Opening Day to have new feel for Rays

Opening Day to have new feel for Rays

BALTIMORE -- The reigning American League champions return to Tropicana Field on Monday night for their home opener against the Yankees and the festivities commemorating the team's 2008 success.

"It's going to be awesome," James Shields said. "I can't wait. I know the Tampa Bay area is ready to go. It's going to be a special day [for the area], that's for sure. Being a part of the first team that puts up a banner is pretty exciting. ... I think it's going to be special."

This season will be the second time in club history that the Rays have hosted the Yankees in their home opener. In 2004, Tampa Bay beat New York, 9-4, the week after beating the Bombers, 8-3, in Japan's Tokyo Dome to officially open the season.

"It's going to be unique because it's early in the season," J.P. Howell said. "It's not late during a playoff run, big crowd, sellout, right? Hopefully The Trop is going to be packed all season."

Rays manager Joe Maddon always has talked about turning Tropicana Field into "The Pit," a place where visiting teams don't want to play because of the home-field advantage. In 2008, Tampa Bay was a Major League best 57-24 at home, matching the fourth-best home winning percentage among Major League teams since 1980. Including the regular season and postseason, the Rays won 62 home games; only five teams in Major League history have won that many home games in one year.

Prior to the start of Monday's game, Tampa Bay will raise the 2008 AL championship and AL East championship banners.

"Pretty sure [the banner] will look nice, that's all I know," Carl Crawford said.

Players and staff will be awarded their rings for winning the AL pennant prior to Tuesday night's game.

Maddon believes the fan support at Tropicana Field played a large role in the Rays' 2008 success at home, so he is excited for the fans at the home opener.

"What's exciting to me is to be able to walk into that building and have the fans as excited as they're going to be," Maddon said, "and to be able to post a banner like that and again validating our last season and the organization where it's at right now."

Carlos Pena said he can't wait to see the crowd.

"They were a big part of our success and will continue to be a big part of what we do on the field," Pena said. "I feel extremely blessed. I keep saying that and I am extremely grateful, because it's the truth. I feel so honored to be a part of that group that really brought that baseball passion back to St. Pete, and hopefully it will be there for years to come."

Crawford, who is the longest tenured Tampa Bay player, experienced a lot of losing before 2008, so Monday will be a nice exception for the Rays' left fielder.

"It's going to definitely be different from all the other Opening Days, so it's going to be a lot more special than the other Opening Days we've had here," Crawford said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.