Florida on a Tankful: Spring Training with the Rays

By Scott Fais, Feature Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, March 16, 2017, 12:12 AM EDT

Under a bright sunshine, the boys of summer headline spring break.

"How do you know the players if you don't have a program?” barks a program seller upon entering Charlotte Sports Park.

"It's heaven on earth,” said Tampa Bay Rays fan Susie Ross holding a handmade sign in support of the home team. “It's beautiful here."

Susie believes the Tampa Bay Rays are at home in Port Charlotte. 

She loves this team. A lot.

"You can scatter my ashes here when I croak. [It’s] my favorite place on the planet,” Susie said about the stadium not far off I-75.

Eternal fans like Susie can get an early look at the home team at Florida Grapefruit League spring training, well south of St. Petersburg.

"The Rays play in a dome, so it's great to get out here and be under the sunshine,” shared Casey Clark, a Rays fan visiting while on spring break from The Ohio State University.

Casey doesn’t miss the snow on campus in Columbus, Ohio.

"It feels nice on my skin after being in the cold weather for so long," Casey said, holding a baseball he hoped to have autographed by several players.

While the weather is an attraction, folks arrive early to see the stars.

"You've got to strum it before you swing it,” said new Rays Player Mallex Smith while holding a baseball bat and using it as an ‘air guitar.’

"I can laugh at myself a lot."

The 23-year-old is ready to rock the 2017 roster.

"Just the comradery of a baseball game, it brings a lot of joy to people,” Mallex said standing left of home plate before a recent game. And while there is no time to eat after batting practice, Mallex knows how to celebrate spring here.

"You can't go wrong with a hamburger!” he said excitedly. "Got to throw some cheese on that thing!"

And for dessert, there is only one option.

"Cracker Jacks, awesome!  That's a little bit of candy and popcorn,” Mallex recommends.

Behind the ball diamond, find the elevated Boardwalk. Along what feels like a coastal waterfront, fans get a chance to peek into the warmup bullpen and sneak an autograph. 

"I hope the kids run around,” Mallex says of the green space of the Charlotte County stadium.

There’s a grassy hill where fans can bring blankets and covered playground just for kids to burn off some steam.

"A family outing where you get to enjoy a game, experience something different,” Mallex said.

Meanwhile, Susie offers a positive outlook.

"I keep the faith the Rays will win the World Series this year,” Susie said with a wide smile.

Visitor Information:
Spring Training continues in Florida through Saturday, April 1.  Find the complete schedule here.  Find details of Rays Spring Training games here.

Tankful on Television:
Catch Florida travel stories like the one above on Television four days a week across Central Florida. The award-winning Florida on a Tankful with Scott Fais airs on News 13 Thursday-Sunday. See new segments in the Bay Area as well on Bay News 9. Stories air beginning at 6 a.m. on both channels as a Spectrum exclusive.