Tampa Area Gets Its Own Ball Club

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Reed Travel Features

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Agents have a new reason to recommend the Tampa-St. Pete area to baseball fans. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a major league expansion team, play their first game here March 31 against the Detroit Tigers.

In recent years, the area has offered spring training for the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies.

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The Devil Rays' home is Tropicana Field, originally known as the ThunderDome, which was expanded and renovated at a cost of $70 million.

On Feb. 15, the Devil Rays were to begin their spring training in St. Petersburg (at Al Lang Stadium), becoming the first team to conduct both training and regular-season play in the same city. Although the Florida Marlins play in Miami, they train near Melbourne.

The Yankees' first home spring-training game is Feb. 27 at 10,000-seat Legends Field in Tampa; the Blue Jays open on Feb. 26 at 6,200-seat Grant Field in Dunedin, and the Phillies' spring-training opener is Feb. 28 at 6,000-seat Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater.

Spring training opened last week and lasts through most of March (peak tourist season).

The Devil Rays' regular season, however, is played during the off-season, a period when Floridians like to vacation.

Agents in Florida and out of state have the opportunity to package the games themselves or to book existing packages, which likely will grow in number after the Devil Rays' first year.

Tropicana Field has 45,200 seats, with 22,000 reserved by season-ticket holders, leaving more than 23,000 seats available for others.

Carole Ketterhagen, executive director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, called the Devil Rays' games "the perfect family attraction to add to our lineup of beaches and family activities."

The bureau is developing beach and baseball packages that will enable agents to combine tickets and hotel rooms. The hotel portion will be commissionable, she said.

In addition to hosting the baseball games, Ketterhagen said, Tropicana Field will be a year-round attraction with interactive entertainment areas, a cigar bar, a brew pub and a 350-seat restaurant.

"The entire St. Petersburg-Clearwater area is getting involved with everything from special exhibits at our historical museums to baseball-themed concerts and theatrical performances," she added.

Steve Hayes, vice president of tourism marketing for the Tampa Convention & Visitors Association, said that the nationwide exposure generated by the Devil Rays would benefit Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Phone: (813) 825-3137
New York Yankees, Phone: (813) 879-2244
Toronto Blue Jays, Phone: (813) 733-0429
Philadelphia Phillies, Phone: (813) 442-8496

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