Willy Adames, shortstop for the Rays, reads with a student for Reading with the Rays.

By Lily Belcher

Even without a season, the Tampa Bay Rays, partnering with Suncoast Credit Union and the Tampa Bay Times, will host the 13th annual Reading with the Rays to train Tampa’s rookie readers. Through the program, Pre-K through 12th grade students log their reading hours throughout the summer to receive prizes.

The Rays began the free program in 2007 to encourage reading in order to avoid the typical summer learning loss by recording up to 24 hours spent reading.

“Reading is a vital component to a child’s education and helps prepare them for a bright future,” said Cindy Helton, executive director of the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation. “Helping to provide students with educational tools is part of our DNA.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced this year’s event to begin early and provided students with a motivation to read in their additional idle time that came with distanced learning and the cancelled school year. In past years, students could go to the library or the Rays’ website to pick up a scorecard, but this year, participants will have to download the scorecard from their homes.

After reading for the required hours, students will ‘round the bases’ and, when they reach the home plate, they email a picture of the scorecard. The Rays will send two tickets to a future home game if the participant reaches the home plate along with the prizes won for reaching first, second and third base.

Shea Bagley, a second grade teacher at Bevis Elementary School, said, “I think it’s an awesome program. It gives children an opportunity to read…[and] to find books they want to read.”

The program has hit it out of the park in each of its 13 seasons. More than 300,000 students across nine participating counties have racked up two and a half million hours of reading. Reading with the Rays is an opportunity for parents to get their kids excited about reading and an opportunity for students to score a homerun by hitting the books.

For more information on Reading with the Rays or book recommendations, visit www.mlb.com/rays/community/reading/ or contact reading@raysbaseball.com.