For Rays fans, opener in Miami well worth the trip

For Rays fans, opener in Miami well worth the trip
Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times
·4 min read

MIAMI — Tracey and Clifford Keim had a couple of reasons to make the drive from St. Petersburg for the Rays’ season opener Thursday.

The high school English teacher and her husband, who has a drywall/plastering business, have a goal of attending games at every major-league stadium, and the (newly renamed) LoanDepot Park is now their 19th.

They found some novelty in being at the Rays’ first game since they played in the World Series. But mostly, they wanted to be at this season’s opener after not being able to attend any games last season due to the pandemic.

“That made it a no-brainer,” said Tracey Keim.

The Keims are longtime fans, attending seven-10 games a year since the 1998 inaugural season, and watching many others on TV. Once they saw that fans would be allowed in and tickets were available, they made plans for Miami.

Tracey, 52, took a day off from her classes at St. Petersburg High and Clifford, 59, reshuffled his schedule. They brought their Rays jerseys, and Tracey put on her Rays blue mascara.

They settled into seats near the visiting dugout, unconcerned about being back in a crowd, saying they were pleased by the “normalcy” and impressed with the sanitizing options and courteous ballpark staff.

“This is pretty cool,” Tracey said. “We’re excited to be here, see the stadium and watch our Rays.”

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Logan Bunting and Alyssa Chippendale are working on a triple crown of sorts.

The North Port residents attended the Rays’ first spring game in Port Charlotte.

They were in Miami for Thursday’s opener, as well as the next two games. And they’re planning to be at Tropicana Field next weekend for the first home games.

As to further show their fandom, they have matching wrist tattoos of the Rays’ burst logo they got last summer. “Maybe a little too much, I feel,” Bunting said.

Alyssa, 22, and Logan, 21, are in the nursing field and used their vacation time to be able to attend the games. “It’s my birthday next week, so this is my birthday present,” Chippendale said. They had one souvenir, a ball tossed by pitcher Andrew Kittredge, but were lamenting the one thrown by Randy Arozarena that Bunting had to jump for but missed. “I’m pretty tall,” Bunting said. “So I think that was a little on Randy.”

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There were at least dozens of other Rays fans among the announced crowd of 7,062, following distancing rules and grouped in pod seating. The Marlins are limiting attendance to roughly 27 percent of LoanDepotPark’s capacity to open the season.

Noah Smith and his sister, Grace, of Fort Myers showed off the ball Rays bullpen coach Stan Boroski gave them. University of Florida student Jeremy Taylor swung by Largo to pick up his mom, Mary, and then headed south to Miami. Beth Burton and college-student daughters, Amy and Abby — all sporting Rays masks — drove down from Lakeland.

As season ticket holders, Greg Shell, 49, and his daughter Jonni, 22, of Tampa had been to the previous seven or eight openers, all at the Trop. So with this one close enough in Miami, they figured they would keep their streak (absent 2020 of course) going and made the drive from Tampa with friends Kristy Dalechek, 48, and Jacob Cochren, 22, to get started on enjoying baseball games again.

“We missed it a ton last year,” Greg Shell said.

Enough that they swung a trip to Texas during the World Series, Greg catching one game, Jonni staying for the frustrating Game 6 finale. “The game when Blake Snell got pulled,” said Jonni, 22, wearing a Tyler Glasnow jersey.

Greg, who wore an Arozarena jersey, said they already had tickets to 11 games at the Trop and were happy to be at a ballpark again.

“We’re ready and excited to be back in person for baseball games,” he said.

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