KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) - The night was already a success for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Brendan Harris' game-winning hit made the team's debut at Disney World that much sweeter.
Harris singled through a drawn-in infield with the bases loaded in the 10th inning Tuesday night, giving the Devil Rays a 4-3 victory over the Texas Rangers in the first major league regular season game played in Central Florida.
"It was kind of neat, actually. There was a buzz about the place," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "I know our players felt it, and I felt it. ... It was a nice atmosphere."
Despite slow advance ticket sales, most of the seats in the minor league park at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex were filled. Attendance was announced as 8,443, a little more than 1,000 below capacity and slightly better than the 8,241 the Devil Rays and Rangers averaged for six dates at Tropicana Field last season.
The Devil Rays shifted the three-game series from St. Petersburg to Disney - about 90 miles northeast of the team's domed stadium - in hopes of raising the franchise's profile in the Orlando area and bolstering television ratings across Central Florida.
"We didn't really know what to expect, but it was great" Harris said. "We saw some familiar faces as well as some new ones, so hopefully we made some new fans."
Harris' fourth hit of the game drove in the winning run off Scott Feldman (1-2), who was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma earlier in the day. Brian Stokes (2-5) pitched the 10th for the Devil Rays, who loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the inning on two walks and Delmon Young's single.
Hank Blalock homered for the third straight game for the Rangers, hitting a solo shot off James Shields in the fifth. Brad Wilkerson had a second-inning sacrifice fly, and Nelson Cruz's RBI single in the fifth made it 3-3 against Shields, who allowed six hits in eight innings.
Carlos Pena, Elijah Dukes and Ty Wiggington drove in Tampa Bay's runs off Texas right-hander Brandon McCarthy, who allowed six hits and struck out seven in six innings. Meanwhile, the Rangers' Mark Teixeira went 0-for-5, ending a 12-game hitting streak.
Disney's 9,500-seat park is the smallest to host major league games since the Oakland Athletics opened the 1996 season with six "home" games against Toronto and Detroit at 9,000-seat Cashman Field in Las Vegas.
"It felt a little different. It's the first time that I could hear individual fans," McCarthy said. "I think once you get to the big leagues, you start to feed off that energy of 30,000 people going strong. I understand what they're doing here, but it's a little weird feeling."
Devil Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said before the game that he expected every seat in the ballpark to be filled, however there were rows and rows of empty green chairs for the first pitch, especially in corners of the upper deck.
With ticket prices ranging from $49 to $119 for the lower deck and $35 to $42 on the upper level, many fans opted for $15 lawn seating up the third base line and on the hill behind the left field fence.
"Success would just be people leaving the park tonight, tomorrow and the next day saying they had a great time," Sternberg said, adding that the team was open to the possibility of additional visits to Orlando in coming seasons if the experiment goes well.
"The only way I'd rule it out is if it is really atrocious," the owner said.
But one thing Sternberg reiterated is that the club's effort to reposition itself as a regional franchise is not an attempt to test the Orlando area as a potential site for relocation from Tropicana Field.
"We've got a house. We're extremely happy in our house. We've put a lot of dollars into our home," Sternberg said, backtracking on recent comments he's made about the long-term suitability of the domed stadium in St. Petersburg.
Although Disney has been the spring training base for the Atlanta Braves since 1997, it nevertheless is a minor league park that lacks many of the amenities that teams enjoy at major league venues.
The Devil Rays rented a 30-by-22 foot video screen that was installed behind the right field fence and players meandered around clubhouses smaller than they are accustomed to, trying to get acclimated to the new surroundings.
Most of Tampa Bay's players made the 90-mile trip by car, some arriving on Monday and taking advantage of the day off to visit theme parks. A handful took a bus that left Tropicana Field at 10:30 a.m.
"It's three more road games. That's what it's like," outfielder Carl Crawford said. "It's definitely not like being at home."
Notes: Rangers OF Sammy Sosa had the night off. ... Devil Rays CF Rocco Baldelli, who's in a 1-for-40 skid, left the game with a left hamstring strain after grounding out in the first. The injury will be re-evaluated Wednesday. ... The Rangers placed RHP Kevin Millwood on the 15-day DL a day after returning to the team and aggravating a hamstring injury that had kept him out for two weeks. LHP Ron Mahay was put on the DL with a strained muscle in his ribcage. Feldman and A.J. Murray were recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma. ... Wilkerson left the game with a right hamstring injury after sliding awkwardly to avoid a tag at second base on a fifth-inning double.