New Rays dawning?

Principal owner Stuart Sternberg unveils what he hopes is an organizational image makeover with a new name and uniform.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 9, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - They strutted on the catwalk, modeling their new blue uniforms and shortened name, then talking optimistically about what they hope are better days in Tampa Bay.

But as much as Thursday's introduction of the new Rays - the Tampa Bay (no Devil) Rays - was about the future, it was also about their horrid past.

"I think it gives us as an organization an identity," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said. "It was something where we were tied to the past and the past wasn't necessarily something we wanted to be known for. Nobody is running from it, nobody is hiding from it, and we are proud of certain aspects, but this is something the organization is really able to put their arms around. And I hope and expect the fans that come out will see it as a new beginning."

The new uniforms aren't going to make the Rays play any better, and there may be some question if they look any better, but they apparently are going to feel a lot better about themselves.

"Uniforms are uniforms, but I think this is more of a symbolic change for the team where the identity of the team is changing from the team that it was to a team that is going to be a force," said injured outfielder Rocco Baldelli, batting leadoff again as the first player introduced to the enthusiastic Straub Park crowd estimated at 7,000.

"The new regime has come in and a lot of positive things are happening. The uniform changes will go right along with it. People will identify with the new Rays as opposed to the old."

Tradition, tradition

Sternberg had a vision. And one year, hundreds of conversations with MLB design officials, dozens of revisions and a few "nasty stories" later, it came out "absolutely spot on" to what he expected.

Sternberg wanted blue (even though more than half the teams wear it). He wanted a "classic, crisp look." He wanted to incorporate the sun. He wanted something that "had to say baseball." He wanted timeless and traditional.

Taking a "once in a lifetime" chance to "rebrand" a franchise in its same market with a variation of its same name, Anne Occi, MLB vice president of design services, said they got it by combining the traditional design Sternberg sought with a color scheme indicative of Florida.

The dark blue represents the water, the light blue the sky and the yellow burst the sun, though that turned out to be the most complicated part as they kept trying for the right effect and settled on what Occi said was technically "a glint." The rolling extension of the R is to reflect motion - "a subtle undulation" - of the water.

"It's a traditional baseball uniform that's unique," Occi said.

What's in a name?

Sternberg knew what the team wouldn't be called - "The Devil was going; I didn't like it."

That left them with the Rays.

And after 1,000 suggestions, after 80 serious possibilities, after considering Cannons, Stars, Wave, Dukes (seriously!), Sun Rays, and even Tampa Bay Baseball, they ended up where they started, though in more generic form (sun, cownose that swim in the outfield tank, old-logo devil in a patch on their sleeve).

"It was pretty clear this was the one," he said.

They also decided to drop TAMPA BAY from their road uniforms (though the hats still have a TB logo) in what Sternberg insisted was an effort to build their new brand and had nothing to do with disassociating from - or leaving - the area. Five other teams similarly have their nicknames on their road jerseys.

"The brand is the Rays and to really get people to focus on it, when we're on the road and they're watching the games (on TV) they're going to see the burst and we're going to get that across," he said.

And for the conspiracy theorists?

"I don't think I can be any clearer about our desires and hopes to make this work here and we expect it to work here," he said. "Tampa Bay is our home and there's no reason to read into it other than really trying to get people focused and comfortable with the Rays brand."

It's a new day in Tampa Bay

New uniforms can lead to a new image for a franchise. Just ask the Bucs, who had 14 straight losing seasons before, under new ownership, they dumped Bucco Bruce and their creamsicle orange uniforms for pewter power in 1997.

They won their first five games in red, made the playoffs that season and, after also moving into a new stadium, four of the next five, capped by a franchise-redefining Super Bowl win.

"The words I'd use are 'fresh start,'" former Bucs GM Rich McKay said. "It was an opportunity not to forget the past, but to put the bad experiences in the past and start anew.

"We had built up a lot of equity in that brand, and the equity was losing equity. We needed to make a change. There was talk of evolving the logo. We decided to have a revolution and not an evolution."

It's a new Ray in Tampa Bay

With the new uniforms coming after new ownership, new management, a new look to Tropicana Field and a new corporate attitude, the Rays are rather giddy.

After promising, "the team is going to get better," Sternberg actually said, given their overall organizational depth, "I don't think I would trade our pitching staff, top to bottom on our roster, for almost any other in all of major-league baseball at this point."

The players are optimistic, though perhaps more realistic, about a new beginning. "We don't look the same so we're taking it like it's a fresh start for everyone," pitcher Scott Kazmir said.

"All we have to do now," rightfielder Delmon Young said, "is put up the wins."

For the most part, they liked the new look, too. And DH Jonny Gomes had the perfect accessory in mind: "Maybe, a World Series ring to cap them off."