Street party, sellout crowd spells excitement for Tampa Bay Rays home opener

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St. Petersburg is fired up as the Tampa Bay Rays  prepare for their 15th  season opener tomorrow in front of a sellout crowd against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Fans are invited to wear Rays gear and support the team at the city’s official block party on Central Avenue in front of Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grille from noon to 3 p.m. before heading over to the Trop for the 3:10 p.m. first pitch.

Fans can enjoy live music, food, inflatables, kid’s activities, and giveaways at Ferg’s, 1320 Central Ave., from Noon to 3 p.m. Mayor Bill Foster and Petey, St. Petersburg’s First Puppy, will make a special appearance at the rally, and local sports radio personalities will broadcast live from the location. Due to the street party, Central Ave., from 13th to 15th Sts. will be closed to traffic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Today’s home opener is the first of a three-game home stand and the third time the Rays have opened the season against New York. This is the eighth time the Rays have opened the MLB regular season at home. The two remaining games are scheduled for 7:10 p.m., Saturday and 1:40 p.m., Sunday.

Fans looking to purchase tickets for Friday’s game will find a very limited number of obstructed view and scattered single tickets still available. Tickets for the remaining two games against the Yankees may be purchased at 1-888-FAN-RAYS, www.raysbaseball.com, or www.stubhub.com.  For a schedule of upcoming games, visit www.stpete.org/st_pete_loves_the_rays/game_information.asp.

At the Trop, fans will see a new addition to the Rays’ collection of post-season accolades with the 2011 AL Wild Card banner hanging in the left field catwalk, alongside the 2008 AL East and AL Championship flags and 2010 AL East Championship banner.

And for those looking for a new view of the field, the Rays have unveiled a new seating area to commemorate the team’s dramatic clinching of the September 28, 2011 AL Wild Card game. 162 Landing marks the landing spot of Evan Longoria’s 12th inning walk-off home run to clinch the Rays’ third post-season berth. The entrance, open to the public, features a unique display of video highlights and interviews, photos and memorabilia of events at Tropicana Field and Camden Yards from that historic evening. 162 Landing is available for special events and seats between 75-136 fans.

Fans attending Friday’s home opener and both weekend games are encouraged to allow enough time to get to the stadium and find a parking space so they don’t miss any of the action. City officials have these suggestions to ensure a pleasant game day experience.

Get There Early:  In spite of capacity crowds on Opening Day, there will be more than enough parking for baseball fans at Tropicana Field, on surface lots within a half-mile walk of the stadium, and in the downtown district connected to the ballpark via the free baseball shuttle. Due to the home opener falling on a weekday, fans are encouraged to utilize the BayWalk Garage, accessible from Second St. N., between First and Second Aves. N., as the primary downtown baseball parking location.  Limited parking is available at the South Core garage, accessible on First Ave. S., between First and Second Sts. S., for $5 per vehicle. Fans are encouraged to avoid congestion around Tropicana Field by parking downtown and patronizing St. Petersburg’s restaurant district before hopping aboard the free baseball shuttle for a ride to the ballpark. To find out

Season opener shuttles begin running at 1:40 p.m., ending service one hour following the game. The free baseball shuttles run approximately every five minutes. For the remainder of the Yankees home stand, shuttle service begins 90 minutes prior to each game, ending one hour after the final inning.  Shuttles run approximately every 10-15 minutes. Shuttle stops are located at the corner of Central Ave. and 2nd Street S. (under the Bank of America Tower’s pedestrian bridge), with drop-off at 16th Street S. just south of 3rd Avenue S.  Disability accommodations, including vehicles with wheelchair lifts, will be utilized every game.  Additional information, including a route map, can be found at www.stpetetrolley.com/Events.html.

On-site Parking: Go green and save some green when you carpool. The first 100 vehicles (no limit on Sunday games) with four or more fans receive free parking in Tropicana Field’s main parking lots up to an hour prior to the start of all Rays home games. On Sundays, vehicles with four or more passengers may park free in Lots 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Have fewer than four in your vehicle? Then expect to pay $15-$30 per vehicle to park in the stadium’s main lots.  New this year, fans can pre-pay their parking and save time.  Visit www.raysbaseball.com, select the parking lot, number of spaces needed, complete the transaction, and print your vouchers to take to the game.  For more information about on-site parking, please visit http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/tb/ballpark/parking_directions.jsp.

Parking Around Tropicana Field: There are more than 100 licensed surface parking areas around the ballpark, which make parking a breeze during heavily attended games. These lots are clearly marked with signage featuring a capital “P,” lot number, and city ordinance information.  These are the only approved parking areas for event attendees parking outside of Tropicana Field, but still within the half-mile radius.  The designated signage, along with additional baseball parking information may be viewed at www.stpete.org/baseballparking.

Beware of Where You Park:  Fans should park only in approved lots (marked with a blue “P” and posted lot number), either on-site Tropicana Field lots, in one of the 100-plus approved parking areas around the stadium, or in one of the downtown waterfront parking facilities. Parking in unlicensed, unattended or vacant lots is not recommended as vehicles may be towed or ticketed.  Do not park in a lot unless you are sure it is legitimate (marked with a blue “P” and posted lot number). Legitimate parking attendants should be in uniform and will provide a receipt/ticket upon payment. If the lot or the attendant/cashier does not look legitimate or cannot provide a receipt, fans are advised to find an alternate parking location.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.