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    Baseball's Rays Gain Fans With Big Turnaround

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    This year's World Series features the Tampa Bay Rays - a team making its first ever appearance - and the Philadelphia Phillies, who have not won Major League Baseball's championship since 1980. VOA Sports editor Parke Brewer is covering the so-called Fall Classic and spoke to a rare Rays fan who has supported them from their inception.

    Greg Murphy has lived in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of Florida for 10 years and he told VOA Sports he has been a big fan of the Tampa Bay Rays since the team joined the American League in 1998.

    He said he has not had a lot of company until this season, because Tampa Bay never had a winning team until this year and played before mostly empty seats. In fact, Tampa Bay finished in last place in the American League East Division in nine of the previous 10 years, and they were essentially the laughingstock of the Major Leagues.

    In all of those years they were known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It has led some to wonder if there was any connection to the turnaround after they dropped devil from their nickname.

    While the Rays are still not among the best supported teams in the Major Leagues, Murphy said it is no surprise that they have attracted many new fans this season with their first place finish ahead of last year's champion Boston Red Sox.

    And Murphy says bringing cowbells to ring at Rays' games has become the new tradition at Tropicana Field, which is located next to Tampa in St. Petersburg, Florida.  

    "It's [the atmosphere] has been electric," said Greg Murphy. "I don't know who started the cowbell thing, but it has caught on and this place is crazy. You know, the decibels, it's a 120 decibels. And it's just electric it's incredible. (fan shouts Go Rays!, audible cowbell noise)"

    Tropicana Field is a domed stadium from which the crowd noise can't escape. Tampa Bay plays in an enclosed venue because of the often oppressive heat and routine late day thunderstorms in Florida's summer months.

    Greg Murphy says it is easy to like a team like the Rays because they have built the club through their minor league system rather than spending millions of dollars on free agent players. Tampa Bay has one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

    "They are a young, superstar team," he said. "It's not about the money with this team. And you see that across baseball. You get a bad feeling in your stomach about the money thing, and the players are just playing for the money. This team is about winning. They are about having a good time, and they are the most exciting team in baseball."

    And that's why they now have many new fans. Those fans are hoping the Tampa Bay Rays can do what no other professional U.S. sports team has ever done - not in baseball, football, basketball or ice hockey - go from last place one season to league champion the next year.  

     

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