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Class A Rays night is for littler leagues

Saturday is youth night at Florida Power Park. That means baseball - and stuff!

By CAROL LOVE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- This Saturday night it's free admission for all kids under 18 as the St. Petersburg Devil Rays take on the Daytona Cubs at Florida Power Park.

For the ninth year in a row, the St. Petersburg Optimist Clubs, along with Val-Pak and the Class A Devil Rays, are making the special youth night possible.

Adults can come along, too, for just $1.

Along with watching a professional Class A ballgame, kids will also have the opportunity to win prizes. The first 1,000 children through the door will receive a free baseball. There will also be a "Dash for Cash," in which a few kids selected at random will compete against the clock and collect as many baseballs as they can to redeem a cash prize.

As in years past, there will be more than 15 new bicycles given away, but this year there is a twist -- the kids can also choose to have one of two youth baseball bats signed by retired Tampa Bay Devil Rays great Wade Boggs.

There are a few other giveaways, too.

"We're just going to go out every couple of innings and get everyone fired up and throw T-shirts up to the crowd," said John Cannon, one of the Optimist organizers of the event.

"We're going to do the "Dash for Cash' again, which last year was pretty darned cool."

In the "Dash," buckets of baseballs are dumped on the field. Children selected at random have the opportunity to redeem every ball scooped up for money.

Youth night came about almost a decade ago, when John Cannon and fellow Optimist Walt Swan were searching for a youth-based event based on something positive. (Helping out youth is the mission of all Optimist clubs.)

"One time, when Walt (Swan) was a kid, he won a bike at Al Lang Field . . . so it was a kind of a combination of a throwback to what happened to him in the '60s combined with a modern-day "let's do something positive for kids' and impact maybe 3,000 kids all in one night, instead of just one or two," Cannon said. "We hope to just be a small building block in the character of these kids so that they might remember that sometime someone did something nice for them. (And) they might remember 10 or 15 years from now and try to do the same kind of thing that Walt and I have tried to do," he said.

Last year the Optimists had the opportunity to touch Timothy Ross Jr.'s life more than once. Timothy won a bike at youth night last year, but shortly after, it was stolen from his home. When the Optimists found out about the theft, they replaced Timothy's bike with a copy of the first one and also gave him a hefty lock to keep it safe.

The doors open at 5 p.m. Saturday, and Val-Pak will be part of an exhibition game until the St. Petersburg Devil Rays take the field at 7. There is limited parking in the stadium lot. Cars can park on the street or at the Bayfront Center.

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