A new outfield walkway, different food offerings, a banner commemorating the team’s 2003 American League wild-card berth.
Opening Day is more than a baseball game. It has become an event, and fans attending today’s 4:10 p.m. sold-out season opener against Toronto — the Rays’ ninth consecutive sellout for its home opener — will get a chance to not only see the action on the field, but experience quite a few changes as the Rays begin a season with high expectations and realistic hopes of a World Series championship.
Here are a few highlights that fans can expect today (parking lots open at noon; gates open at 1:10 p.m.):
The festivities begin long before the first pitch. The city is planning to mark the return of baseball with its traditional lunchtime block party outside Ferg’s Sports Bar & Grill on Central Avenue, starting at 11 a.m., It will feature music, dancing, games for children and an appearance by Rays mascot Raymond.
The biggest change is a 360-degree pedestrian walkway around the playing field, aimed at enhancing the fans’ experience. The walkway, around the stadium’s lower bowl, will allow fans to view games from all sides, and leave their seats and walk around freely while watching the action. The glass-enclosed restaurant above center field also will be opened up with a patio offering broad views, and will include a new bar and concession stand. The improvements also will allow fans to access the entire lower seating level from escalators in the main rotunda entrance, where two-thirds of them enter.
ON THE MENU ...
Two restaurants are now one. The Everglades BBQ Restaurant and the Brewhouse have become the “Everglades Brewhouse featuring BBQ, Bourbon, & Beer.” The restaurant no longer is closed, but housed on a patio to offer an open view of games. Fans looking for something with a little more kick than beer can try an “Everglades Moonshine,” a bourbon-based lemonade served in a souvenir mason jar.
RAISE THE BANNER:
The Rays will raise the 2013 AL Wild Card banner in left field, next to the team’s 2008 AL East and AL Championship flags, the 2010 AL East Championship banner, and the 2011 AL Wild Card banner.
Air Force Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill Air Force Base, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch. As commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing, DeThomas is responsible for more than $2.8 billion in base property and capital assets and controls an annual budget exceeding $249 million.
Tampa Bay-area musicians Marshall Gillon (vocals) and Les Sabler (guitar) will perform the national anthem, as well as “God Bless America” in the seventh inning.
To accommodate the walkway, the Rays have cleared out about 3,000 seats to make room. The stadium’s capacity is now 31,042.
OPENING DAY SCHEDULE:
Noon: Parking lots open
1:10: Gates open to fans
1:20: Rays batting practice
2:20: Blue Jays batting practice
3:41: Team introductions
3:54: National Anthem
3:58: 2013 AL Wild Card banner raising
4:02: Ceremonial first pitch
4:08: Rays take field 4:10: First pitch