As the baseball season headed into September, I was a bit melancholy about the end of the season. As most readers know, my blog primarily focuses on first time trips to minor league ballparks, with a few visits to major league parks thrown in. The minor league regular season wraps up around Labor Day weekend, and I always struggle to come up with relevant blog posts in the off season. However, this season went out with a “major league” bang, thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays and Rays radio.
Just to give you a bit of background on you favorite blogger, I grew up in St. Petersburg, WAY before the Rays were a twinkle in anyone’s eyes. We lived for spring training, and back in the day, St. Pete was home to both the Cardinals and the Mets. Both teams shared Al Lang Field, later rebuilt and renamed Al Lang Stadium. In case you didn’t know, this blog is named after famed NY Mets player Ed Kranepool, who played 18 seasons for the Mets. He was the last of the original Mets to retire, and played his entire career for New York.
Once the big league pulled up stakes in the spring, we did have minor league baseball with the Florida State League, but no major league team to call our own. Our only contact with MLB was the Saturday game of the week on NBC, and listening to Braves radio. Yes, kids, this was before cable and the MLB At Bat app, allowing us now to watch and listen to thousands of games a year. There were many weekends we would go camping with our grandparents and would sit by the campfire listening to the Braves on a transistor radio! Many of my younger colleagues can’t believe I can actually follow a game on the radio. But once you grow up with radio, you can’t ever go back!
Skip ahead to current day. Besides the Dodgers, the other team I follow religiously is the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks to my MLB app, I can stream video of nearly all their games, and more importantly, can get the radio feed of every game during the year. Over the last couple of years, I have even started listening to the radio feed while streaming the video of the game. In the last year, to the disappointment of the Rays announcers, I have gotten on Twitter, and have had conversations with the Rays announcers via Twitter. I know Dave Wills is probably tired of reading my tweets during the game!! Still, he has mentioned me a few times during the game, and politely has mentioned me with “Our buddy Greg Prescott tweeted me with…..” Those moments have really been fun this season!
On September 9th, I was listening to the Rays vs Yankees and as Dave and Andy usually do, they announce their listener contest, where they give away two suite tickets to a lucky fan, and all you need to do is email them your name and phone number. Now, I didn’t have a trip planned to St. Pete anytime soon, but I thought, what the heck, I emailed my info. As the game went on, I then started to stream the Dodgers on my tablet while watching the Rays game. As the 5th inning started, sure enough, they announced the winner, but I didn’t hear it at first. A couple minutes later, I heard “I’m surprised our friend Greg Prescott hasn’t called in yet. He tweeted me earlier about Eddie Gaedel bobblehead night tonight.” I was shocked!! I actually won! I called in, and sure enough,I won two tickets to a suite for the Sept 24th game against the Red Sox! I booked my flight that same night.
My buddy Mark and I got to the stadium a little over an hour before first pitch. This after I scoured the city looking for an official MLB baseball to get autographs on. I even checked the store where I got my letterman’s jacket in 1979 for track! No luck! Fortunately I was able to get an “unofficial” ball with the Rays logo at the stadium.
The suite was awesome! All kinds of great ballpark food: nachos, cheese, hot dogs, pulled pork to make sandwiches, big screen TVs galore to watch both the Rays game and to catch the Gators/Tennessee game.
Mark and I were settled in, making sandwiches, and then Dave Wills from the Rays radio broadcasting team stopped by. I have been tweeting Dave and the Rays radio guys all season long. Mark and I waited a few minutes, then struck up a great conversation with Dave. I told him I was the guy from Virginia who tweets him all the time. He thought that was awesome. We talked about the current ballpark, and the plans for a new ballpark, and the things we would like to see. What a great guy!
Mark and I also chatted with Dave about the history of Tropicana Field, and how it came to be and how it was the Thunderdome back in the early 90’s. In fact, when St. Petersburg thought they had a deal to have the San Fransisco Giants move there, I was able to just walk into the stadium and ask if I could take photos. For those long and short term Rays fans, this is how Tropicana Field looked in August of 1992 when that announcement came. This could never happen in 2016!
Dave left to head over to the broadcast booth, but within minutes, Andy Freed popped by! Just like Dave, Andy was very approachable and we had a great, but abbreviated chat, as it was getting closer to gametime. What a great crew! And I got both of them to autograph my ball!
My autographed ball
We settled in to the game, and late struck up a conversation with a great fan, Frank Jianneti. Frank had an interesting background with the Rays as well as minor league baseball. His
daughter actually interned with the Rays broadcasting crew about 10 years ago, and his son played in the Mets organization as well as in the independent league. You can check out his son Joe’s stats here.
Midway through the game, someone from the Rays organization came up to our table and struck up a conversation with us. He turned out to be Larry McCabe, Senior Director of Broadcasting. We all talked about how much we loved listening to Andy and Dave (and we weren’t just blowing smoke), and the rapport that Dave and Andy have on the air. We discussed the history of Rays broadcasting, how the Rays actually own the radio rights so Dave and Andy actually work for the Rays, and how they came to select them as announcers. Larry also said that we (us old guys!) were actually indicative of their demographic. Many of my friends can’t believe that I actually prefer radio announcing to TV announcing.
After a great conversation, Larry asked us if we would like to see the radio broadcasting area and the press box. Heck yes!!! He walked us over first to the booth with the Spanish announcers, Enrique Oliu and Ricardo Taveras. That was pretty cool! Not that we understood anything they were saying!!
Then we walked next door to see Andy and Dave working the game. We watched them for a few minutes and were in total awe!
Here’s Dave calling the action.
During the break in the action, they took time out to chat with us again. What a great experience! This is Dave with one of his unbroken mics. Foul balls have crushed a couple of his mics this season!
Larry then walked us over to the main press box area. Very cool to see how many folks were covering the game. Everyone from MLB to the Tampa Bay Times!
The press box also includes a plaque dedicated to Gerry Ramsburger. In addition to the information on the plaque, Gerry served our country and fought at the Battle of the Bulge and won a Bronze Star. He later became a championship winning coach at Boca Ciega High School, and left in the mid 60’s to supervise a jobs program for at-risk kids. He then taught political science at then St. Petersburg Junior College, where according to the Tampa Bay Times, “students would stand in line for hours to sign up for his classes.” A fitting tribute to a great guy!
After our tour, Larry escorted us back to our suite. From then on, we didn’t care about the outcome of the game. As it turns out, the visiting Red Sox pulled off a 6-4 win. Sure we were disappointed with the outcome of the game, but we left with the experience of a lifetime!
And now I have a new goal for the 2017 season: a press pass for an MLB game. Larry, if you read this, I might be calling you next season!! Thank you Tampa Bay Rays, and Rays radio! #RaysUp!