ST. PETERSBURG -- Last season was a banner year for the Rays. They won the American League East for just the third time in franchise history, emerged victorious in a pair of winner-take-all postseason games and took home their second AL pennant. Some of the moments along the way will live forever in Tampa Bay sports history.
The only downside? They didn’t finish the job in the World Series, and they didn’t really get to share any of those moments with their fans. That changes Friday afternoon.
The Rays will welcome fans back to Tropicana Field for their home opener when they host the Yankees on Friday at 3:10 p.m. ET. They’ll line up on the field and celebrate all they accomplished last season -- not just together as a team, but together with fans.
There were fans in the stands at Globe Life Field for the World Series last year, but the crowd was tilted toward the Dodgers. The last time the Rays played a game that counted in front of their own fans at Tropicana Field was Oct. 8, 2019, when they beat the Astros in Game 4 of the AL Division Series.
“Look, it’s going to be exciting. Our fans missed a lot last year, not being able to be in the ballpark. We want to welcome them back, even though it’s limited capacity. We miss the heck out of them,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday. “To be able to raise a banner, which is something that we know is really important, something that our team and our fanbase values at the highest level, it should be a very special Opening Day and opening series.”
Here is everything you need to know about the game.
When can fans enter and what’s happening before first pitch?
• Gates will open to fans at 1:40 p.m. ET. During the opening series, all fans will receive a Rays schedule magnet while supplies last.
• During the pregame ceremonies, the Rays will unveil the 2020 AL East and AL champions banners.
• The national anthem will be performed in-person by Lynsey Bracken, a registered nurse in the emergency room at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
Pretty fun coincidence this is all taking place against the Yankees, right?
“A little bit of kind of a perfect storm,” as Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough said.
It’s fair to assume that many Rays will enjoy seeing the replay of Mike Brosseau’s decisive Game 5 homer off Aroldis Chapman … while knowing the Yankees have to watch from the other side of the field.
This will be the fifth time the Rays host the Yankees in the home opener. They have gone 4-0 in those games, winning in 2004 (8-3 in Tokyo), 2009 (15-5), 2012 (7-6) and 2017 (7-3). Tampa Bay went 8-2 against New York in 2020, the best winning percentage against the Yankees in franchise history.
How can I follow along?
The game will be televised locally by Bally Sports Sun, and it will be available for out-of-market fans on MLB.TV. All broadcasts are available on WDAE 95.3 FM/620 AM and the Rays radio network.
Bally Sports Sun’s live coverage will begin at 2 p.m. ET with a one-hour “Rays Live” pregame show from Tropicana Field. The network will also provide coverage of the pregame festivities, including the player/coach introductions and banner-raising ceremony.
And, of course, a few thousand people will be watching in person at Tropicana Field.
How many fans will be there?
The Rays sold out their ticket allotment for the home opener, so they are expected to have about 9,000 fans in attendance. Capacity is reduced at Tropicana Field this year to allow for social distancing, with the upper deck reopened, seating pods staggered throughout the ballpark and fans permitted to sit only in their ticketed seats.
Left-hander Rich Hill, who gave up a run in each of his four innings against the Marlins during his Rays debut, will start the home opener for Tampa Bay. He will line up against right-hander Corey Kluber, the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner who’s looking to bounce back from a few injury-riddled seasons.
What health-and-safety measures are in place?
The Rays have posted a full list of their protocols. Among the most important points:
• All fans 2 years of age or older, including those who have been vaccinated, must wear face masks inside Tropicana Field at all times. Fans’ masks are required to completely cover their nose and mouth except when they are actively eating or drinking in their seat. Gaiters, bandanas, masks with ventilation holes and other versions of face coverings will not be accepted.
• Paper tickets will not be available or accepted; mobile tickets can be accessed by fans on the MLB Ballpark app. Contactless security screening will allow fans in attendance to keep all items in their pockets. No bags are permitted inside the ballpark, except for diaper bags accompanying a young child and medical device bags. The only outside food or beverage permitted will be one sealed, personal-sized bottle of water.
• All staff and vendors will be screened for signs or symptoms of COVID-19 before each game, and everyone in attendance is asked to be conscious of personal risk factors, including underlying conditions. Fans are asked to not attend if they tested positive or presumptively positive for COVID-19, experienced any symptoms associated with COVID-19 or were in direct contact with anyone who is confirmed or suspected of being infected with COVID-19.
• Tropicana Field will undergo enhanced cleaning and sanitization before, during and after games. The club has also installed more effective air filters and specially designed UV lights and electronic devices in the ballpark’s air conditioning units to break down harmful contaminants. The club encourages fans to frequently wash their hands and use the hand-sanitizing stations.
What about the concessions at the Trop this year?
• Nathan’s Famous is the new official hot dog of the Rays and the only hot dog served at Tropicana Field this season. Beans & Barlour, which opened in the summer of 2018 as the first coffee and dessert lounge in St. Petersburg, will bring its boozy desserts and milkshakes to the Trop this season with offerings including cotton candy and caramel and peanut butter milkshakes. There will be two other new concession items on the Budweiser Porch: creative takes on chicken wings and a pork and beer cheese sandwich.
• Pacific Counter is moving to the Budweiser Porch, serving rice bowls and sushi. Beachside Hospitality Group will continue to serve Crabby’s menu items in the First Base Food Hall. And St. Pete Hospitality Group will offer its Beach Drive concept in the Third Base Food Hall. Coppertail Brewing Company and Kahwa Coffee are also returning to the ballpark, offering local craft beer and coffee.
• Food-service and retail employees are provided with personal protective equipment, plexiglass barriers at points of sale, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch surfaces after each contact. The Rays are also offering prepackaged items where possible, and the Trop will remain cash-free this season to create less contact between fans and staff. The MLB Ballpark app will offer mobile ordering for merchandise and food/beverage purchases, and staff will assist with contactless shopping at the Rays’ team store and other retail locations.