Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3), right fielder Matt Joyce (20) and first baseman Carlos Pena (23) congratulate each other after they all scored in the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Tropicana Field.
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- The Tampa Bay Rays start a three game series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Tuesday night, hoping to continue their early season success of filling seats at Tropicana Field.
Saturday and Sunday's home games against the Minnesota Twins drew a combined 58,281 fans. That's more than the team drew in any two consecutive games in all of 2011, including games against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Few people benefit more from that than Mark Ferguson.
"People are out there buying tickets. Saturday night there was hardly any tickets available," said the owner of Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill, located across the street from the stadium.
For the entire three-game weekend series, 77,000 fans showed up at the Trop.
Last April the Rays also hosted the Twins for a three game weekend series and 54,000 people were in attendance. After six home games, Tampa Bay is averaging 29,000 fans per game, putting them 17th out of 30 major league teams.
Last season they ranked 29th, drawing only 18,000 per game.
"I think it's going to be a very, very good year," Ferguson said.
A number of reasons may be behind the surge.
The Tampa Bay Lighting did not make the playoffs this year, while last year at this time they were in the middle of a deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rays also had giveaways at each game this past weekend.
Others point to an improving economy or the team's willingness to spend money in the offseason.
ESPN Radio 1040 AM host Tom Krasniqi says it's likely a combination of all those things, as well as early season success on the field, as opposed to last season.
"When you start 0-6 and 1-8, and Manny Ramirez walks out on you after five games, I think the moral was down. Not only with the team, but with the fans as well," Krasniqi said.
But will Rays fans continue to walk up to the ticket windows in high numbers all season?
"I think you'll see a marginal increase in their attendance. I don't think you are going to see a huge spike over last year," Krasniqi said.
Tuesday through Thursday will be another test for the Rays attendance, with the team hosting its first midweek series of the season.
Last year, they also hosted the Angels midweek in April, averaging 12,500 fans per game.