ST. PETERSBURG -- A nice turnout greeted the Rays on Wednesday night when they served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to the families at the newly opened Childs Park YMCA in St. Petersburg. "How could you ever say no when they ask you to do something like this," said Rays senior baseball advisor Don Zimmer, who has lived in St. Petersburg for 53 years. "It's something that you want to do, you know?" Rays staff, current and former players, coaches, broadcasters and their families all served the 300 or so that were on hand for the event.
"This is fantastic," said David Jezek, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. "It's a great way for the Rays, who are part of our community, to give back. And we're glad to be a recipient of that." Dave Wills, who is part of the Rays' radio team, arrived with a smile and was more than happy to participate in the event. "I've always said, I think I live in life's candy store," Wills said. "I mean, look what I get to do for a living. I get to cover baseball, talk baseball, work in baseball. This is probably the least we can do to help out those who are a little less fortunate than us. "Doing something like this is a no-brainer. I know there are tough economic times out there. I've got a brother who's looking for a job. It's tough making ends meet out there, and if we can help out, even for only a day, or for six months like the Rays did this summer, I'm all for it." Wills chuckled when asked about the reception at community events now that the Rays are defending American League champions. "Used to be you kind of wondered why people would want to come out and have a free dinner from us," Wills said. "But it's different now, and that's kind of nice." The Childs Park YMCA opened in October. "It's a new facility, so I think it's going to provide a lot of nice services to that area," said Rays director of community relations Suzanne Murchland. "So we're happy to be partnering with them on this." Right-hander Dan Wheeler and his wife, Stephanie, could be counted among the Rays' numbers on Wednesday night. "It's a great feeling me to be out here," Wheeler said. "Talking to everyone is the part I like, especially the kids. I enjoy interacting with them. It's good. I know when I was a kid, I would have been starstruck to be around a Major Leaguer. I probably wouldn't have known what to say. There are a lot of these kids who are just so excited that we were in the World Series, it just makes what we do that much more enjoyable." Rays third-base coach Tom Foley is a regular at the Rays' community events during the holidays. "I think the more you give, it's just a good feeling," Foley said. "It is a tough time in the economy, for everybody. Everybody is getting crushed a little bit financially. But if there is something we can do, I think this is one of the great things. It makes you feel good, it really does. And there are a lot of other things we can do for those who don't have as much as some of us do. "It's just a matter of what we're doing with our time. This is a thing where you just touch other people. You may not see it. You may not realize it. But it's something that's very important to a lot of the parents here, as well as the kids. It's important to me." Ashley Zarle, the Childs Park YMCA community relations director, said everybody has been excited about the Rays paying a visit, a fact that could not be hidden on the faces of the youngsters. "The Rays have been very supportive of us," Zarle said. "And it was kind of our opportunity to open up our facility for them to use, not to mention bring community members in here who might not even know we're here yet."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.