The Devil Rays are going to Disney World

The Devil Rays are going to Disney World

The Devil Rays are going to Disney World
Sun, May 13, 2007
By Associated Press

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Matt Silverman speaks confidently when he talks about the future of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The 30-year-old Harvard-educated team president is entrusted to help principal owner Stuart Sternberg make good on a pledge to transform a struggling organization into a hit on and off the field.

He believes in his boss's vision.

New team colors and a name change are on the horizon, and the club embarks this week on a plan to try to reposition itself into a regional franchise by playing three games against the Texas Rangers at Disney World.

In addition to increasing the team's exposure in the Orlando area, the Devil Rays are hoping to bolster television ratings across Central Florida and eventually lure fans about 90 miles southwest to their regular home in St. Petersburg.

''We're fortunate to play in a region that has a great love of baseball,'' Silverman said. ''Orlando is a big part of where we hope to spread our brand. ... And what better way is there to ignite the fandom than carry the game to them?''

The 9,500-seat stadium at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex is about 20 miles southwest of downtown Orlando and will be the smallest ballpark to host a major league game since the Athletics opened the 1996 season with six ''home'' dates at 9,000-seat Cashman Field in Las Vegas while improvements were made at Oakland Coliseum.

With temporary stands and outfield berm seating, capacity can be expanded to 13,000 at Disney, which has been the spring training base for the Atlanta Braves since 1997. Although advance ticket sales have been slow, officials remain optimistic that cooperative weather will spur a strong walk-up gate.

''It would be nice to fill the stadium, but what's going to make it successful is if fans leave feeling like they had a great experience,'' Silverman said, playing down the prospect of embarrassingly low crowds.

Despite having an exciting nucleus of young talent that's making strides toward shedding the team's losing ways on the field, the Devil Rays are last in home attendance, averaging 15,725 through 17 dates at Tropicana Field.

Texas has a history of not drawing well on visits to St. Petersburg. Last season, six games against the Rangers attracted an average of 8,241, with announced crowds ranging from 7,147 to 9,701.

Silverman, however, noted the opponent had less to do with relocating this week's games than management's desire to experiment early in the season when the weather is less humid and games are less susceptible to rain delays.

That ordinarily isn't a concern because the Devil Rays play in a dome.

''I think it's a great idea,'' said Rangers outfielder Jerry Hairston, whose family will join him in Orlando.

''First trip for my son going to Disney World. He's 18 months. First time seeing Mickey Mouse. It will be good for him. I'll record it and he'll always have it.''

Not all the Rangers are planning theme-park visits and sightseeing junkets. After all, the games do count in the standings.

''It will be business as usual,'' shortstop Michael Young said. ''I don't care where we play. I want to go out and get it done.''

NASCAR legend Richard Petty will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for one of the games. The Devil Rays are hoping to entice fans to also visit Tropicana Field, where the team's new ownership group has spent millions to make a bland stadium a more interesting place to watch games.

Fans attending the games will receive a voucher for admission for select dates in St. Petersburg, where Sternberg has extended free parking for a second season and introduced other fan-friendly features such as a 10,000-gallon tank containing 30 cownose rays that can be touched and fed.

''A couple of years ago, most of the complaints we received were about the stadium. We have reversed that trend,'' said Silverman, who was appointed president when Sternberg took control after the 2005 season.

Additional image-shaping changes are on the way, beginning with a slight modification of team's nickname for 2008.

Although Silverman insisted it's ''not a done deal,'' the club faces a May 31 deadline to notify major league baseball of plans to change logos, uniforms, colors and likely drop the word ''Devil'' from a moniker many have opposed since the franchise's inception nine seasons ago.

''We don't expect a name change to sell tickets,'' Silverman said. ''At the same time, we don't want anyone to not support us because of the name.''

Another move the team is counting on to increase exposure outside the Tampa Bay area is the relocation of the club's spring training operations from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte in 2009.

The Devil Rays are the first major league club to train in its home city since the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Athletics in 1919.

Like some of his players, Texas manager Ron Washington welcomes the change of pace this week, even if the objective of the Rangers' trip remains the same.

''You've still got to do the things that you would do if you were some place else,'' Washington said. ''You've got to hit, you've got to pitch and you've got to catch the ball.''

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Re: The Devil Rays are going to Disney World

Going to Disney World: Rays, Rangers begin set in Orlando
May 15th, 2007

(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Devil Rays kick off a nine-game homestand when they play the first game of a three-game set with the Texas Rangers this evening, but won't do so in St. Petersburg. Instead, the club begins its "residency" at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando.

Hoping to extend their popularity into further areas of Florida, The Ballpark in Disney will become the smallest stadium to host a major league game since 1996, when Oakland played six home games at Cashman Field in Las Vegas while improvements to the Coliseum were being finished.

The Ballpark has a listed capacity of 9,000 and when the games get underway, it will mark the first regular-season baseball contests played in the Orlando area.

James Shields will try to continue his solid start to the season for the Devil Rays. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 3.10 earned run average through seven starts, and won two straight outings before getting a no decision Wednesday against the Orioles.

Shields pitched well enough to win, however, as he threw a career-high nine shutout innings and scattered just three hits and a walk. However, he left with the game scoreless, and Baltimore eventually won in the 10th with a walk- off home run by former Devil Ray Aubrey Huff.

Shields is 2-0 in two career starts against the Rangers. One of those wins came on April 11, when he fanned eight batters over seven innings of five-hit ball in which he allowed five runs (four earned).

Tampa Bay comes into Orlando on a winning note, as its 2-1 victory in Sunday's series finale with Toronto snapped a six-game losing streak. Carlos Pena homered and drove in both Tampa Bay runs.

Jae Seo (2-3) was brilliant on the hill for the Devil Rays. The right-hander tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits and two walks while punching out seven to pick up the win. Al Reyes gave up a leadoff homer in the ninth, but settled down to earn his 11th save of the year.

Texas, meanwhile, lost three of four to the LA Angels of Anaheim, including Monday's 7-2 setback.

Kevin Millwood (2-4), who was activated from the 15-day disabled list prior to the game, lasted just 1 2/3 innings before aggravating his strained left hamstring. He yielded four runs on three hits and three walks before exiting.

Willie Eyre surrendered three runs on three hits over 3 1/3 innings in relief.

Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson homered for the Rangers, who have lost five of their last seven.

Mark Teixeira's first-inning single extended his hitting streak to 12 games, the longest by a Ranger this season.

Right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who is starting to show signs of turning his season around, takes the hill for Texas tonight.

McCarthy fell to 1-4 with a 9.90 ERA after a loss to Toronto on April 29. However, he has rebounded with two straight wins over the Blue Jays and Yankees, and allowed just two runs over a combined 11 1/3 frames in those starts.

In his start against New York on Thursday, McCarthy allowed just one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 6.89.

In four games (three starts) versus the Devil Rays, McCarthy is 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA. His lone victory over Tampa Bay came back on April 9.

The Rangers won two of three against the Devil Rays earlier this year after going 6-3 against the club in 2006.

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