TAMPA - Tampa Bay Rays fans are among the first in the country to show playoff support for their team, since playoff specialty shirts are manufactured right here.
By the time the American League 2010 Eastern Division Champs got back home, Rays fever was already spreading.
"Oh, it's very exciting," shouted Brenda Smith, holding her infant son (who was wearing large ear protectors) amidst the cowbell cacophany -- that she says she wouldn't dare miss.
"We love our Rays!" she exclaimed.
And while those Rays rooters rallied around their returning heroes at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, over in Tampa, another team toiled to make sure those supporters could get the latest gear with the Rays' logo.
"Absolutely," said VF Licensed Sports Group President Jim Pisani, standing in the center of a screen-printing operation that was churning through dozens of Phillies and Braves and Giants jerseys, getting ready for the National League Playoffs.
"We start the planning a year out," he noted. "There are a lot of moving parts."
Since the Rays playoff picture became clearer earlier on Sunday, workers at the Linebaugh Avenue VF plant had Rays branded merchandise almost all done by dawn. And since the shirts were being printed here, local retailers were only too happy to pick up their product in person, just to be first.
"These shirts are hot off the press," proclaimed Bucs & Bulls (and Rays) Heaven owner Jeffrey Neil Fox. "They're still warm."
Perhaps it is because we are now into the baseball post-season, and the Tampa Bay Rays are hot!
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