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10/15/08 2:46 PM ET

'Raysmania' overtaking St. Petersburg

With team on cusp of World Series, fans relishing playoff run

ST. PETERSBURG -- "St. Petersburg Celebrates the Rays"

Big and blue, the banners are seemingly everywhere imaginable in downtown St. Pete, as fans on Wednesday afternoon hung outside their cars to snap a shot or simply stood in the middle of the road to use their camera phones.

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"This is what playoff baseball is supposed to look like," St. Pete resident Colleen Callahan said, proudly whipping out her cell phone to show the just-taken picture of a banner hanging in between two palm trees.

Born in Philadelphia, Callahan sent the photo to 20 or so Phillies fans with the caption "See you down here soon." She also sent the picture to several Boston fans.

"The Red Sox fans won't even text me back," she said, climbing into her car, which was decked out with Rays decals. "But it's worth it."

Following two straight Red Sox pastings inside Fenway Park, Rays fans couldn't be giddier about their young squad celebrating on Boston's hallowed grounds.

"Hey, what was the name of the book Red Sox diehard fan Stephen King was reading in the stands Tuesday night?" asks one radio caller.

"It was called 'When Will There Be Good News?'" answers the on-air personality at 1040 Sports. "And the answer, for the Red Sox, is never."

With a commanding 3-1 American League Championship Series lead, Rays' fans were loud and proud on Wednesday afternoon. Rays worker Robin Norfleet witnessed a rowdy group practically burst open the door at the official team store when it opened at 11 a.m. ET.

"I'm hoping we don't have a Game 6 back here," Norfleet said, as she busied herself with the growing orders for custom printed jerseys. "I hope we just win [Thursday] and go to the World Series."

The mere mention of baseball's Fall Classic causes a commotion among the crowded store. "You know," Bradenton resident Tanner Regan says to the line of waiting customers, "We are going to have a World Series game right here."

The city is certainly preparing that way.

Nearby Central Avenue is filled with good-luck signs, and each intersecting street is adorned with posters and Tampa Bay green-light specials. Blue and white flags hang from each light pole, a safer bet than the colored streamers Callahan had on her fence until rain washed them away.

Inside local coffee shops, Wednesday's newspapers were shared like a family meal, as fans gobbled up headlines like "Rays Humiliate Red Sox Again," and "Rays Are Running Toward History."

And the hot topic wasn't if the Rays will advance to the World Series, but when.

Will it be in Boston on Thursday?

"Definitely, 9-1 is my prediction," Regan said.

Or will Tampa Bay stumble in Game 5 and bring the series back to Tropicana Field this weekend?

"I'm on the cusp of flying to Boston tonight," St. Pete resident Stephanie Willis said. "I already looked up flights and ticket prices. I don't think [the ALCS] is coming back."

The water-cooler talk may have shifted -- from the ALCS to the World Series -- but it has far from died down. Raysmania was everywhere from Ferg's Sports Bar to the Department of Commerce, as co-workers Janet Miller and Cheryl Franzen spent their lunch hour mulling over new Rays garb. Franzen attended the Rays initial playoff rally in Straub Park and plans to attend one of the city's scheduled watch parties at the St. Pete Pier on Thursday.

The pair -- thumbing through a rack of Rays sweatshirts -- agreed that the Red Sox supporters at their office have been eerily quiet this week. As for St. Pete? It's feeding off their boisterous, unsung squad.

"The Rays are so young and energetic, it gives you energy and makes you want to come on board," Franzen said. "That's how I see it at least."

Judging from the lines everywhere to hair salons giving away Rays-Hawk haircuts to local Dunkin Donuts distributing treats to fans who utter the phrase "Rays Win," Franzen was far from alone.

Wednesday's jovial mood was a stark contrast to the usual middle of the workweek doldrums. For those who couldn't play hooky, they could at least flip to FM radio stations like Wild 98.7, that kept a pair of popular Rays anthems -- "Trop Boyz" and "It's Our Season" -- in heavy rotation throughout the day.

Inside Tropicana Field, the Rays army continued to grow, as Steve Bono picked out an Evan Longoria T-shirt to send to his son, who lives in Manhattan.

"He's a big Rays' fan, so he will wear this all around New York City," Bono said proudly. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Rays are going to make it. They have the momentum now, and that's the whole thing."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.