The 2023 season is shaping up to have a lot of intrigue surrounding this ball club, both on and off the field, as there is interest in what direction this team will go in after an early playoff exit in 2022 and the Rays being eliminated in the earliest round of the postseason in franchise history.
But spring training is right around the corner, and in Rays fashion, the Rays will be dealing with new circumstances as the team will split its spring training season this year between Orlando and St. Petersburg.
Beyond the unconventional spring training the team will endure, the team's spring schedule is going to feature some must-watch games for fans, whether for historical significance or not, as they get ready for the upcoming year.
1. vs. New York Yankees (Feb. 28th at Champion Stadium @ Disney's Wide World of Sports)
The first home game for any major league ballclub is always an exciting time for fans as it signals, we are inching closer to the start of the regular season and it's our first taste of live game play in what would be close to 4 months, but this spring home opener for the Rays means more in part to the location they will be playing.
This opening game versus the Yankees is slated to be the first and only time the Rays will use their temporary Orlando home before the major league club then shifts to St. Pete, creating what should be an exciting atmosphere for the first home spring game on the Rays' slate.
Aside from that, it will be the first time in nearly four years that the facility has been used for MLB purposes, as the main stadium and its facilities have been mostly left vacant without a club to call the complex home.
This will also be the first time in 14 years that the Tampa Bay Rays have been the host team for a game at Wide World of Sports, as the team last hosted games versus the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008.
This opportunity to play in Orlando is a great exposure chance for the Tampa Bay Rays to bring baseball to a market that has been without the sport for the past 3 years, with the Florida Fire Frogs and Atlanta Braves being the last two teams in the area left to go.
This opportunity to play in this area may allow the Rays to not only gain a foothold in a relatively untapped market for them, but also to research and test to see if Orlando could be a potential opportunity for future games for the club in the future, as it has in the past.
2. vs. New York Mets (March 24th at Tropicana Field)
This will be one of two times that a team from the east part of the Grapefruit League will travel over to take on the Tampa Bay Rays, and with the moves that the Mets made this offseason and the Florida Gator that is Pete Alonso maybe traveling over, this could be an interesting late-spring matchup for the Rays at the Trop.
Although the Mets are unlikely to send their big names to the west coast to face the Rays, it will be a good test for the Rays to be able to play a Mets team that is looking to be a deep postseason contender with the reunion tour of Verlander and Scherzer, who will be teammates for the first time since they were in Detroit.
3. @ Atlanta Braves (March 1st at CoolToday Park)
The Rays will make their only trip to what will be the closest they will get to their usual spring facility in Port Charlotte when they take on the Atlanta Braves in North Port.
Although this is only one game, this should be a good opportunity for Rays fans in the Port Charlotte region, where their spring home is normally, to make the trip to support the team, which is why it makes it a must-watch for Rays fans this spring.
Beyond that, getting the chance to see Acuna vs. Franco could shape up to be quite interesting, with both players being some of the faces of the MLB and shaping the future of the league.
4. @ Philadelphia Phillies (March 7th at Baycare Ballpark)
If the NL East has gotten enough love, well, we have not stopped. But, regardless, the Rays will travel to Clearwater, FL, to take on the Phillies, which will be the first chance that the Rays will have to meet the reigning NL champion.
The Rays-Phillies first spring meeting will certainly draw attention for more than just a World Series rematch, but also as a good opportunity to test themselves against a National League championship-winning Phillies club under Rob Thompson.
While fans may not say this game is a must-watch, it does have some interesting matchups that could be interesting for spring training purposes as well.
5. vs. Toronto Blue Jays (March 9th at Tropicana Field)
Kiermaier's return to the Trop is going to come a lot sooner than expected.
While this game is truly not a massive one outside of an early glimpse of division rivals, it is the first chance to see longtime Ray, Kevin Kiermaier, play for the other team that ends in "-Ays."
I expect the team to do something to honor the legacy that Kiermaier left as the leader of the Rays and one of the longer-tenured players in the franchise's history, as it should create a special spring training matchup here this season.