Rays series at Disney a success
Attendance is positive, and club sweeps Rangers in Orlando
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rays were able to enjoy three nights at home, and outside, and felt so good about it they even swept the Rangers. But that wasn't the only reason Rays president Matt Silverman smiled Thursday night.
The experimental series at Disney's Wide World of Sports went off with nary a hitch, unless you count a little early-evening drizzle on Thursday. Even better, fans packed into the stands and attendance went up each day, marking a successful venture for the Rays.
"The fans came away with our brand of baseball and the type of entertainment in the park we're striving for," Silverman said during his team's 7-6 win over the Rangers on Thursday. "It was a great exposure, high visibility for the team. These three games got the attention of this market."
There were cheers, signs and even costumes -- one fan sported a Rays sombrero given away as a Cinco de Mayo promotion, and three girls modeled homemade Tampa Bay tees on the JumboTron. Several Rays players and their families, along with manager Joe Maddon and Senior Adviser Don Zimmer, made a trip to the Magic Kingdom, while others took advantage of the area's golf courses.
And of course, it didn't hurt to win four straight for the first time since May 18-21, 2006. The celebration was capped off by a dramatic finale in which Delmon Young homered twice, the second time in walk-off fashion after a 4-hour, 13 minute marathon.
"We played well, the fans were great," Maddon said. "This atmosphere, this whole setting, was great. And I think we responded and played according how we felt. I think the players fed off of the atmosphere also.
"It was a very positive experience, beyond the wins, and I think the positive experience contributed to the wins, also."
Maddon was right. There seemed to be positive feelings all around the park, right down to the 9,635 fans who braved the smoky skies and threat of rain to watch Thursday's season finale.
"I think the rising attendance is indicative of the rising interest level, in the team and in these games," Silverman said. "It takes time for a new product to take hold. We're seeing that. The momentum is building.
"I'm eager to see how the TV ratings will follow from these games, and how much traffic we get across I-4 to Tropicana Field this summer."
The ratings in Orlando rose, starting at the beginning of the season, Silverman said, and Tampa Bay would like to increase its mid-state presence even more in the future. The Rays surveyed several people in attendance in an attempt to learn more about their new area. Results were not final, but Silverman was encouraged just by what he'd seen over the three-day series.
"This is our first time into this market," he said, "and what pleased us even more than the attendance was the exposure and the interest that was generated leading up to this series. It's unprecedented for our team."
However, inadvertently it may have been, the Rays did more than their part to draw the crowds. With the sweep, the Rays swept Texas for the first time in the teams' history. Tampa Bay also knocked out 41 hits over the three-game set, good for a .356 team batting average.
Silverman was noncommittal when speaking of another Disney series in 2008, but offered that the Rays were "satisfied with the results" and that they looked forward to continuing our commitment to the area.
"We have plenty of time in the months ahead to determine [a return]," he said.
Maddon also was not opposed to a return trip to the Disney venue.
"When we came over here originally, I was concerned with how this was going to be," he said. "But as soon as I got here and walked out there and saw the facility, there was a buzz about this place. A good buzz. And I said, 'I've got a good vibe about this.'"
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.