T. PETERSBURG, FLA. — With upward of 300 cardboard cutouts occupying the stands at Tropicana Field for Friday’s Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Tampa Bay Rays established a new attendance record, beating out that time in 2013 when Dick Vitale held his birthday celebration at the ballpark.
Both players and coaches marveled at the never-before-seen fullness of the stadium, describing an “electric” atmosphere of cutouts far more engaged with the game than the crowds of the past.
“These were true fans,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “They were in their seats before batting practice started, and they stayed right through the end and beyond. They didn’t get up for anything -- not to go to the bathroom, not even to get a hot dog. They were there to worship at the church of Tampa Bay Rays baseball.”
In a show of solidarity with the state of Florida, the Rays did not require the cutouts to wear masks or engage in social distancing. While there has been a lack of scientific research into whether cardboard-mounted photographs can catch or spread the virus, public-health experts warned not to rule it out.
“It’s Florida,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci. “That’s all I’m allowed to say.”