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FanFest Report for Saturday (2/18)

Unlike past years, the FanFest this year was only on one day. The hours of operations were extended, as the park opened at 10 (9 for season ticket holders), and closed at five, but the Rays did not have a second day of festivities. You could argue which is better, and I don't really have an opinion one was or another, but I wish I had known this before I walked out the door. Never fear, I went everywhere I needed to to gather the info I needed, and I still got a good staple of pictures, however I realized the event was only one day. Nonetheless, here is my full report, which follows the jump.

-FanFest introduced two cool new features this year, a 'You Make the Call' booth in centerfield where you are afforded the opportunity to watch a moment in Rays' history of your choosing, and make the call like a broadcaster would of the play. And for $2, you could get a CD burned of your call for a take-home present. Among the choices, and this is going by memory, were Wade Boggs' 3000th hit, Carl Crawford's 2003 opening day walkoff home run, Jonny Gomes' record walkoff blast last year, and a Huff grand slam. I'm sure I'm missing something, but the point is, it was a cool addition.

-The other cool thing this year was the 'Wild 98.7 Dunk Tank' in the left field bullpen party area. This was by far the most entertaining thing at the park, as people got to try their hand throwing baseballs at this button to dunk a person wearing Red Sox or Yankees insignia. I literally sat there and watch for an hour as kids from 3 to 15/16 tried throwing at this button. A few of them hit the button with the ball, and some of the ones that didn't stormed the tank and pressed it anyways. This is what I most regret not taking a picture of, it was truly entertaining.

-Another notable feature this year: concession stands. Who's outside the box idea was it to open them up this year. Looks like someone in the marketing department put two and two together and said 'Hey, if we have large crowds of fans for an entire day, maybe someone will want to buy a drink or food'? Now isn't that a novel idea? Last year, you either had to go to the Budweiser Brew House or Ferg's across the street.

-Speaking of Ferg's, the only inductee to the 'Pepsi Devil Rays Wall of Fame' that I remember was Mark Ferguson, the owner of the fan favorite bar across the street from the ballpark. On hand for the induction ceremony were Dick Crippen, some Pepsi suits, Matt Silverman, and, oddly enough, Rays top prospect Wes Bankston.

-A sign of the changing of the times at the Trop came clear to me after seeing Stu Sternberg everywhere. Him and his 15 year old son really made themselves seen the entire day, whether it was at the autograph tables, or the Wall of Fame. Stu was out and about, meeting people and leaving good impressions all around. A sign of the changing times was when this one fan tried to get down into the right field bullpen area, which was being used as the autograph tables prep area where Stu was. Of course, in came the Gestapo security guard left over from the Namoli regime ready to get out the Taser, but Stu came swooping in and addressed the man personally and chatted with him for a few minutes. By the time the conversation was over, it looked like Stu had won himself a fan.

-Also making the rounds at FanFest was Matt Silverman, who was tailed by a local sports camera crew for awhile. He was routinely stopped by fans and chatted personally with each one of them. In introduced myself to him, told him about DRays Bay, and he showed a genuine interest in my well-being before asking 'What can we do to improve your experience here'? That is what public relations is about, make the consumer feel as though they are cared about and be as friendly as possible with them. Bravo to Stu and Matt on an excellent day of meeting and greeting.

-I met up with three of my biggest friends within the DRO, the Rays' radio team of Dave Wills, Andy Freed, and Rich Herrera, who introduced me to ESPN analyst Peter Gammons, who was at the Trop for a Q&A session. Gammons was not nearly as pompous as I figured he'd be, and I left with a good impression. As for the Q&A session, no notable answers, as most of the questions were along the lines of 'Who is the best hitter you've ever watched'?, that type of thing. But it was nice of Gammons to pay a visit.

-Lastly, and probably the most hilarious story was that of the never ending quest to give away Daytona 500 tickets. During FanFest, you could go over to the NAPA Auto Parts stand and register for two free Daytona 500 tickets. Well, eventually, they called a winner's name, and gave him five minutes to come up to the stands. He was a no show. Then, they called another name, and gave him five minutes. No show. Then, they called two more names in succession, and gave them 10 minutes. Both were no shows, so finally they gave everyone in the park 15 minutes t come over, crowd around, and participate in a new drawing. Well, they ended up calling about 15 names over 15 minutes in this new drawing, and no one claimed the tickets. Finally, on the 16th draw, the tickets were won by......the guy standing right behind the PA girl on the Jumbotron. And it gets better, the next drawing was for some crappy gift like a bat or something, and it was claimed on the first call. Though I am proud that it took an institution in our state more than 20 tries to GIVE AWAY Daytona 500 tickets, it was still pretty peculiar.

-The Rays had their 2006 Gasparilla float on display at FanFest, another thing I wished I would've snapped a photo of...Sure, you had your normal long player autograph lines, but one of the odder autographs to be had at the Trop was from this very, very old actor from the Wizard of Oz who was at the ballpark for who knows what, and he sure drew a line...As mentioned in a previous diary, there is a bunch of plywood up on the first base terrace box seating location for a new club to debut this season...The new Ray tank, to be located in right-center field next to the Batter's Eye Resturant, for now is still home to a kids play area...The event featured some of the usual things, including a whiffle ball home run contest, speed pitch, ticket tables, a roving baseball museum from the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame, some old Rays jerseys, clearance sales, corporate promotional booths, and SABR's stand...Among the interesting names signing autographs were Shawn Camp, Jamie Shields, Chris Seddon, Jason Hammel, Elijah Dukes, and a noticably late Joe Maddon...The shortest autograph line? Joe Maddon and Bill Evers.

Well, thus ends my sermon for the day. I guarantee you, it is about the most complete recap of FanFest you will find, but wait, there's more! The few pictures that I did take will be uploaded next weekend.