ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays open the 2019 season Thursday at 4 p.m. against the Houston Astros. Here's what you need to know before heading to Tropicana Field. Play Ball!
1. In true Opening Day style, aces will be on the mound. Houston will send Justin Verlander to the hill. The 36-year-old former Cy Young Award winner has been effective in Houston since his 2017 trade, leading the Astros to a World Series win that year. Meanwhile, Rays young lefty Blake Snell is the reigning AL Cy Young winner and arguably one the best pitchers in the game. Snell was 21-5 last season with 221 strikeouts and an AL-best 1.89 ERA.
2. The Rays announced Wednesday night the opener against the Astros is sold out. The Trop, which has a new capacity of a little more than 25,000 fans, has been sold out for 14 straight home openers.
3. Tropicana Field has changed a bit since last season. First off, the Trop is going cashless. Major credit cards and debit cards will be accepted at all food and souvenir vendors. Fans can use cash to buy Rays gift cards. Cash can be exchanged for Rays gift cards in any amount, down to the penny, at retail locations throughout Tropicana Field. Also, the 300-level upper deck is now closed, reducing the number of seats available to 25,025. The team hopes that it will create a more intimate and fun experience for fans. An average game brings in roughly 16,000.
5. The food. The Rays have introduced many new, local partners into their food selection this year. St. Petersburg favorites like Pacific Counter, Beachside, and Sweet Stack Shack will be selling food items like edamame, protein bowls, and coconut shrimp in order to mix up the typical baseball park food choices. Items like loaded pulled pork nachos, ribs, and ropa vieja bowls will also be offered new this year.
Okay, so this makes 6. The team. Coming off a 90-win season, the Rays could battle the Yankees and Red Sox for a playoff spot in the AL East. The solid pitching and outstanding defense-dependent Rays seemed more poised to make a run that this time last year. The young Rays core of infielders Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows (OF) will have to mesh with vets Tommy Pham (OF), Kevin Kiermaier (CF) and Mike Zunino (C).