ST. LEO - They grew up watching baseball with their fathers, learning the fundamentals of the game. Like virtually all Tampa Bay Rays fans, they started out cheering for other teams, the Tigers, the Dodgers or the Big Red Machine.
But then 2008 happened, and the Benedictine Sisters - like the rest of Tampa Bay - got swept up in that magical season. For the last five years, watching Rays games has been as much a part of the daily ritual at Holy Name Monastery as morning Mass or evening Vespers.
"We watch every game," Sister Margaret Mary Roberts said. "We just love them."
Utility player Sean Rodriguez used to be her favorite, but she's recently started warming up to the new guys: shortstop Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson.
"I didn't realize how good-looking Kelly Johnson was until the other day when he took off his helmet," Roberts said. Thirteen homeruns and a .437 slugging percentage don't hurt.
They love the team's camaraderie and Manager Joe Maddon's clubhouse antics - especially the salsa music and penguins.
And they pray for the Rays - for pitcher David Price's left tricep and for third baseman Evan Longoria's sore right foot. A special prayer went up for pitcher Alex Cobb when he took a line drive to the head on June 15.
"The Rays need us," Sister Eileen Dunbar said. "All those teams up north have a ton of Catholics praying for them - especially in New York and Boston."
She said Longoria, who signed a 10-year contract extension after last season, is the best of the bunch. "I'm really impressed with his commitment to the Rays," she said.
They even pray for Jose Molina, the Ray's lumbering catcher, every time he comes up to bat. "We pray for him to hit a homerun so he won't have to run the bases!" Sister Donna DeWitt said.
Sister Mary Romana Gomez simply adores Fernando Rodney, the team's closer. "He's my special one," she said. "When he shoots the arrow, it is like saying 'Thank You, Jesus.'"
Sister Mildred Gelis, who has lived at the monastery since she took her vows in 1942, said the nuns used to play baseball with worshippers after Sunday mass. Now 88 years old, she watches every game until the last out - even when the team plays on the west coast.
Gelis stayed up until midnight Wednesday to see second baseman Ben Zobrist's walk-off hit in the bottom of the 13th inning. "I get up at 5:30 a.m. and I stay awake until 1 or 2 a.m.," she said. "I just don't need that much sleep."
For the first time in a decade, those prayers will be directed from inside Tropicana Field. The Columbiettes, a women's service organization from St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, will host the sisters for Sunday's game against the Houston Astros.
Church member Teresa Hernandez organized the trip after arriving at the monastery to make dinner for the nuns, something she does once every quarter.
"I went to Catholic school, so I was raised by nuns," Hernandez said. "So the other day I go there, and I'm used to nuns being in long skirts and dressed real conservatively. They all walk in and they're wearing Rays shirts, and I'm shocked. Well, there was a game on that night. That's when I got the idea that we should take them to a game."
Every year a few of the sisters save up their allowance to attend one game, but they haven't gone as a group since 2003, when the bishop hosted them. For DeWitt, a lifelong baseball fan, it will be her very first major league game.
"I used to the be the cook for all the sisters, so when they went to games on Sunday I always had to stay behind and make dinner," she said. "Now I'm retired, so I can go to my first game."
As for the post-game concert? None of the sisters has ever heard of Carly Rae Jepsen or her infectious pop hit, Call Me Maybe. Hernandez said the Columbiettes are taking the sisters to dinner after the game.
"But you never know with this bunch," she said. "They may want to stay for the concert."