The Tampa Bay Rays have been one of baseball’s biggest surprises this season, but not for the reason many think. While most sportswriters and pundits want to cite statistics and comparisons of metrics until they make your eyes bleed, I’m looking at it strictly from the fan’s point of view. For that reason, I’m going to explain why the Rays are the team which America absolutely, positively, must pay attention to the rest of this season:
They are the real-life “Major League” team: those of you who remember Wesley Snipes and Corbin Bernsen in the late 80s comedy about the hapless Cleveland Indians inherited by the showgirl wife who wants to move them to Miami will appreciate this statement. The Rays, owned by Stuart Sternberg (himself an admitted Mets fan), have been gutted from a payroll standpoint for a variety of reasons, ranging from attendance to a sheer lack of firepower to compete in the cash-flush American League East. This is a team with a manager who is a local (Kevin Cash) and has players with nicknames such as “The Outlaw” (Kevin Keirmaier), and “The Buffalo” (Wilson Ramos). What the hell is not to love?
ESPN hates them: those of you who are tired of ESPN’s political rants (yes conservatives and Trump supporters, I’m talking to YOU) and fawning over the Yankees and Red Sox, the Rays should be the team you are falling over yourselves to support, if for no other reason than to flip a collective middle finger at the “Worldwide Leader in Sports”. ESPN makes no bones about their disdain for Tampa Bay, the Rays, and anything having to do with this franchise (see below).
The New York and Boston media hates them: See ESPN but add this – anyone who DOESN’T like to take New York and Boston sportswriters’ tales and shove them square back up their fannies is either a fan of either the pinstripes or the Sox, or just doesn’t care about baseball.
Yes, the Trop is a horrible facility, BUT: l et’s face it, the Trop (Fruitdome,
Thunderdome, Mausoleam, etc.) is a dump. It’s old, outdated, dreary, and it’s slanted roof and catwalks make the Rays the baseball equivalent of an Arena Football team, but it has some serious advantages. For starters, it’s a perfect facility for Tampa Bay’s mercurial weather, the catwalks DO benefit opposing teams who know how to work them, the food has experienced a serious, serious upgrade, they have a really sweet cigar bar there, a pretty nifty kids section (complete with real live stingrays), and admit it, you love hearing those bloody cowbells!
They could actually make the playoffs: okay, this one requires a crash-course in advanced probabilities and statistics, but the layman’s terms are something like this – if somehow, someway the Rays managed to win about 10 more games than they lose for the rest of the season, that would make them 91-61, which would not only be pretty damned respectable in the AL East, it would make them pretty close to division champions in any other part of the majors. Of course, they are playing in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, so making the one-game playoff may be their best shot at upsetting the apple cart. That being said….
They could (refrain from rolling eyes here) win it all: Yes, you read that right, and I’m not smoking a thousand pounds of hippie lettuce. IF – and that is a JUPITER-SIZED IF – the Rays manage to make a one-way playoff and win, they have the right combination of overachievers and players with chips on their shoulders and, let’s face it – luck, to possible win the Commissioner’s Trophy. Do I think they WILL? Hey, if Donald Trump can win the Presidency, anything is possible. That being said, I’m not gonna bet my life savings that Kevin Cash will pull a thousand rabbits outta his hat before October.
Of course, a million things could go wrong between today and playoff time. This is a team which could hit a disastrous slump and lose 20 games in a row, or they could go on a white hot streak and win the AL east outright. Who knows? In this game, anything can happen.