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Naimoli tells Rays to avoid hospital gala


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- Vince Naimoli has ordered the Devil Rays to shun a fundraiser for the medically needy because organizers of the event decided to hold it at St. Petersburg's Coliseum instead of Tropicana Field.

Although the non-profit St. Petersburg hospitals are sponsors at the Trop, provide medical services there and pay for a corporate suite, the Rays' managing general partner last month told top aides not to support the Bayfront-St. Anthony's Health Care Foundation fundraiser "in any way."

"I see Bayfront-St. Anthony's has again shunned us for this event," he wrote team officials after receiving a postcard about the foundation event at the Coliseum. "Based on their second snub in two years (after a commitment made to us to hold this event at Tropicana Field), we cannot support it in any way."

The foundation gala is supposed to help the hospitals pay for health care services for the poor, including mammogram screenings and childrens' vaccinations. Last year's event raised nearly $100,000 for the foundation.

Volunteer organizers of the dinner-dance and silent auction, eager for as much corporate assistance as they can get, were taken aback by Naimoli's order.

"Our community is very small and close. I've been involved with Bayfront and St. Anthony's for years. They do a lot for the community and we would never do anything to slight anybody, especially the Devil Rays," said Verda Watson, volunteer co-chairwoman of the Sept. 23 event. "I don't see why he would become angry. ... It would be like the Vinoy getting angry because we didn't use their room."

Celma Mastry, the other co-chairwoman, said Bayfront-St. Anthony's CEO and President Sue Brody talked to Naimoli about using the stadium for last year's gala, but party organizers decided decorating would have been too expensive. Naimoli offered the stadium for free, though the foundation would have been obliged to use the Rays' concessionaire, Volume Services, for catering.

Brody declined to comment, but spokeswoman Cassandra Morrell said the hospitals appreciated Naimoli's offer of the Trop last year, though "it just didn't meet our needs." Mrs. Mastry said she was unaware of anyone considering the stadium for this year's event.

"We hate to spend $4,000 or $5,000 on decorations because we would rather have that money go to the cause," Mrs. Mastry said. "I am really very disturbed he's that upset, because we need all the help we can get."

Naimoli, previously active in raising money for St. Anthony's, did not return a call for comment. Devil Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn said he was unaware of a flap with Bayfront-St. Anthony's, but said the team routinely contributes to such causes.

This is not the first time Naimoli has been angry with other corporations in the community. In April, he threatened to sue the Times and briefly ordered all the paper's vending racks removed from the stadium after a newspaper spoof of team officials, including Naimoli, infuriated him. The racks were returned to the stadium by the next game day.

In 1998, Naimoli clashed with Dillard's after it ran a newspaper ad featuring a photo of Devil Rays outfielder Dave Martinez in uniform, without permission to use the logo. Saying he was fed up by Naimoli's refusal to accept an honest mistake, a Dillard's executive canceled orders for future Devil Rays merchandise.

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