ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field swelled with the promise of what is to come in 2014 during the Rays' annual Fan Fest that took place Saturday.
"It's always good to see the fans," said Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, who is a Tampa Bay-area native. "I love having all these people yell at me about how we went to the same high school, the same college or 'I played softball with your dad.' There's always something, especially with me being from here. Every year, it's memorable, it's fun. The fans come out and always seem to enjoy it. And I think the organization does a good job with it, from the interactive games to the autographs and the promotions."
Fan Fest featured activities for kids, including "Reading with the Rays," the Sagicor Coaches Clinic with Rays coaches, the All Children's Hospital Kids Interactive Zone, Bayfront Health Kids Run the Bases, photos with Rays mascot Raymond and DJ Kitty, baseball activities for all ages and appearances by Rays players and coaches at various stations throughout the day.
Fans were also able to stop by the T-Mobile Phone-A-Friend stage to have a player call a friend or family member. Chris Archer, Grant Balfour, Alex Cobb and Ben Zobrist participated in this year's Phone-A-Friend.
"I really enjoy talking with the fans, probably because the fans have been so good to me," said Cobb with a smile. "Maybe if they didn't like me, I'd be a little more hesitant to go out there."
Cobb allowed that the Rays' popularity in the area strikes a chord with him.
"I feel a lot of pride when I'm driving around and I see Tampa Bay stuff on the back of cars, Tampa Bay hats, Rays shirts -- I love that," Cobb said. "And when you get to go out and hang out with those people at something like [Fan Fest], it's really special, because they always have a story for you.
"They've always got a game they were at when you did well -- a moment when they connected with you. It's pretty special when they share that with you. That brings me back to when I was a fan and I had players that I wanted to say that to. To be on the other end of that is really cool."
Rays manager Joe Maddon again held Thanksmas, bringing a unique atmosphere to this year's event, allowing a limited number of fans to sample a variety of wines while enjoying hors d'oeuvres based on Maddon's Thanksmas meal and having the opportunity to talk with Rays coaches, broadcasters and MLB Alumni inside the Ted Williams Museum. All proceeds from this event benefit the Rays Baseball Foundation and Maddon's Thanksmas efforts.
The buzz inside the building felt palpable, and the players were among those enjoying the event the most.
"The fans are awesome," Jeremy Hellickson said. "They support us for seven months of the year. To go sign autographs and hang out with them for an hour or two is the least we can do. And something we look forward to every year."
Joel Peralta noted that Rays players appreciate every fan that comes to Tropicana Field.
"We've got great, great fans," Peralta said.
Rays hitters take hacks vs. Price in batting practice
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Saturday's morning workout featured the Rays' first live batting practice this spring.
Among those on the bump was David Price, who looked ready to start the season.
"It went really good," Price said. "I felt great. I kind of surprised myself how good I felt, being at 9 in the morning. Even at Spring Training, that's kind of early to be out there facing hitters. Everything felt really good, that's good."
Hitters are definitely behind the pitchers at this point.
"Yeah, this is probably their first time of seeing actual pitching from somebody on the mound after living up in the Northeast, or whatever their circumstances are -- it's tough to face Major League pitching in the offseason, because a lot of Major League pitchers aren't throwing," Price said. "So this is their first time seeing live pitching probably in four or five months. So it feels good going out there and trying to hurt their confidence a little bit."
Price smiled when asked if he felt sorry for the hitters.
"No," he said. "It's timing for them. It's good for both of us. That's the first time I've had a real hitter standing in the box, with a helmet and a bat, stuff like that. So it definitely works both ways."
Matt Joyce was among the hitters Price faced.
"He looked great," Joyce said of Price. "It's nice to have him on our team, that's for sure. … You guys know how it goes. First time seeing live pitching, guy looks like he's throwing 110 mph. I was just trying to make contact. Sometimes it's a good thing, because it simplifies everything. You're not trying to do too much. You're just trying to make contact. At the same time, we've got a great pitching staff."
Joyce said it doesn't take that long for the hitters to catch up to the pitchers.
"Everybody's different, but you take a lot of swings in the cage and hit on the field a bunch, for the most part, hitters are hitting before they come here -- after that, it's just getting into game-type simulation, so it will probably take like four or five days," Joyce said.
• Reds pitcher Homer Bailey liked working with new Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan during their time together on the Reds. "I always liked the way [Hanigan] played the game," Bailey said. "He never was lazy behind the plate and always full of energy with great targets. He was very committed to every single game. It was something I always appreciated -- the way he went about his game."
• Maddon and some Rays front-office executives will meet on Sunday with a contingent of Major League Baseball officials -- including MLB executive vice president Joe Torre and subcommittee member Tony La Russa -- to discuss the new instant replay rules. Replay will be expanded this season to include the majority of plays outside of balls and strikes. Each manager will have as many as two challenges in one game, and umpires will have the power to institute a review beginning in the seventh inning. Representatives from the Orioles, Twins, Red Sox and Pirates are also expected to be in Port Charlotte for the meeting. "I'm just curious about what they have to say," Maddon said. "... I believe it's important to support it and be flexible about any changes that need to be made."
• Ben Zobrist (lower back) has been out since Thursday, but he said he's been feeling better every day. On Saturday, he worked out on the elliptical machine and he also did some "core" work. "I should start moving around pretty soon," Zobrist said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.