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Rays' nickname change causing some confusion

October 26, 2008|DAVID WHITLEY | David Whitley is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — The World Series is almost halfway over now and we're no closer to resolving the major question facing Tampa Bay:

What does its nickname stand for?

They are the Rays, but are they beams of sunshine and smelt-eating amphibians?

No, it's not the most pressing issue the team must deal with. Some might even consider it trivial. I did until Joe Biden opened his mouth at a recent campaign stop in Tampa.

He said Barack Obama wanted to be there, "But after what your Devil Rays did to the Chicago White Sox, he just couldn't do it." I don't really blame Biden for getting the name wrong. For one thing, he's Joe Biden. For another, almost everybody gets it wrong.

"No. 1, congratulations to the Devil Rays. We're all really excited for them." That's how Buccaneers Coach Jon Gruden opened a recent press conference. He should know his hometown team had a makeover last year. The Devil was out. New colors and an insignia were in.

"They made the big announcement, but this isn't the biggest market," Jeff Dowswell said. "I can see why it's a little ambiguous to people." He was wearing a throwback Devil Rays jersey recently, the kind with the sea creature that killed Steve Irwin on the front. The new jerseys have the word Ray with a little yellow starburst on the R. But there's also the old sea ray on the sleeve.

Should the potential world champs be so steeped in ambiguity? If the world knew for sure what the new nickname meant, maybe its citizens wouldn't revert to the old name so quickly.

Could this be what Biden was referring to when he said Obama, if elected, would face a major test in his first six months?

What if the Rays show up at the Rose Garden for the world-champion photo op, and Obama says it's a great day for bottom-feeding fish everywhere?

Then he calls them the Devil Rays. Next thing you know, he's calling Pakistan Bangladesh, and we have an international crisis on our hands.

"It's confusing," Paul Bruder said. "I like the Devil Rays better." He's a Phillies fan who came from Lebanon, Pa., for the Series. His confusion was compounded by a nearby 10,000-gallon tank. Suffice it to say, there isn't a rays petting zoo in Philly.

The one at Tropicana Field features 22 cownose rays swimming around. According to the sign, cownose rays "are bottom feeders." Insert your own Devil Ray joke here.

The tank is 3 feet deep so fans can reach down and feed the critters. A package of freshly chopped smelt is available for $4. There's nothing like the lingering smell of raw fish on your hands as you stuff popcorn into your mouth.

"They eat about ten pounds a day," said Tonya Womack, who supervises the tank.

Do they know if they are the "Rays"? And if the Rays are the sun, are they upset over losing naming rights?

"They're just rays," Womack said. "They're in their own little world." It's located behind the center field wall and recently welcomed its 75,000th visitor. That meant almost every paying fan from 1998-2007 visited the tank.

Along came Stuart Sternberg, who wanted the team to have a new identity. Just not a totally new one. So he kept the old swimming rays and brought in the new beaming rays.

"It's rays, like rays of sunshine," Sternberg said.

He raised his arms and wiggled his fingers to simulate the sun shining down. The answer seemed so obvious to him.

Hopefully all this World Series exposure will clear it up for the rest of us. The last thing we need is an untested president with smelt on his hands.

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