Born and (Ray)sed – Danielle Hendrix

As someone who was born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, it’s only fitting that I grew up a Rays fan.

Having a dad who loves sports and became a Rays and Bucs fan when he moved to St. Petersburg in the ‘80s, I was rooting for the Rays from an early age.

I remember attending Rays games throughout the years and especially enjoying the fact that the stadium is air-conditioned. (Let’s be real: No matter how you feel about the Trop, it’s a relief to not have to worry about rain delays or baking in the hot Florida sun.)

Does that mean I was always a sports fan? Nope, not at all. In fact, growing up, I couldn’t have cared less about the actual games — whether it be baseball, football or pretty much any other sport. 

As a little girl, the fun part was getting decked out in team gear and colors, and enjoying a hot dog and Dippin’ Dots at the Trop. Of course, I HAD to get my Dippin’ Dots in the souvenir Rays helmet bowl or it wasn’t legit.

And there were those Sunday games where they let the kids run the bases afterward. I can visualize one particular time when I rounded the bases in pink rain boots — not great for running.

When I got a little older, the games became increasingly more fun. In high school, I started paying some attention to the names on the roster — shoutout to Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford, the first two Rays players I vividly remember knowing a lick of anything about.

Then there was that historic season in 2008, when pretty much everyone in the Tampa Bay area suddenly pulled out the stops and jumped on board with the Rays. Remember the #Rayhawk? Me too.

Games were even more enticing with the summer concert series on deck. I remember being so excited to head to a game in 2009 — the summer of my freshman year — because Daughtry was playing right after. I admit to having been more excited to see Daughtry play than the Rays that day.

I know how many people hate the Trop, and there are definitely valid reasons for it. Knowing so much more about baseball now than I did in the past, I get why it’s not ideal.

But the Trop always will hold a special place in my heart for many reasons — one of which being that I graduated high school on that field June 7, 2012 (Osceola Fundamental High School c/o 2012 represent). I can’t emphasize enough how special of a memory that is to me, even almost 10 years later.

That fall, I left the Tampa Bay area for the first time and started my next chapter of life in Orlando, where I attended the University of Central Florida (Go Knights! Charge On!). Rays games became fewer and farther in between for me with my school schedule.

In fact, I can’t explicitly remember attending another game until summer of 2015. I lived at home that summer and worked at the Tradewinds on St. Pete Beach. For the company party, they gave us Rays tickets, and of course I took my dad with me!

Although I am a lifelong Rays fan, I can’t pretend that I really understood baseball at all up until a couple of years ago. I really began paying attention to our team — not just casually enjoying a game here and there.

Don’t hate me for this, but I’ve been a casual Dodgers fan for the last few years, too (hey, at least I hate both the Yankees and Red Sox). Seeing my two teams pitted against each other in the World Series was something I never thought would happen, but it did. Spoiler alert: I pulled for the Rays, as I always will.

This year, I’ve really honed in on learning as much about the game as I can. I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, of course. But can we talk a little less about the technicalities and more about this team for a moment? If there are two things you need to know about the Rays, it’s these: Never count them out, and know that they’re a team with heart.

Do you know how I know that? Watch a smile light up Ji-Man Choi’s face as he tosses a ball to the crowd. Look at Kevin Kiermaier taking a little too much extra time to sign autographs for fans before a game. Check out Brett Phillips’ contagious positive energy and his excitement to grab a teammate’s helmet to celebrate a home run. Let’s be real, Phillips is a beacon of joy for this team. 

And imagine the roar of the crowd when Tyler Glasnow comes off the IL and returns to the mound, because I know y’all love him, too. I’ll probably be crying happy tears myself, being the MASSIVE Glasnow fan I am.

He is 100% my favorite player. Of course, we all know he’s super easy on the eyes — I’m the first to admit that — but that TALENT, too. Maybe one day I’ll even finally score my coveted autographed Glas ball!

This team is truly something special, and I’m so grateful that I’m part of a fanbase that recognizes its Rays for the heart they bring to the game, both on and off the field. They’re resilient, they’re fun and they’re a staple of this community — so let’s keep them here, please.

It’s been so much fun growing up with this team. Even though I still live in the Orlando area, I make it a point to pray for my life out on I-4 and catch a game whenever time permits.

Shoutout to my parents for still living in the St. Pete area and making it easy to do that, and shoutout to my dad — my best baseball buddy — for always being up for cheering on our hometown team. Rays Up!

If you have a story about your journey as a Rays fan and would like to share, please email us at raystherooftb@gmail.com.

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