ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays are hoping to fill the stands for this short, socially distanced MLB season, but not with actual, you know, people. The team has put out a call for fans who’d like to have a cardboard cutout made from an image of themselves to take a seat in their stead.

What You Need To Know

  • Rays fans can buy cardboard image to populate the stands this season

  • Tallahassee couple got one for late mom who never got to see Rays live

  • Cutouts for stands are $60, or $40 for season ticket-holders

Certain rules apply, of course: no celebrities, obscene material or any other woeful misunderstandings of the concept of a joke are allowed.

One couple, however, is using this season’s unique opportunity to pay tribute to a departed family member who was also a dedicated Rays fan.

Instead of having their own likenesses represented, baseball fans Peggy and Van Freed paid to have a picture of Van’s late mother, Maggie, sit in Tropicana Field this season. She died in 2017 at the age of 94.

“It’s a little pricey, but for the price of a ticket or two, it was worth it to me,” says Peggy Freed, a retired nurse.

The Freeds live in Tallahassee; Maggie’s grandson relocated from West Virginia to Tampa, where he quickly became a diehard Rays fan.

“He would start talking about the Rays, and that got her watching them when she could,” Peggy says. “You know, a little further north you can’t get all the games on TV.”

Maggie eventually moved in with the Freeds.

“During those three years she got us hooked on them, so every night for five or six months we’d be sitting in front of the TV or recording the game to watch later,” Peggy Freed says.

After Maggie died, the Freeds even made several pilgrimages to the Tampa Bay area to see the Rays in action. Maggie was never able to see her team in person, though, and they feel like this season’s COVID innovation is a fitting memorial.

“I think this is great,” Peggy says. “It’s only money anyway. We are honoring our 94-year-old deceased mother who was a great fan of the Rays but never made it to a game.

"I hope she gets a home plate seat.”