It was on September 3rd, 2011 that I attended my last Rays game, and it would be the most eventful game I had ever been to.
In my young life, I have attended just 10 major league games over that course of time, with the Rays being involved in nine. The first came during the team's historic 15 game losing streak in 2002. I went to one more that year and watched Randy Winn collide with a rookie left fielder and can remember thinking that the left fielder (Carl Crawford) was awful.
In 2003, the team was nearly no-hit during my lone game of the year, then in 2004, Rey Sanchez smacked a walkoff inside the park home run in a game in which I received my first and only foul ball. In July 2005, my family braved Hurricane Dennis and witnessed waves crashing violently over barriers on the Howard Franklin bridge to go see the Rays get rocked by the Tigers. Then, I moved to Tennessee, five hours from the nearest major league baseball team.
However, the city is home of the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian league, who play the Princeton Rays at home about three times a year, so that was my only connection with the team and the players that did come through I didn't pay much attention to due to the rate of players who actually made it to the majors.
We went to our first Braves game in July of 2007. It was an afternoon game with temperatures in the triple digits, and lasted an unforgiving 15 innings. Following the game, my mother dropped her keys at some pint while wandering the stadium, so had to wait for AAA, making it an eight hour experience.
In 2010, I would get to see the team's new uniforms at Turner Field and see Evan Longoria perform live, but not before a three hour rain delay. At least this time it was a victory. About 12 hours later, I would be in attendance for another Braves/Rays game and was able to obtain several autographs (!) with David Price and Rafael Soriano being among the notables. That was the high point, the Rays would lose that game.
Finally, in September of 2011, I would return to the Trop for the first time in six years and everything was going just right. My parents had taken my best friend and I down to Florida for our high school senior trip, while we were serving as their designated drivers. My reward for agreeing to this would be two Rays games, and my best friend would suffer through, not just because it was the Rays, but because he hates baseball.
Anyway, the first game was on September 2nd against the Orioles and it started out nicely, as Longoria doubled in two runs in the first and David Price was dealing, until the seventh. Then the wheels fell off and Baltimore scored three times, and despite a bases loaded rally in the ninth, the Rays would lose, 3-2.
This had been my Rays experience, but none as important as my most recent attended, four years ago.
On to September 3rd.
My friend and I, along with my parents, arrived about an hour before the first pitch. We purchased cheap seats in the Rays "Captain Morgan party deck" (priorities!) and then proceeded to sit wherever we please as most fans do (#bluesestlife). We did all of the things you do at the stadium, wandered around, checked out the Rays tank, and then hung out at the Batters' Eye restaurant in center field until first pitch.
I hated having to watch through the netting and glass, so my friend and I separated from my parents and walked back out to our "seats" on the Captain Morgan deck. We took the traditional photo with the statue, and moved down to the front row, where there were a row of stools that were unoccupied, pushed under a table. There was nothing on this table except for two novelty cowbells from the team's 2008 season.
So my friend and I took a seat, and prepared for the beginning of the game. Meanwhile, we noticed something odd as a member of security began to approach us, but was stopped by an elderly man who informed her, "it was okay."
My friend and I paid it no attention at the time and we watched the first pitch, which I captured below.
After this is where the fun begins.
The elderly gentlemen joined my friend and I at the table and began asking me questions about my camera and asked if I would be able to share the pictures through email and such. I took the SD card out to explain to him, but sadly the batteries fell out of the camera and one of the rolled off the deck and fell between the crevice that separates the deck from the outfield lost (and may very well still be there).
Whatever benefit this elderly gentleman thought he would gain from our attendance was gone.
Meanwhile in the game, Wade Davis served up a two run homer to Nick Markakis -- but not to worry you, the Rays mounted a quick comeback, as Melvin Upton doubled to the left center field gap to tie the game.
I screen capped it below, showing our position. The man with the bright white diamond is to my left, this is the elderly gentleman.
With the game moving along, my friend and I get prepared to move along to a new section, when suddenly he thinks it would be a good idea to take the two novelty cowbells with us. After all, they had just been sitting there for an hour with no one coming to claim them, and if my friend was going to watch hours of baseball it would be nice to have a souvenir. The elderly gentleman had taken off some time before.
So, my friend stuffs the bells into his pockets (insert joke here) and we begin our trek back through the restaurant, when we are stopped by my parents. They immediately turn us around and take my friend and I right back to the same seats we had been in.
As soon as we arrived back at those seats, the elderly gentleman charged us and accused us of stealing his bells, with my parents, in need of a designated everything, denying his accusations through much profanity. Meanwhile, the security personel who almost approached us before were now in a shouting match with my father, all while a small group of men who had been sitting at the tables behind us began heckling the security and elderly gentlemen as they (unbeknownst to us) had been moved from the seats prior to the elderly gentlemen and security and regretted not maintaining their position on the rail.
While the commotion was still going on, my friend quickly slipped the bells from his pocket and placed them on the front table, as if they had appeared by magic, and we quickly took off before my father's shouting resulted in all of us being ejected from the stadium.
It was during all of those commotion that the Rays had quietly loaded the bases with two outs with who else, but Bossman Junior Upton stepping up the plate.
With the first pitch, Upton skied a ball almost right at us. Defensive extraordinaire Nolan Reimold had a beat on it and traced it back to the track, but fate had already sent that baseball toward the hell we'd unleashed on the Captain Morgan Party Deck.
To this day I am convinced he must have overheard the commotion and lost track of his vicinity to the wall. Reimold mistimed his leap, and the ball landed a good three feet from his glove, bouncing back into the playing field. Upton ended up on second, meanwhile all the runner scored making it 6-3, Rays.
We quickly designated-walked ourselves to some fresh blue seats once the Rays started scoring runs, this time nestling in behind the Rays bullpen, where we watched the rest of the game in peace.
The Rays had performed well through most of that August, but a bad feeling was settling into the clubhouse. Tampa Bay was at risk of a slump, having won only five of the previous twelve games. They would win the game, take the series from the Orioles, beginning an epic playoff run by going on a spree of eleven wins in fifteen games, including two extra innings victories.
Up until that point the Rays and Red Sox were on opposite paths to the post season, but for the Rays everything changed with that win on September the 3rd. With those eleven wins in pocket, the Rays would hit a wall with the Yankees, but took the final game of the four game series in New York. Meanwhile Boston's "Best Team Ever" was faltering, and the playoffs were suddenly in sight.
The Rays would drop one more game when they opened the six game homestand, but won the final five games of the season to sneak into the first one-game wild card play-in game in baseball history. Everything had to go just right for the Rays to make the post season that season, and you can thank my friend's kleptomania for putting the Rays back on track.
You're all welcome.
This was one of my many memories made at the ballpark and hopefully it was an enjoyable read. If you have a special memory that you'd like to share, please make a fanpost telling of your story!