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Fans energize Rays at annual Fan Fest

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field swelled with the promise of what is to come in 2014 during the Rays' annual Fan Fest that took place Saturday.

"It's always good to see the fans," said Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, who is a Tampa Bay-area native. "I love having all these people yell at me about how we went to the same high school, the same college or 'I played softball with your dad.' There's always something, especially with me being from here. Every year, it's memorable, it's fun. The fans come out and always seem to enjoy it. And I think the organization does a good job with it, from the interactive games to the autographs and the promotions."

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Fan Fest featured activities for kids, including "Reading with the Rays," the Sagicor Coaches Clinic with Rays coaches, the All Children's Hospital Kids Interactive Zone, Bayfront Health Kids Run the Bases, photos with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty, baseball activities for all ages and appearances by Rays players and coaches at various stations throughout the day.

Fans were also able to stop by the T-Mobile Phone-A-Friend stage to have a player call a friend or family member. Chris Archer, Grant Balfour, Alex Cobb and Ben Zobrist participated in this year's Phone-A-Friend.

"I really enjoy talking with the fans, probably because the fans have been so good to me," said Cobb with a smile. "Maybe if they didn't like me, I'd be a little more hesitant to go out there."

Cobb allowed that the Rays' popularity in the area strikes a chord with him.

"I feel a lot of pride when I'm driving around and I see Tampa Bay stuff on the back of cars, Tampa Bay hats, Rays shirts -- I love that," Cobb said. "And when you get to go out and hang out with those people at something like [Fan Fest], it's really special, because they always have a story for you.

"They've always got a game they were at when you did well -- a moment when they connected with you. It's pretty special when they share that with you. That brings me back to when I was a fan and I had players that I wanted to say that to. To be on the other end of that is really cool."

Rays manager Joe Maddon again held Thanksmas, bringing a unique atmosphere to this year's event, allowing a limited number of fans to sample a variety of wines while enjoying hors d'oeuvres based on Maddon's Thanksmas meal and having the opportunity to talk with Rays coaches, broadcasters and MLB Alumni inside the Ted Williams Museum. All proceeds from this event benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation and Maddon's Thanksmas efforts.

The buzz inside the building felt palpable, and the players were among those enjoying the event the most.

"The fans are awesome," Jeremy Hellickson said. "They support us for seven months of the year. To go sign autographs and hang out with them for an hour or two is the least we can do. And something we look forward to every year."

Joel Peralta noted that Rays players appreciate every fan that comes to Tropicana Field.

"We've got great, great fans," Peralta said.

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

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