Rays on the Runway a stylish success

Rays on the Runway a stylish success

Rays on the Runway a stylish success
ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps the highlight of the seventh annual Rays on the Runway event occurred when Carlos Pena took the microphone from the emcee, Rays' senior adviser Dick Crippen, and enticed Elliot Johnson to sing to the crowd of hundreds in the banquet hall at the St. Petersburg Marriott.

On a night when players mingled with fans at a fund-raiser benefiting the Children's Dream Fund, Johnson capped the evening when he first asked the fashionably dressed audience to urge B.J. Upton to join him, then teamed with the center fielder in an a capella version of Usher's "Nice and Slow."

"Yeah, that was a fun one," Upton said. "This is all for a great cause, and any time you can help raise awareness and money by putting on a good show for the fans, even by showing a side they don't normally see, then it's all worth it."

Johnson and Upton -- or the "EJ and BJ Show," as they were quickly coined -- were two of a record 19 team representatives at the event to raise money for the non-profit Chldren's Dream Fund, dedicated to fulfilling the requests of seriously ill children in the Tampa Bay area. Also attending were Burke Badenhop, Wade Davis, Sam Fuld, Jeremy Hellickson, J.P. Howell, Matt Joyce, Jose Lobaton, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Carlos Pena, Cesar Ramos, Will Rhymes, Sean Rodriguez, Luke Scott, James Shields, Ben Zobrist and batting coach Derek Shelton.

Hosted by the Rays' wives, the fashion show was vastly different from the first one, seven years ago, when there were "about 50 people in the crowd," said James Shields' wife, Ryane.

"This is remarkable," said Ryane Shields, who organized the first benefit and has been the director of the Rays Wives organization since. "It's a blessing to see all of these people in attendance, and it's an even bigger joy to see the smiles of all the kids when they interact with the players. I'm thankful to everyone who attended, and I'm appreciative of all the players who made a commitment to participate."

Over the past few weeks, the players had to make time in their busy schedules to be measured for their clothing from Saks Fifth Avenue, the main sponsor of the night.

On Thursday they strutted down the runway to dance tracks. Dressed in both casual wear and business attire, some -- including Badenhop, Joyce, Johnson, Scott, Shields and Upton -- carried themselves as though they'd stepped off a plane from Paris, whereas others, namely Hellickson and Lobaton, displayed the nervousness of a rookie on stage.

Among the wives who participated were Sara Badenhop, Katelyn Davis, Sarah Fuld, Heather Howell, Nicole Johnson, Pamela Pena, Giselle Rodriguez, Allison Shelton and Julianna Zobrist.

In addition, eight "Dream Children" joined the Rays' players and wives/girlfriends on the runway.

One of them, Jeremy Keyser, 10, stole the show, addressing the crowd and asking them to keep contributing to the fund.

"This is a fun night, and one I'll always remember," said Keyser, who was there with his mother, Paula, and father, Mark.

Keyser realized his dream a couple of weeks ago, when he was able to fly in the Goodyear blimp up and down the east coast of Florida, a trip followed by a helicopter ride from Pompano Beach to Miami and back. Keyser first started liking blimps when he saw the remote-controlled one inside Tropicana Field.

"To have the players come out to the event like they did speaks volumes of the team's commitment to the community," said Cynthia Lake, executive director of the Children's Dream Fund. "The effect they have on kids is priceless, and the money that is raised because of them goes a long way to helping make dreams like Jeremy's realized."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.