St. Petersburg Devil Rays
The St. Petersburg Devil Rays of St. Petersburg, Florida, played four seasons in the Florida State League. In that time, they served as a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, as well as one season operating as a co-op team.
The St. Pete Devils Rays began after the 1996 season, when the St. Petersburg Cardinals franchise became an affiliate of an MLB team that didn’t exist yet. This was a time where the expansion Tampa Bay team had players to their name (via draft and signings) but were a few years away from playing their first major league game. The Tampa Bay front office was involved with a handful of affiliates in those pre-existent days, including Princeton, Orlando, and one that shared a city with their own Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The Devil Rays didn’t seem to have enough players to go around in that ‘97 season, so the St. Pete team was composed of a mix of Devil Rays prospects and other random players, making them a co-op team. From what I can tell, the Seattle Mariners had a bunch of players on that team, and this dovetailed with the M’s affiliation with the Orlando Rays that same year. Perhaps Seattle and Tampa brass worked out a handshake agreement to collaboratively fill out the rosters of both Orlando and St Petersburg.
By ‘98, the big league Devil Rays were playing games, and St. Petersburg was an exclusive High-A affiliate. The prospects that went through St. Petersburg en route to, well, St. Petersburg are pretty unnoteworthy. The lone future MLB All-Star was Rolando Arrojo.
The team’s branding was COTOB to the max, but St. Petersburg flexed a few creative muscles. Their cap logo was a take on Tampa Bay’s, but with the letters STP skillfully rendered in iconic gradient font with the sting ray gliding over it. Their home uniforms were essentially straight knockoffs, but their road jerseys whimsically featured the city’s nickname: St. Pete.
The end of the St. Petersburg Devil Rays came unceremoniously following the 2000 season, when the franchise (along with the Kissimmee Cobras) was contracted from existence, enabling the Class-A Advanced level to trim down to the even thirty teams that we see today.