BOTTOM OF THE NINTH: RAYS 4
3 – 3 BLUE JAYS
It’s Chris Archer Bobble-Head Night down in St. Pete, it’s my first time in the Trop, and its domed, decaying interior is making me queasy. The concourse looks like a high school gymnasium and smells like off-brand candy corn. I’m not in Kansas Wrigley Field anymore…
Sitting next to me is my dad, repeating the questionable joke that it’s actually “bobble-hands” night—with two errors in the first inning, and another half-fumble by Logan Forsythe for the second out in the top of the ninth.
As I’m sitting there snapping photos, acting as guardian to my family’s three bobble-heads—the most collectible items since TY Beanie Babies—I notice some movement in what’s apparently a large fish tank overlooking the wall in right-center-field. Rays? Real-life rays?
Meanwhile on the field, between the 7th and 8th innings, a trio of beverage-themed mascots toddle out onto the field near the third-base foul line, readying for some sort of footrace. It’s like a bizarro version of the great Milwaukee sausage race, or the Presidents Race out in D.C. at Nationals Park. Mr. Aquafina wins in a rout, trailed by two Pepsi “bottles” that look like the cousins of South Park’s Mr. Hanky…
I get up from my seat to investigate this fish tank, and work my way around the half-empty stands, taking in the sight of the green, pockmarked carpet turf in the outfield. It looks, according to my girlfriend, like the scrubbing rags used to clean off dead skin in Korean bathhouses. What’s going on with this place? The charming details are hard not to love—the “Ducky’s” pavilion out in left-center, the giant Tropicana orange, even the rings of catwalks looming high over the field. But if I’m Desmond Jennings, manning my post in left field, I’m wondering why my workplace looks more like a big sheet of dried seaweed than even an overgrown little-league field…
So I keep strolling along the hollow metal walkway behind left field, peering into a long row of office windows with stacks of cardboard boxes and file cabinets, hoping for something to happen in this game. And I guess I got what I asked for: the sudden apparition, on the right-field jumbotron, of the talented, the charismatic, the feline—DJ Kitty.
Now, for anyone (everyone) unaware of this semi-mascot marauding around online Florida memedom, it’s a black and white housecat spinning records on a turntable, throwing its paws in the ai-yerrr like it just don’t ca-yerrr…. Sorry about that….
This cat, which looks very much possessed, I should add, calls to mind the earliest viral videos of pixelated YouTube, moving with the same hypnotic rhythm as the inflatable “air-dancers” advertising outside car dealerships.
So as the Rays look for a rally, the fans look to DJ Kitty, beamed in live from who knows where, onto the right-field screen, spinning on the ones and twos. I have so many questions—who made this? Whose cat is this? For how many years has this been going on? But now’s not the time for doubt. We simply have to believe. All hail the DJ Kitty, he is our leader now.
They say to never judge a book by its cover… because this cat could ball rally, man.
As the stadium crowd gets amped up to the sound of Young Jeezy records spun by two uncomfortably stiff kitty paws, I’m still looking for the fish tank, and I think I’m close. I round a corner behind the center-field beer pavilion, and there it is, I’ve found it–a tank the size of a backyard pool, filled with about 20 sting rays, and the only (I think) set of real-life team animals living full-time in an American arena (Marlins Park has fish, but no actual marlins).
About a dozen fans are taking selfies, sticking their hands in with no apparent fear of a sting, and surprisingly I see no one attempt a hot-dog feeding frenzy. Shout out to the alert security crew at Tropicana Field.
— The Big Inning (@big_inning) May 2, 2016
Meanwhile, back on the field, the Rays are coming up for the bottom of the ninth. I wave bye to the rays and sprint back to my seat, praying for even the smallest of Big Innings.
First up for the Rays is Brad Miller, the game tied 3-3, and in comes Brett Cecil for the Blue Jays—he of the 5.00+ ERA, the 0-4 record, the 7th-inning meltdown just days ago against the White Sox.
Miller hits a ground ball to first, easy out. But Justin Smoak seems to get his heels stuck in molasses behind the base, as he takes about six seconds to jog over for the out—meanwhile Miller’s sprinting his way down the line, and at the last second they hit the bag and we all turn to the ump for the call…his hand turns into a solid fist, Out!—but then transforms suddenly into another gesture, his two arms stretching out widely, then even wider, as if to make us forget he’d even considered anything else. Safe!!!
Manager John Gibbons comes out to challenge for Toronto, but the call stands—easily safe on the replay. Now, we’ve got something. With DJ Kitty our witness, the rally proceeds.
Kevin Kiermaier comes up now, fielder extraordinaire, and hits a no-doubt, line-drive double to right, sprinting to second with an emphatic slide, popping up with dirt stains and the look of a guy who knows he might’ve just won his team the game. Miller held at third.
It’s still no outs, when Curt Casali comes up, needing nothing but a long fly ball, maybe even a ground-out, or even a weak strikeout, with the top of the order due up.
He says no to all that: Fifth pitch of the at-bat. Fastball down the middle. Line drive. Single to left. Casali for the win, for the game-ending hit and for the big smile on the face, wherever he/she is now, of the team talisman that is DJ Kitty.
I cheered, I high-fived, I felt for a few moments like a Rays fan. The Trop is growing on me. Fans clanging cowbells all night long, in support of their team. Easy out to the parking lot, with about two whole minutes of exit time. And DJ Kitty? Let’s just say its YouTube views went up by about five or ten last night, as its newest fan fell victim to the hypnotic pull of a cat in a baseball jersey, spinning records and leading rally cries for so-so sports teams everywhere.