- Hurricane Irma forced Major League Baseball to move the upcoming Rays-Yankees series out of Tampa Bay. In a weird scene where the Rays played the part of home team in the Mets' stadium, the crowd was decidely pro-Yankees.
NEW YORK — At 5:03 p.m. on a warm September night in Queens, the gates behind home plate at Citi Field swung open, and eight minutes later, the first fans began to file through the turnstiles, none of them wearing Mets caps or jerseys. In the visitors’ clubhouse, the Yankees dressed at unfamiliar lockers—playing in a stadium where nine out of every 10 fans would be decked out in pinstripes. And on the field, Rays players stretched, shagged flies or took batting practice, getting ready for a home game despite being nearly 1,800 miles away from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., which sat empty and dark as a storm swirled around it.
With Hurricane Irma bringing wind and water to Tampa and the entire western coast of Florida, the Rays became a team without a home ahead of a scheduled series at the Trop against the Yankees. For the second time in two weeks, MLB opted to move a series in order to avoid a potential weather disaster, this time ahead of a storm tabbed to be one of the biggest and deadliest in American history.
In stepped the Mets, who made Citi Field available in their absence, just as the Rays did with Tropicana Field when Hurricane Harvey displaced the Astros in Houston. But the fact that this shift created a de facto home series for the Yankees—most of the night, it sounded as if the entire South Bronx temporarily relocated to Flushing—wasn’t the main concern for the team when they first learned about their new digs last week.
“It’s not the most ideal situation, but it’s definitely not the worst,” said Rays ace Chris Archer. “We were more focused on not going back to a disaster.”
As the storm wound its way up the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend, it was the talk of the Rays’ clubhouse as they played their series in Boston against the Red Sox. “People were watching the weather more than they were football,” Archer said. But the worst has seemingly been averted in Tampa, where Irma arrived as a weakened Category 1 hurricane as opposed to the monstrous Category 5 that had been predicted. And with Florida-based family and friends reported safe and sound team-wide, the Rays turned its attention to this upcoming series—one that was crucial to Tampa’s dwindling postseason hopes; it entered the night trailing the Twins by 3 ½ games for the second wild-card spot.
“It was tough, but that’s behind us,” Archer said. “We won [on Sunday], and these next 18, 19 games are going to be huge for us.”
The first game of that closing September stretch was plenty odd. As Citi Field’s lower deck filled with fans—the upper levels were left closed—the Rays took the field as the nominal home team, accompanied by their usual Tropicana Field highlight montage video. But instead of cheers, they got a deluge of boos; applause was saved for the Yankees, who even got the traditional Yankee Stadium roll call in the bottom of the first. The only Ray who struck a positive chord with the crowd was former Met Lucas Duda, who returned to Queens for the first time since the late July trade that sent him to Tampa (and even got to use his old locker in the home clubhouse).
“It’s what we expected,” said Tampa starter Jake Odorizzi after the game. “It’s New York, and we’re the visiting team. Being labeled the home team doesn’t change anything.”
The available seats were packed—15,327 was the announced attendance, with tickets going for $25—and the concession lines throughout the concourse were longer than what you’ll likely see at any Mets game for the rest of the season. “Let’s go Yankees” chants were fierce and frequent, and when Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier drilled an Odorizzi slider off the facing of the second deck in left for a three-run home run in the fourth, he got a standing ovation—likely one of the few times that’s ever happened for a visiting player at Citi Field or Shea Stadium before it. Likewise for C.C. Sabathia, who limited the Rays to one run through 4 1/3 laborious innings before handing the game off to a bullpen that pitched 4 2/3 shutout frames to seal the Yankees’ 5–1 win.
It was, in essence, a Yankees home game in disguise. A few Rays fans did make the trek, but they were scattered—individual navy blue islands amid a sea of gray and white. Jake Cohn was one of that small coterie, wearing a light blue Tampa cap and an Odorizzi player shirt; a south Florida native and Marlins fan, he dressed in Rays colors as a show of solidarity. His family, down near Fort Lauderdale in the southeast tip of the state, escaped the storm unharmed despite cataclysmic predictions. “I was afraid I was going to have to fly down there and pass life insurance policies,” he said. But while he wished more Rays fans had shown up, he understood that being at the game likely wasn’t a priority for those in the area.
“I’m sure a lot of them that may be up here are dealing with the same things I had to worry about,” he said. “Baseball shouldn’t be on anybody’s mind down in Tampa right now.”
But after several days of worry and weather watching, baseball is once again the first thing on the minds of the Rays. “[The hurricane] being over and things taking a turn for the better, you see guys here breathing sighs of relief,” Odorizzi said. The focus is now back on the wild card, even if the path to the playoffs now involves a few extra home games unexpectedly far from home.