ST. PETERSBURG -- Optimism ran high underneath Tropicana Field's roof Saturday afternoon at the 2017 Rays Fan Fest.Players and manager Kevin Cash were out and about, mixing with the fans at the crowded Trop and helping along the glow about the coming season.Cash and James Click, the Rays' vice president
ST. PETERSBURG -- Optimism ran high underneath Tropicana Field's roof Saturday afternoon at the 2017 Rays Fan Fest.
Players and manager Kevin Cash were out and about, mixing with the fans at the crowded Trop and helping along the glow about the coming season.
Cash and James Click, the Rays' vice president of baseball operations, addressed fans in shallow center field, with longtime play-by-play man Dewayne Staats acting as the moderator.
Newly acquired left-hander Ryan Yarbrough, who came to Tampa Bay in the trade that sent Drew Smyly to the Mariners, could be seen posing with Rays fans along the right-field line. Catcher Luke Maile shot pool with Jeanette Lee, a.k.a. "The Black Widow," in shallow left field. And adjacent to the pool table, a heated game of pingpong took place between Steven Souza Jr. and Corey Dickerson.
Surrounding all of the activies were fans decked out in Evan Longoria, Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier jerseys, and all seemed full of anticipation for what the new season will bring.
Gary Thomas, a fan from Tampa, stood in center field and marveled about the skills of Kiermaier.
"Look how big it is out here," Thomas said. "He covers so much ground and makes it look so easy. I used to play a little center field myself, but this guy, I don't know, he plays it like nobody I've ever seen. He's worth the price of admission.
"I think this year's team is going to be the feel-good story of baseball, just like we were in 2008. Kevin Cash has come along as a manager, and we've got young players. I can't wait for the season to begin."
Sam Breedlove of St. Petersburg noted that he wasn't happy about the recent trade of John Forsythe to the Dodgers, but he added: "I think our front office knows what it's doing. They took a little step back last year with some of the moves they made, but they're not afraid to try something different. If you check the record, they've been pretty good with what they've done."
Carl Peters wore an old-school Devil Rays jersey, and the resident of Clearwater put the current team's situation in perspective.
"I remember when we never won anything, never had a chance to even contend," Peters said. "Now, there's always hope that they will find some kind of magic. A lot of that has to do with the way they find good pitching. I'm really excited about this year. I think they are going to surprise some people."
The Rays' focus will shift south in a week, when pitchers and catchers report to Port Charlotte, Fla., for their first day of Spring Training on Feb. 12. The season begins on April 2 against the Yankees at Tropicana Field.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.