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Thursday, June 21, 2012
Against Me! guitarist perseveres with Rays

By Mike Trask
Special to ESPN.com

The Tampa Bay Rays aren't exactly known for their celebrity fans.

But there's a huge one in Against Me!, the Florida-based band currently on tour with punk legends The Cult.

James Bowman
Against Me! guitarist James Bowman has been a devoted Rays fan since the team's inception.
“I grew up in the Tampa-St. Pete area and I was living there when we got the news about getting a major league team,” said Against Me! guitarist James Bowman. “A bunch of friends and I pooled our money. We bought season tickets to the inaugural season.

“There were some lean years. But we stuck it out.”

Lean might be a generous word to describe a 106-loss season in 2002, or the 10 straight sub-.500 seasons to begin franchise history.

Yet, times have changed. The Rays are no longer the Devil Rays, nor are they laughingstocks. They are perennial contenders in the toughest division in baseball and Bowman now travels the world with Against Me!, jamming to hit songs like “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” and “Thrash Unreal.”

The band's lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, recently made headlines with her decision to come out as transgender and undergo hormone replacement therapy. An outpouring of support for the band and for Grace, known formerly as Tom Gabel, came immediately. Athletes such as WWE Champion CM Punk, who wore an Against Me! shirt during his snowangeling appearance on Jimmy Fallon earlier this week, tweeted in support of the band.

"I don't know a lot of these people personally," said Bowman. "But obviously it's awesome to see so much support when we are going through this."

And while the band has taken off, Bowman is still watching the Rays. Like the rest of the baseball world, he’s following games via mobile apps when he’s not watching with the MLB package in the Against Me! tour bus. But he has to leave the bus for a good conversation about Evan Longoria or sabermetrics.

“Everybody else thinks baseball is boring,” he said about his bandmates. “If I have it on they moan and groan, so I usually just pick up my laptop and watch it.”

His fandom is well-known to the Rays’ front office, although he’s yet to be commissioned to write a team anthem or have his guitar riffs used as closer Fernando Rodney’s walk-out song.

He has, however, been asked to throw out a first pitch later this season. He’s working on finding a date that works. But he knows July 2 against the hated New York Yankees would be perfect.