Sometimes people forget that here in Tampa Bay, the Rays fans are a bit new at this winning tradition and support thing. Our fellow brethren in the American League East, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have established these traditions over the 100 years histories. On the surface, it seems as though the Tampa Bay Rays might be striving for after a successful 2008 campaign.
I can admire the courage and the determination it takes to follow a team with such traditions, but how is a team only around for 11 years to fight such a monster wall of expectations. First they have to strart with the general premise of just believing that the magic can happen a second time. Heck before 2008, the Rays faithful had only one season where we could cheer and find success, and even that was only a 70 game winning season.
And because of that lack of solid confidence at times, I am tempted to remind people that there might be a short lived backlash into the past ways for general support by the fans if the Rays do not get off to nice winning streak to accent what transpired here in 2008. This area has always craved a winner. And with it hight numbers of transplanted fans, it can be murder to get a stadium filled with Rays fans when teams from the northest come to town.
It is not like we have not had any sort of winning tradition in thsi area, but it has been a bit of time since the region embraced a team like the Rays in 2008. We have won Super Bowl trophies and Stanley Cups, but that World Series trophy was being salivated over by the millions who live in the Tampa Bay area.
So are we to believe that the hysteria and the mass explosion of excitement will still be high in the air in October, or will the fans abandon the team if they struggle to expectations of a successful NFL season. As fickle as it might sound, the team has only had that one brief practice into the realm of respectability. And because of that, there might be a slide or two late in 2009 due to the increased awareness that this team is coming to play every night or day now.
No more are teams being surprised or caught unaware of this teams potential and offensive firepower. The fact that the Rays have solid performers in the top categories of the offensive spots in the league shows they can produce at any moment. Teams around the American League will not be resting players or even expect to sweep a series against the Rays any time soon. The air of uncertainty is gone from the Rays sails and they are on course to come into each contest as a stepping stone back to the promised playoff lands.
The Rays came out extremely hungry in 2009, but gotten beaten back by teams now that have extensive scouting reports and film on the squad. Because they have been in the classic, and they want to get back there as soon as possible. No longer is a series against the Rays considered a time to get healthy, or even take lightly. This team can handle anyone offensively, and that might be the telling tale of how far they end up going this season. If the offense stays hot, the pitching will find a way to come to close the gap and some of those games will fall into the Rays favor based on brute firepower and consistent pitching.
That sense of responsibility comes with the success of winning a A L Pennant. You get a huge target set straight on your back and you either back up your claims, or fall by the wayside and let the winners’ pass by waving at you. In the past, the Rays fans and the team have done a lot of waving at losing streaks and misplays in games.
But with a decimated defense and the Rays Bullpen comin9 together right now to find a way to win every night, it made for a more interesting 7-9th inning in games in 2009. Can they still grow and build upon the past experiences and step it up a notch or two and finally contend nightly with everyone at anytime, or will 2009 just be a case of catching some teams napping and the Rays feasting on their opponents lack of aggressive motives.
But what if the Rays do not continue on improving and posting victories in 2009 ? Will the “boo” birds be ringing in the papers and from the stands even if we start off near .500 in June. Will the once vocal and energetic fans still come in bunches to every game, or will they save their enegies and money only for the “Prime” games against the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees.
Will another losing streak silence the cowbells and hide the home made signs for the blue and white clad Rays, or will the fan base again convert back to whoever is winning more games at the moment. It is sad that the fans of the sport can change their allegiance so quickly when things hit a sour note. No team can win every series or even every game, but even a two-game losing streak can send some bandwagon fans scurrying for the exits.
That is the problem with living in a region that boasts only 10 percent population over 30 years of age who were born in the area. Everyone is from somewhere else in the country, or the northeast. And with that move came a sense of tradition in following your old team no matter what. But just because you have a relative or even a parent who is entrusted to another team, do you feel obligated to support your new local team.
I have always wanted to ask any of the Boston or New York faithful who come here if they support any of the other local NFL or NHL teams. Do they still hold a traditional place in their hearts for the Rangers or Giants. Or maybe even the Jets and the Islanders if you are from the Gotham city. And do all Boston fans still cheer for the Bruins and Patriots even if they might have down seasons or get eliminated early in the playoff races.
The pitiful thing here is I think the region is still polarized and not committed to the Rays even after posting one of the best turnarounds in the annuals of baseball period. I hate to say it, but after years of other sports teams in the area not living up to expectations, could the Rays be bunched into that bushel of apathy after just a short time again. I think it is the Rays responsibility to keep a good product on the field and in the stands.
Fans will come for the games, but they also come for the entertainment before and after the contests in Tampa Bay. Some of the best attendance marks in 2008 came during the Concert Series on Sat night ( 8-0 ), when the team regularly sold out the entire Trop. so people could sing and dance in the aisle after the games. But do we have to be as gimmicky in 2009? I hate to say it, but we still have about a year before the rest of the Tampa Bay area can trust that the Rays are on the right path here. So let the music ring loud and proud in the dome.
I think a good barometer of the support factor for the rest of the season might come in the next few weeks when the Los Angels Angels and the Philadelphia Phillies come to town during June. That is usually a good sign of the type of support and the excitement about the season.
I know, I know, what else does the team have to do to show it wants to be winners, well it does go beyond the field. In the next few months the Rays marketing department will have ample chances to remind and entice the area’s fan to again come and support the team. Now you that the Sunday game will highlight most of the team’s giveaways in 2009, and that they are based towards the younger fans under 14.
The good part about this kind of giveaway is that it can boost the attendance based solely on the fact the kids are not coming to the game alone. A family of four can get tickets and a small meal for around $ 100, which is not bad for a MLB team. And with the Sunday events, the stadium is basically set up for the kids to have fun all day long. From face-painting to running the bases after the game, kids have the priority on those dates.
Fans in this area may have to make a firm choice in 2009. They might have to decide if the bandwagon effect no longer works for them, or they might just want to hop on board and be a full time supporter of the local team. Who knows what is going to happen inthe rest of 2009, but you can bet the team will fight until the last out in October in the 2009 season. I not expecting a huge turnaround in 1 AP (After Playoffs) season after our sluggish start on the field to translate into huge rise in attendance numbers. But it is still early in the season, and the kids will be getting out of school for the summer soon, and that could drastically change the plan.
The team might be expecting a large increase during this time, but that will come with the team winning consistently again. I hate to say this, but this region is like a lot of small market teams, there is a lot to do besides baseball on any given weekend day or even weeknight. But if the support is truly there for the Rays, the team will again do everything in it’s power to showcase themselves again as the team to beat in the A L East.
But the crowd as a 10th man has been instrumental in the past in making the difference late in a contest.
So as I am again getting ready to go cowbell shopping for the second time in 2009, I am beginning to feel a tide turning in the Trop in regards to the hope and aspirations of the team. I truly think that in the end in 2009 , there will be a closer contested divisional series than ever before in the A L East. There are three team poised to fight for the title, and 1 sitting back and might jump over the heap if we forget about them. I am looking forward to the first game, and cheering for my hometown team again.
The boys’ have tried nightly to give the region something to be proud of, and might still be a bit shell shocked at the result in Cleveland. But the last few games at home have shown again that offensive might and a team confidence can booast a team towards a win The Tampa Bay area is proud of them and want to again show their spirit and energy to the team. 40-some days until the All-Star break and the real guessing game starts all over again.
It seemed like just yesterday I was writing about the World Series match ups and the rain delays. And the Rays and the Phillies get to relive it all again this month in a 3-game series at the Trop. Hopefully World Series rematch number 2 will be a lot more exciting, and we know there will not be a single rain delay.
Let’s Go Rays!!!