Finally, on March 9, 1995, new expansion franchises were awarded to Naimoli’s Tampa Bay group and a group from Phoenix (the Arizona Diamondbacks). The new franchises were scheduled to begin play in 1998.
The Tampa Bay area finally had a team, but the stadium in St. Petersburg was already in need of an upgrade. In 1993, the stadium was renamed the Thunderdome and became the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and the Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football League team. After the birth of the Rays, the naming rights were sold to Tropicana Products and $70 million was spent on renovations.
Tropicana Field (originally Florida Suncoast Dome and formerly Thunderdome) is a domed stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida that has been the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays since the team’s inaugural season in 1998, when they were the Devil Rays. It is currently the only domed stadium in Major League Baseball that is not retractable. Tropicana Field is the smallest MLB stadium by seat capacity with tarp covered, obstructed-view seats.
Just over the right-center field fence is the Rays Touch Tank. This 35-foot, 10,000 gallon tank is filled with cownose rays that were taken from Tampa Bay waters. Admission to the tank area is free for all fans attending home games, but there is a limit of 50 people in the area at any given time. Not only do fans get to see the rays up close and get an education about them, but they are allowed to feed them as well.
Before the 2003 season, the team traded Randy Winn to the Seattle Mariners for the right to negotiate with manager Lou Piniella, a Tampa native, who managed winning teams at every stop in his managerial career, including the New York Yankees, the Cincinnati Reds (whom he led to a World Series Trophy in 1990), and the Mariners. Piniella was attracted to the Tampa Bay job because of the proximity to his family and the chance to build a losing franchise into a winner as he had done in Seattle. Piniella’s first team still came in last place, but finished seven games better than the 2002 team. A highlight of the 2003 season was the emergence of Rocco Baldelli, a native of Rhode Island, as one of the top rookies in the major leagues.
Sternberg purchased a 48% plurality-share in the previously named Devil Rays (now known as the Tampa Bay Rays) in May 2004 from Vince Naimoli, and took over as Managing General Partner in October 2005. He arranged his bid for controlling interest in the team with fellow Goldman Sachs partner Matthew Silverman, whom he hired as the team’s President. He has remained a low key owner, who currently sees his primary goal with the team as getting their finances in order.
The Devil Rays began to build their organization shortly after the franchise was awarded in 1995 by naming former Atlanta Braves assistant general manager Chuck LaMar the senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager. The franchise’s first minor league games took place in the 1996 season. On November 7, 1997, Larry Rothschild was named the team’s first manager. The team acquired 35 players in the Expansion Draft on November 18, 1997. Tony Saunders from the Florida Marlins was the first player drafted by the Devil Rays. The team also drafted future star Bobby Abreu but traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kevin Stocker, who had very little success for the Rays. Before the 1998 season, veteran stars Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, and Wilson Álvarez were acquired.
2000 – Present / Major League Baseball
1998 – 1999 / American League
2008 – Present / Tampa Bay Rays
1998 – 2007 / Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Devil Rays – Vince Naimoli, owner of Tampa Bay’s expansion team, chose Devil Rays out of more than 7,000 suggestions submitted by the public in 1995. The reaction was not positive. “So far, I’ve fielded about 20 phone calls protesting Devil Rays, and most of the callers have described themselves as Christians who are upset about the word devil,” a Tampa Tribune columnist told a reporter less than a week after the nickname was announced. Naimoli reportedly wanted to nickname his team the Sting Rays, but it was trademarked by a team in the Hawaiian Winter League.
World Series 0
1998 – Present / Tropicana Field
2005 – Present / Stuart Sternberg
1998 – 2005 / Vince Naimoli
12 / Wade Boggs
42 / Jackie Robinson
66 / Don Zimmer
*Blue is this team’s history