TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Rays are still a relatively young team.
Samuel Freeman is even younger, and he is one of their biggest fans. He doesn’t remember the bad days when the Rays were out of the pennant race by late April. His Rays are the team that is always in contention, has played in a World Series (he is too young to really remember 2008), and he has grown up with his team and doesn’t really care where the stadium is located as long as he can get to some games and see the rest on television.
Samuel is a first-grader with a vocabulary that is far beyond his years. He loves the Rays and is doing his best to help Lowry Elementary by selling tickets to Rays games when the Rays host special events to help local schools.
Samuel can talk baseball with anyone. He can break down the World Series, give advice on what the Rays need to do to get to the next level next year. Most Rays fans would pick David Price or Evan Longoria as their favorite player. Samuel goes a little deeper. His favorite player is Sam Fuld. He said it is partly because they share the same name, but also because he hustles more than anyone on the team.
“I love the Rays,” Samuel said. “I just wanted to help the school, so my dad started helping me sell tickets to help the school. I love it here.”
Last season, Samuel and the rest of Lowry sold enough tickets to guarantee a visit from Raymond, the Rays mascot. He’ll be appearing at Lowry on Nov. 18 and will come just a year after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed up for a rally with the Bucs cheerleaders. Lowry has a strong fan base for its local teams and Samuel is one of the leaders.
“I sold enough tickets that Lowry can put on a spirit night and other things,” Samuel said. “It’s fun to help the school and be able to see the Rays.”
Samuel is involved in a lot more than just watching the Rays on television. He is also involved in “Reading With the Rays,” a commitment from the Rays to encourage reading in the schools.
Samuel read a lot of books during the summer on his own.
“Reading is fun,” Samuel said. “Some people don’t like to read, but I do. It was fun.”
Samuel was almost promoted to second grade right out of kindergarten because his reading was so advanced. His favorite book is “Clifford’s First Snow Day,” a popular book among kids.
For a first-grader, he has a lot on his plate, but he loves every minute of it.
“Someday I want to be a baseball player,” Samuel said. “But there’s a lot of things I like to do. If I can help the Rays, I want to. I like getting good grades and reading. I’m just a normal kid.”