Fans turn out at Tropicana Field to support new-look Rays

Players, staff attended annual event that included autograph sessions, kids activities

Fans turn out at Tropicana Field to support new-look Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Saturday afternoon's Fan Fest turnout at Tropicana Field spoke volumes: Rays fans are ready to embrace their new-look club.

After an offseason that saw more turnover than normal, including the departure of favorites like Joe Maddon and Ben Zobrist, the fan base will be asked to observe the made-over squad before passing judgment.

"I think the Rays' management always acts in the best interest of the team," said Larry Rodriguez of Tampa. "Sometimes, the moves they make hurt, because you loved watching this player or that -- like Zobrist. But I think the fans should trust the group that runs the team. They have done a pretty nice job over the years."

Added Betty Terry of Orlando: "You fall in love with certain players, so it's tough to see them go. But I suppose I can fall in love again."

Saturday's turnout caught the attention of Rays players.

"These fans are great," outfielder David DeJesus said. "They're one of the big reasons we play this game. We love playing in front of our crowd; they are a loyal group. It's just good to see the excitement about baseball in person, seeing them all eager and excited that the season is here."

Left-hander Jake McGee echoed DeJesus' sentiments.

"It's always good to see the fans out here, mingle with them and walk around and do all the fun events," McGee said. "You see all the smiles on all the fans' faces. It seems to make their day, and they're there because of us. So we're there to try and put a smile on their face every day."

The organization's 20th consecutive Fan Fest brought the usual amount of fun, like the activities for kids, which included "Reading with the Rays." Players helped promote the club's summer reading program by reading select stories on the Pepsi Stage.

Also on the docket were the Sagicor Coaches Clinic with former Major Leaguers and Rays broadcasters Brian Anderson and Orestes Destrade; the All Children's Hospital Kids Interactive Zone; Kids Run the Bases; photos with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty; baseball activities for all ages and appearances by Rays players and coaches at various stations throughout the day.

Fans were able to take advantage of Bright House Networks Phone-A-Friend stage to have a Rays player call a friend or family member and receive the most up-to-date information on Bright House Networks products.

The Pepsi Stage hosted the entertainment throughout the day, including Rays manager Kevin Cash, president of baseball operations Matt Silverman, and team president Brian Auld.

In the All Children's Hospital Kids' Interactive Zone, kids could be seen taking cuts in a Major League batting cage, trying out their fastball in the speed-pitch booth and swinging for the fences in the Wiffle Ball Home Run Derby.

New for 2015 was the Rays Charity Clubhouse Corner in center field that featured "Mystery Grab Bags" that included an autographed baseball from either a current or former Ray or another Major Leaguer, autographed memorabilia and team-issued apparel. All proceeds from the Rays Charity Yard Sale and the Charity Clubhouse Corner will benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation. In addition, the Charity Clubhouse Corner featured unique Don Zimmer collectibles, with all proceeds benefiting the Don Zimmer Memorial Scholarship Fund.

The Fan Fest autograph process afforded fans the opportunity to receive an autograph from the specific player(s) they wanted during a particular time frame. Proceeds from autograph sales benefited the ALS Association Florida Chapter.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.