The franchise joined the Southern League in 1973 as the Orlando Twins, a minor-league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, which held spring training in Orlando, Florida at the time. The Orlando Twins played at Tinker Field in downtown Orlando, near the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium. In 1990, the team was renamed the Orlando Sun Rays. In 1993, the Chicago Cubs became the team's new major-league affiliate, and the team was renamed the Orlando Cubs. While still a Chicago Cubs affiliate, the team renamed itself once again in 1997 and became the Orlando Rays. The following year, for one season only, the Seattle Mariners were the Rays' major-league affiliate. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, an American League expansion team in 1998, assumed the Orlando Rays' major-league affiliation the following year.
The Orlando Rays' last season at Tinker Field was 1999. From 2000 to 2003, the Orlando Rays played in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in Champion Stadium at Walt Disney World Resort. Despite the fact that the team played in a state-of-the-art stadium that was built in 1997 and used during spring training by the Atlanta Braves, attendance did not meet expectations; after trailing the Southern League in attendance in multiple years, the Rays' owners announced the team would move to Montgomery in 2004. Rays players who went on to the major-league level include Carl Crawford, Toby Hall, Jorge Cantu, Dewon Brazelton, Chad Gaudin, Matt Diaz, Jonny Gomes and Seth McClung.
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