ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays are back at Tropicana Field and will be playing Friday for the first time ever without fans. Yet, St. Petersburg businesses are getting creative to celebrate the team’s home opener.
Ferg’s Sports Bar and Grill described what’s sure to be the strangest home opener in history as Christmas in July. The bar, which is just across from the Trop on Central Avenue, is hosting an opening day watch party.
Mark Ferguson, the owner, spaced apart tables, added fence partitions between the bar stools and brought in TVs outside to keep fans safe as COVID-19 concerns linger.
“It’s hard to have a sports bar when you don’t have sports but today that all changes,” Ferguson said, with a smile. “We need sports to bring this country together again.”
Although the Trop parking lot will sit empty Friday night, Ferg’s has room to host hundreds of fans at tables 6 feet apart. They also recruited some familiar voices.
“Who’s ready? Ice cold! Ice cold beer. Cold beer here!!” Ray Miller and Chris Douglas shouted out.
The two men typically vend beer in the stands of Tropicana Field. Now, they’ll bring those booming voices to Ferg’s where they will walk around selling beer out of buckets.
“This is kinda my dream job. I love the crowd, the sports, the money but right now I’m out. I’ve been working at home to keep the bills paid but it’s not fun. It’s not Rays baseball at the Trop fun, that’s for sure,” Miller said with a chuckle. “Not having baseball season is a tough one,” Douglas added.
Douglas and Miller say it's been tough not being able to travel from one sports venue to another especially since Miller says most of his vending income is used to support the local semi-pro basketball team St. Pete Tide.
"I can't wait until we get back to normal, I'm ready," he elaborated.
Most businesses along Central Avenue rely on the Rays games to bring in customers during the slower, summer months, including Sans Market.
“About half of our business was just new people kind of accidentally finding us and that’s all gone away,” Eniko Olah explained. “Eventually everything is going to pick back up. It’s just a question of when and how long we can all sustain it and survive this tough time for everyone. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Even though fans aren’t allowed inside the stadium Friday night, mom and pop shops hope this is just a curveball in pursuit of a grand slam.
Friday night’s game starts at 6:40 p.m.
St. Pete leaders also tell ABC Action News they are also working with the Rays management to eventually bring some fans back to the Trop later in the season if COVID-19 cases begin to decline.