ST. PETERSBURG — Tonight’s pivotal Game 4 between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox means another influx of fans supporting the out-of-town club at Tropicana Field — a dynamic that has changed over the years, as the Rays have evolved from perennial doormat to a genuine contender.
Expect to see a lot of Red Sox T-shirts and caps tonight among the sea of blue Rays gear at a stadium Boston fans sometimes smugly refer to as “Fenway South.” The crowds swell every time the Red Sox or New York Yankees — teams with long legacies of success and rabid fan bases — come to town.
The imbalance isn’t what it once was, though — especially in October, when postseason play brings out Rays fans who normally don’t come out to the stadium. While the Red Sox contingent was noticeable during Monday night’s nail-biter, cheers for the Rays seemed louder to some fans.
“You can definitely tell that the Rays cheers are definitely overpowering the Boston crowd,” said Tampa resident Mark Dicks.
That dynamic is a welcome change for some Rays fans, who are clearly relishing the team’s role as a legitimate American League East rival to the Red Sox and Yankees.
“I think the fans are supportive,” said St. Petersburg resident Diane Van Horne. “I see a lot more Rays fans than Boston fans, which is very refreshing.”
Tensions sometimes ran high during Monday night’s game, which the Rays won 5-4 with a ninth-inning walk-off home run. In some parts of the stadium, fans broke out into shouting matches over some of the game’s controversial calls.
With many baseball fans relocated to the Tampa Bay area from other Major League markets, many families are split by divided baseball loyalties that surface during such competitive series.
Hours before this evening’s game, Melissa and Robert Riordan, of Auburndale, were browsing at a temporary souvenir stand on Central Avenue, a couple of blocks from the stadium. She is a Boston-area native and a big Red Sox fan, while her husband roots for the Yankees and Rays — and absolutely hates the Sox.
“We pick on him,” Melissa Riordan said.
“He’s always the oddball out.”