the team of St. Petersburg 8-year-olds.

Why, he wondered, were he and the other families receiving a $1 group-rate discount on $10 tickets when $5 tickets were offered for the following night? That could have saved Fossil Park $2,552 - major league savings to a Little League budget.

So he e-mailed Rays executives to complain.

"As a non-profit organization and local youth baseball league holding a state tournament, we expected a little more generosity and support from our local Major League Baseball team," he wrote to team brass.

They said that $9 tickets were the best that could be offered because the June 23 game was considered a "prime" game against a "premium" team.

According to the club's Web site, the next night's $5 tickets were offered to fans as part of a "Turn Back the Clock" promotion.

"I don't think they understood that we were paying for the tickets ourselves," Fossil Park's executive board recording secretary Tammy Campbell said.

"They were acting like I was crazy and that this was a wonderful deal," Sankel said.

The Devil Rays, Campbell said, may have thought the youth league was using money from a fundraiser to cover the cost of tickets, which Fossil Park had done in the past.

But this outing is put on for statewide teams participating in the tournament held at the park's baseball diamonds. It comes out of their budget.

Also during the June 23 game, mothers, sons, coaches, and teammates were separated when their 563 tickets were split between the first and third base side.

"I thought they could do a heck of a lot better," Sankel said.

Their complaints didn't fall on deaf ears.

When given an opportunity for redemption, Devils Rays executives stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park, said Tina Boeving, ways and means chairwoman for Fossil Park

More than 1,000 participants and their families are expected for the second round of the tournament on July 7. That means the organization needed that many tickets for the July 7 game against the New York Yankees.

The Fossil Park executives were looking for a way to stretch their dollar with a little help from the Devil Rays.

Devil Rays executives discounted $9 seats to $7 a piece, a decision they said had "never been done before."

The price drop will save the youth league more than $2,000.

A tournament participant will yell "play ball" before the first pitch and four Little Leaguers will sing Take Me Out to the Ball Game at the seventh-inning stretch.

The Rays also are adding promotional items, including packs of baseball cards, to gift bags for coaches and players.

When the tournament teams arrive at Progress Energy Park for opening ceremonies on July 7, the Devil Rays are relaxing a policy and allowing Fossil Park board members to sell beverages to help offset the cost of the tickets.

Rumor has it that Raymond, the Devil Rays mascot, may make an appearance at the opening ceremonies or a tournament tailgate party outside of the Trop.

"Once we discovered what happened, we wanted to do whatever we could to make it right," said Rick Vaughn, Devil Rays vice president of public relations.

Fossil Park board members - and their budget - couldn't be happier.

"They've tried really hard for us," Boeving said.

And Carl Sankel? "Well, that sounds a lot better," he said.

Casey Cora can be reached at ccora@sptimes.com.