#Shortstops: Rays ring the bell
The Tampa Bay Rays had dropped the “Devil” from their names at the end of the 2007 season, but facing Tampa the following year proved to be a monstrous experience for opposing teams.
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An expansion team that made its major league debut on Opening Day 1998, the Rays’ first decade of existence was not what Floridians had dreamt of in their years spent campaigning for a Tampa Bay Area team. They finished in last place in the American League East all but one season, 2004, when they finished fourth in the five-team division. Prior to the 2008 season, the franchise had never won more than 70 games in any season.
“It was so much fun,” said Jason Bartlett, the team’s starting shortstop. “We were just rolling with it that year. Things got better and better.”
“We had such a swagger about our team,” Shields recalled.
The Rays closed out the regular season with a 97-65 record atop the AL East standings. In the ALDS they dispatched of the Chicago White Sox swiftly, taking the series 3-1, then squared off with the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox. The ALCS went down to the wire, culminating in a Game 7 for the ages.
Interestingly, this Rays noisemaker isn’t the only cowbell in the Museum archives. In fact, the other bell has a connection to the Rays’ 2020 World Series opponents: The Dodgers.
Hilda Chester was a fervent Brooklyn Dodgers fan and a fixture at Ebbets Field from the 1920s until 1957, when the Dodgers moved west. Chester suffered a heart attack in 1941 and Dodgers players later gifted her a cowbell to help compensate for her diminished ability to yell. That first cowbell is preserved in the archives, but Museum visitors can see Hilda “in action” on the third floor landing, where a statue depicts her cheering with her signature cowbell.
Isabelle Minasian is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum