BRADENTON -- As the Tampa Bay Rays gear up to play archrival Boston in a best-of-five American League Division Series starting at 3:07 p.m. Friday, Manatee County fans are scooping up team gear to back them in the chase for the second World Series berth in team history.
Anything Rays-related is selling now, retailers say.
The Rays needed to win three straight elimination games in four days against three different teams flying from Toronto to Arlington, Texas, to Cleveland. Now they move on to Boston hoping to continue their improbable late-season surge.
In the meantime, Rays fans have been wiping out local inventory at sporting goods stores and retailers expect sales to jump as official postseason shirts, jerseys, hats and shoes arrive in stores this weekend.
Senior sales associate K.B. Belton said Rays gear has already been thinned out considerably at Champs Sports, 303-301 Blvd. W., No. 2, Bradenton. The Rays section at Champs has been bolstered by the arrival of new inven
"We just got the new hats in," Belton said. "I think we sold out of jerseys and we're kind of running out of shirts."
The Rays are outselling Yankees and Pirates stuff, Belton said. But even as hot as the Rays are, they haven't been able to unseat the No. 1 seller.
"Here, it's between the Miami Heat, Tampa Bay Bucs and the Rays," Belton said. "And the Heat is by far the best seller."
Rays fans prefer Tampa Bay hats and Evan Longoria shirts, Belton said. Some have spent up to $200 getting ready for the playoffs, he said.
Trey Andricks, one of four managers at Sports Authority Sporting Goods, 201 Cortez Road, W., Bradenton, said Rays sporting gear always moves well at his store when they are winning -- not just during playoff runs.
"They sell when they are doing well," Andricks said. "Since the middle of the season in July when they started winning, Rays merchandise started picking up quite a bit."
Andricks said he is eagerly awaiting the arrival of official postseason Rays gear Friday by FedEx.
"The only other team that sells more gear is Florida Gators merchandise," Andricks said. "As far as baseball goes, it's definitely all Rays. Most fans buy Tampa Bay logo shirts, including one with the Rays' cowbell, then jerseys, then hats."
Fans lay out anywhere from $20 for shirts up to $120 for jerseys for the big spenders, he said.
"Most fans spend $20 to $50," Andricks said.
It's a fine line keeping enough merchandise in inventory to satisfy uncertain demand, he said, but Sports Authority has it down to a science.
"We base our merchandise orders on what teams are making the postseason," he said. "All 25 stores locally will carry Rays merchandise in Tampa Bay area."
Manager Chris Cook of Dick's Sporting Goods, 4108 14th St. W., Bradenton, said there's been an uptick in sales during the Rays run to the playoffs at his store, too.
"Yes, we are moving Rays gear," Cook said.
He's waiting to stock new postseason Rays inventory.
"It's still early in the game," Cook said. "Certainly as the Rays get deeper in the playoffs, we'll sell more postseason jerseys and shirts."
Terry O'Connor, Bradenton night metro editor, can be reached at 941-745-7040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.