By Amy McSweeney - October 03, 2023
Carol Dennis has loved baseball since elementary school. On Saturdays, her parents would drop her off to watch the Rochester Red Wings, a Triple-A International League team, for a dime per game. She moved to Florida in 1960 and taught math for 38 years before retiring in 2005. When Major League Baseball announced the launch of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays expansion team, Dennis immediately purchased season tickets. She was in the stands in 1998 when the team made their professional debut at Tropicana Field.
“When I attended my first Rays game, I had tears rolling down my face as the national anthem was being played. It was so hard to believe that Major League Baseball was in my area. It was amazing,” Dennis said.
As a season ticket holder since Day 1, Dennis loves taking people to the ballpark. She was inducted into the Rays Wall of Fame in 2005 and given the nickname “The Sampler” because she’s brought so many people to the Trop over the years to sample the team and the venue.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that I like about the sport,” Dennis said. “I love the whole thing!”
Dennis never missed an opportunity to attend Rays games. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, her cardboard cutout sat in the outfield at Tropicana Field watching her beloved Rays play.
In 2021, Dennis went to her primary care provider for routine bloodwork after experiencing extreme fatigue. After multiple rounds of testing, she was diagnosed with stage 3 Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center where a team of doctors, including hematologist Dr. Onyee Chan and bone marrow transplant specialist Dr. Lia Perez, developed a treatment plan right away.
“You make your plan to fight, to live and to never give up hope,” Dennis said.
For the first time since becoming a Rays season ticket holder in 1998, Dennis was forced to give up her seats at the Trop while she underwent cancer treatment. She participated in a clinical trial. After two successful treatment cycles and several bone marrow biopsies, on April 7, 2023, she received her transplant.
Her family surprised her with a special homecoming back to Tropicana Field on Sept. 23, 2023. The Tampa Bay Rays honored Dennis through the Salute to Survivors program. Her favorite mascot, Raymond, came by for a surprise visit and welcome-home hug.
“I have truly missed not being able to go to the ballpark,” Dennis said. “It’s a passion and it has also been a diversion. It was an empty hole that I couldn’t fill during treatment. Thank goodness it’s on TV and I don’t have to miss it altogether.”
For now, Dennis will continue keeping score while she watches the Rays from home as she remains on the road to recovery. She can’t wait to get back to her seats at Tropicana Field.