10/07/08 12:34 AM EST
Clincher celebrated in Rays' domain
Punch, cowbells and Mohawks come alive again in St. Pete
By Brittany Ghiroli / MLB.com
The sign scrawled in what is now considered Tampa Bay-blue, wasn't just catchy or clever. Following the Rays' American League Division Series-clinching win on Monday, the hopeful words are becoming increasingly possible.
And while the Rays enjoyed a champagne-soaked celebration at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night, a rowdy crowd gathered in St. Petersburg's Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill to enjoy a familiar liquid of their own: Rays' playoff punch.
"We give it away every time [the Rays] win a playoff game," owner Mark Ferguson said.
Ferguson has owned and operated the watering hole long before the Rays moved in to Tropicana Field across the street. Since baseball came to the bay area in 1998, Ferg's proximity to the Trop has made it a magnet for diehard Rays fans to root for the hometown team.
And as that team put the finishing touches on Monday night's 6-2 win over the White Sox, Ferguson and his staff -- heavily decked out in Tampa Bay garb -- doled out blue refreshments to the Rays-chanting, cowbell-clacking crowd on hand.
"I've seen the [Tampa Bay] Lightning and the Bucs win," Dan Cornelius said, "but there's an atmosphere here that's second to none."
The St. Pete resident sat with several Rays fans and looked around the room at the Mohawk-wearing group that had taken to the cowbells for each of the club's final nine recorded outs.
"They just have this inertia, this forward motion going," Cornelius said of the young Rays team. "They haven't earned the respect of the nation, but there's no question they've earned the respect of Tampa Bay."
|"They haven't earned the respect of the nation, but there's no question they've earned the respect of Tampa Bay."|
|-- St. Pete resident Dan Cornelius|
"I knew we were going to take [the White Sox] today," Mike Lee said. "I had a feeling we would drop one game, but we would be back."
Lee was certainly back, sporting the same "Mission October" T-shirt and Rays cap he wore to Ferg's for Sunday's game.
When asked if he had considered changing locales after Sunday's loss, Lee smiled.
"I'm not that superstitious," he said.
But the two-year St. Petersburg resident is that loyal.
Like several other fans, Lee admitted he skipped out of work early to catch the 5:07 p.m. ET start. It was a necessary sacrifice to score a front-row seat to Raysmania. Or even a seat at all.
The outdoor section of Ferg's was standing-room only by the game's second half, as chants of "Tampa Bay", combined with various other sporadic cheers brought on for local news stations made the game's broadcast barely audible.
"This is the best feeling in the world," Rick Bruno said. Sharing a table in front of one of 20 televisions with the Rays game on, Bruno and his wife, Molly, took in the celebrations over a plate of wings and shared smiles.
"It's amazing," Rick said. "[The Rays] just have the drive. They play with a lot of heart and it's a total team effort."
The pair went to all four of the Rays' final regular-season home games, and were already busy brainstorming ways to find tickets to the sure-to-be-sold-out AL Championship series.
"I knew someday the underdog would come up big," Rick said, "I just didn't know it would be this soon."
Although the franchise is just over a decade old, Monday's win still felt like a long time coming for fans like David Best. The St. Pete resident attend the franchise's first game in the inaugural 1998 season, and watched Monday's game with one hand over his chest.
"Every pitch is like ba-boom," Best said, using his hand to illustrate the thumping in his heart. "At first I thought if we were .500 this season I would be happy. Then at the All-Star break, I decided that wasn't good enough anymore."
"World Series," Best said. "We're going to be the best Cinderella story ever."
And as fans began to spill out onto the streets of Central Avenue, the Rays' fan base was certainly shining bright. As Queen's "We Will Rock You" anthem blared through the bar's speakers, high-fives were exchanged and friendships were formed over the shared loved for the Rays and blue Mohawks.
In the distance, Tropicana Field glistened, as the Rays' home dome was lit up to share in the celebrations.
"It's everywhere now," Cornelius said. "I own a lawn service and I see the Rays logo on cars, mothers, and children wearing the gear. I even see the Mohawks everywhere. Now that [the Rays] won, I'm going Mohawk. So is my son."
As for the rest of Tampa Bay? Even those without 'Hawks had already made up their minds on one thing this season: they're going Rays.
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.