Fans watch a Rays spring training game at Charlotte Sports Park in 2011.
PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida (WINK) - Camp is now open for the Tampa Bay Rays. Pitchers and catchers are checking in Monday at the Charlotte Sports Park.
Local shops and restaurants in Port Charlotte are hoping the return of baseball is a home run for business.
"Last year was our first year dealing with the season here, because we're fairly new, and the opening day was our busiest day of the entire year," said Lisa Vale of RJ's Cafe and Deli in Port Charlotte.
RJ's Cafe and Deli is bracing for a busy few weeks as the Rays first full-squad workout is scheduled for this Sunday.
"We've been coming to the area on and off for 10 years, looking at this spot for a few years... so when it became available, we grabbed it. With the Sports Park there and the plans that the county has for further growth here," Vale said.
Vale is hoping to feed at least a few diehard fans Monday. Some waited since 8:00 a.m. just to catch a glimpse of their favorite pitchers and catchers.
"I live for baseball. I play baseball all the time, so it's awesome seeing all the players come out here," said fan Michael Lima.
"I'm excited about the younger guys, some of the rookie guys," said Rays fan Giovanni Fraraccio.
The Rays won't play their first spring training game until March 3rd against the Twins, but one fan already has big plans for this fall.
"I had a vision and I want everyone to hear this. Evan Longoria is going to catch the final out of the World Series. And we're going to win the World Series," said Fraraccio.
Manager Joe Maddon says he doesn't mind the high expectations.
"There's a definite buzz going on, and it's a good thing," Maddon said.
The Rays will go up against the Boston Red Sox March 10th at the new Jet Blue Park. While that stadium has been getting plenty of attention lately, Maddon says his team is happy in Charlotte County.
"I love it here. It really reeks of Spring Training," Maddon said. The team has played at the complex along SR 776 in Port Charlotte for the last four years.
The Rays will begin their regular season at Tropicana Field on April 6th against the New York Yankees. Single game tickets go on sale Saturday, February 25th at 9 a.m. at www.raysbaseball.com.