ST. PETERSBURG — The first thing you have to know about the Rays 20th anniversary celebration is why they are doing it this year, in their 21st season.
"My daughter asked me the same question," principal owner Stuart Sternberg said at Wednesday's announcement. "It's sort of a celebrating your birthday kind of thing. … You're one after your first year. We just went back and forth like that. Teams have generally done things this way."
Most obvious is a major nod to the early Devil Rays years, before Sternberg's group took over in October 2005 and rebranded the team as the Rays in November 2007, separating from and ignoring the unsuccessful, sordid past.
The old logo and multi-hued colors are being resurrected in giveaways, merchandise and throwback jerseys. Players from those early years are featured in bobbleheads and other promotions.
"There is definitely more of an embrace," Sternberg said. "Obviously there is merchandise involved and everything, but it's really more about, totally about a feel-good kind of environment, reminding people that we've been here for a long time."
Here are 20 things they are planning:
1. A 20th anniversary logo patch, featuring the old devil ray and the current burst, will be worn on the left sleeve of their regular-season jerseys and right side of their caps.
2. For four games — March 31, June 9, June 23, Sept. 8 — they will wear throwback white Devil Rays jerseys with the gradient logo in full-color glory.
3. The 1998 inaugural team will be celebrated on March 31, with several players on hand and fans getting a replica of the 1998 commemorative seat cushion.
4. The 2008 World Series team will be celebrated Aug. 4, with several players on hand and fans getting a bobblehead of Akinori Iwamura, who recorded the clinching out in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, featuring radio broadcaster Dave Wills' historic call.
5. Devil Rays-era players featured in bobbleheads include Wade Boggs (Aug. 25) and a Fred McGriff/Tino Martinez combo (June 9).
6. Early Rays-era players featured in bobbleheads include Carl Crawford (April 14).
7. Even cooler, cult hero Dan Johnson (Sept. 29), he of the two historically clutch home runs.
8. Other related giveaways include a 20th anniversary cowbell (March 29, opening day), a Hawaiian shirt (May 5), Rays/Devil Rays reversible jersey (June 23), a 20th anniversary photo viewer (Sept. 8).
9. Also, a commemorative baseball (April 1, for kids), featuring the Tampa Bay Times and Rays logo on one side and the Devil Rays and St. Petersburg Times on the other.
10. Themed ticket specials include a 2-for-$20 deal in the tbt* Party Deck for half the games, and $20 a ticket for the others.
11. An Evan Longoria Game 162 bobblehead — that may or may not have planned as a giveaway until his late December trade to San Francisco — will be sold for $20 at Saturday's Fan Fest (11-4 at Tropicana Field) with proceeds to the team charity foundation.
12. More than a half dozen players will be featured in giveaways — with the full promotion schedule out Thursday — but there won't be anything featuring Joe Maddon, who managed the Rays into the playoffs four times in six years, or any of the other skippers — Larry Rothschild, Hal McRae, Lou Piniella or Kevin Cash.
13. Coinciding with the anniversary, the Rays have a new concessions and retail partner in Levy, and in tandem are making major changes. That includes what the Rays say is a $4 million investment in capital improvements to renovate, upgrade and modernize the facilities and experience, including creating "food halls" in the first and third base concourses and "major updates" to the centerfield Porch and team store.
14. Levy is also "completely reinventing our menu … celebrating our local food culture," Rays VP Bill Walsh said. One item revealed Wednesday: a Reuben Cuban sandwich.
15. For the four throwback games and select others, there will be a special new navy blue retro cap blending the old and new designs.
16. A line of 20th anniversary-themed merchandise — from t-shirts to tumblers — will be conveniently sold at the team store. More conveniently, some of it will be available at the Fan Fest.
17. All player jerseys and T-shirts sold in the team store will have the anniversary logo, and available only this year.
18. Flex-pack buyers will get a pint glass set featuring the Devil Rays, Rays and anniversary logos.
19. A commemorative coffee table book, a collaboration between the team and the Times titled "Twenty Years of Rays Baseball," will be given as a gift to season ticket holders and sold in the team store, for $98.
20. Though Longoria was traded and other veterans are likely to go, Sternberg insisted this season could be special for more than the anniversary celebration: "We expect and believe we can be playing 'til end of October."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays