There are several sure fire signs that spring is around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report to their respective camps. Scott Boras is trying to drum up interest in some over-priced free agent that is still unsigned. And the first baseball cards of the year are on sale at your local hobby shop or retail outlet.
Back in 1998, to commemorate the inclusion of the Tampa Bay Rays (Devil Rays back then) and the Arizona Diamondbacks, Topps produced a limited number of factory sets emblazoned with a gold foil stamp. The stamps featured, in the Rays case, their logo with the words ‘Devil Rays Inaugural Season 1998′ across it. This was a continuation of a practice that Topps had started in 1991 for their Desert Shield set which was produced for the servicepeople in Iraq, and for the 1993 Rockies and Marlins sets.
Limited to a run of 5000 hand numbered sets, the Rays sets were distributed at the stadium and at retail outlets. However, the sets did not prove to be good enough sellers, and were closed out on a home shopping network. However, these sets are exceedingly difficult to locate in the original factory set form, and are valued at between $60 and $120. Individual cards are easier to locate than the sets, and sell for a solid premium over the basic Topps cards of that year.
As the Rays enter their 15th season, and with the latest set of Topps cards having been released recently, it seems a fitting time to look back at an interesting bit of memorabilia from that first season. While it may be difficult to locate, the set is certainly a fairly unique reminder of the birth of a franchise.