Way cool, but can they pitch?
Team officials say that the rays will be safe from home run balls.
By MELANIE AVE
Published July 13, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG — Five cownose rays arrived at their new summer home Wednesday, a 10,000-gallon tank behind the right-center field fence at Tropicana Field.
The gentle creatures seemed content in their new environs.
Little did they know there’s a price on their heads.
Every time a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays hits a home run into the tank — a distance of about 400 feet — the team will donate $5,000, split evenly between the Florida Aquarium and the hitter’s favorite charity.
But before anyone loses sleep over the rays’ welfare, the Florida Aquarium’s top executive says it is “extremely unlikely” the animals could be injured by a baseball.
“We talked a lot about this in the plans with the team, and we are quite confident that the rays are in no danger at all,” aquarium chief executive Thom Stork said. “The rays are our responsibility. We’re not going to put our fish in any situation where they will be in harm’s way.”
The rays are bottom dwellers, Stork said, “so they won’t be near the surface of the tank, and the force of a ball hitting the water dissipates very quickly.”
Devil Rays vice president Rick Vaughn agreed.
“If anyone thought the rays were in any danger, we wouldn’t have done this,” Vaughn said.
The five cownose rays joined two others brought over earlier as the first of 30 inhabitants of the Devil Rays’ new touch tank at the Trop, where fans will be able to pet the animals like they do at a similar tank at the aquarium in Tampa.
The 35-foot, irregularly shaped tank is being installed as part of the team’s $10-million makeover of Tropicana Field. It is believed to be the only attraction of its kind inside a professional sports arena nationwide.
Fans will be able to pet and feed the rays inside the three-foot-deep tank for the first time at the 7:15 p.m. July 21 game against the Baltimore Orioles.
About 50 fans at a time will be allowed to enter the tank area for free, for about 10 minutes. They can purchase food -— squid most likely — to give the rays.
On Wednesday, the animals were greeted with fanfare befitting a Hollywood premiere. Press releases were issued and publicity folks stood at the ready.
Journalists shot photos, filmed and noted most every detail of the animals’ seemingly mundane transfer.
The aquarium recently captured the rays from the Tampa Bay waters and conditioned them to live in a tank and get used to being fed and touched by humans. Their stingers, or barbs, were clipped.
An aquarium biologist will staff the tank during games. The rays will live in the tank during baseball season and return to the aquarium afterward.
“They come here during the season, and in the offseason they’ll get to vacation over in Tampa,’’ said Skip Uricchio, director of husbandry for the aquarium.
So why were cownose rays chosen for the tank instead of the team’s real namesake, devil rays?
Uricchio said devil rays grow to be much larger than the cownose variety, whose flattened nose actually resembles a cow. A devil ray can be 15 to 20 feet across, while a cownose ray typically tops out at less than 4 feet.
Plus, devil rays eat plankton, which is harder to provide in an aquarium setting.
Darcy Raymond, a Devil Rays vice president, downplayed the use of cownose rays instead of devil rays.
“We’re all a part of the rays family,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to be a stickler on that.”
As the rays, one female and four males, swam together around their new home, Mary Haban with the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau said the new attraction does more than just give baseball fans a new experience.
“We believe it’s another unique tourism tool,” said Haban. “The Rays are a fan favorite. What a better way to team up with them than to feature our local sea life? It’s like a little teaser.”
Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or email@example.com.
[Last modified July 13, 2006, 00:28:41]
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