Feeling Uncomfortably Numb
Sometimes there are moments in a season that make your team and yourself question just what it is you have done all that sweating and work for that season. Some media minds think that the Tampa Bay Rays did a boatload of overachieving in 2008,and that this season, the true reality is beginning to set in that they are not the same unit. That the team intensity and chemistry is a bit off. That the Rays do not have the same team consistent belief that they can return to the World Series.
And as a fan, you get short glimpses of that team chemistry and that missing hint of cohesion when the team takes the field,and it gets displayed when they react to loss and adversity. Coming into this season’s last West Coast excursion, I felt that the team might be riding a huge wave of emotion and confidence that could pace them for the rest of the season. I really thought it was a time for the team to make a statement and show the Seattle and Los Angeles of Anaheim fans that the American League Championship will again flow through Tampa Bay.
But something is missing right now. After the fourth loss in a row by this squad last night, I am uncomfortably numb right now. And it is not from the 4 nights of 10:10 pm PST game times,or the fact that it has induced a bit of sleep deprivation right now in me. I am numb to the fact that I might have to accept to the fact that this team is not as good,or as emotionally vested as their 2008 counterparts. I do not question their skills or even their abilities,but I am beginning to question something beyond just the gamesmanship of the Rays.
I am beginning to sense a loss of purpose from this team. From the player rifts posted in media sources,to the feeling of abandonment both by field players and pitchers alike,this team might be questioning themselves right now. The talent is truly there,the skill levels are going through an ebb and tide, but they are still seem partially committed to the prize. But my weird gut feeling of a team tearing itself apart from inside their own heads is beginning to materialize to me. And good teams have suffered this before and come out on top,but this has to stop with this afternoon’s game.
Finite,The End, final conclusion. Call it what you want,but it has to have an ending today. It could be a simple fact that this team is just mentally tired and the season’s stress and pressure is gaining a foothold on their minds. Or it could be the realization that some members of this team lack the heart and soul of the Rays Championship team. Baseball seasons sometimes are viewed as a long, drawn out affair. But in reality, the season flashes by at breakneck speed and September can be too late to fix a leak in a sinking ship.
Right now,at this very moment, the team is doing their pre-game rituals and conditioning drills in preparation for today’s battle. But my concern is the battle each of these guys might be having inside their heads right now. Some are battling inner demons of frustration,and feel under the microscope. Others are struggling with the fact they might have let too much of the season go by before buckling down and getting back into the groove. While others are showing haste and over committing at the plate,where before there was discipline and patience.
This is not the same squad that took the field and walked that 2008 American League Championship banner to the middle of leftfield and saw it raised to the rafters in Tropicana Field. Oh it has the same team members,but it is not the same committed unit. There are hints of self doubt and a true lack of team confidence flowing from the dugout to the Bullpen. There have been no outward chants or bursts of frustrations beyond a few Gatorade coolers taking a beating, but there are signs. This is a team that is a real need of a bonding moment right now.
There were several of those key moments in 2008. But the vibe of energy from the guys on the field and the pitchers on the mound have seemed to drift in different directions right now. The team is no longer traveling in a true straight line. Not that the teams divided path looks like a Etch-a-sketch drawing,but some are showing signs of inner fighting with themselves,while others are voicing out the wrong message. I am not saying they need or have to have a team oriented exercise,but a bowling night or a BBQ besides a pool just might be more conducive to them reconnecting right now.
You see starters trying to pitch above their abilities right now to counter a lack of confidence in the defense behind him. You see another starter trying to use his defense and getting mixed results,which only foster more doubt in the “pitch-to-contact” system. And then you have a player who is beating himself up and can not seem to forgive his shortcomings and maximize his strengths. And below all of this,is a growing sign of the team’s goals slipping away from their fingertips. It is numbing to me to see all of this from a front row seat and can not do anything about it.
I have played on teams like this before,and I do not have the perfect answer. I truly wish I did for this situation. The combined potential on this team is staggering to me at times. But the true fact is that this team doesn’t seem to have the same vibe as the 2008 squad. Last season,during that disaster in Cleveland where the Rays reached a season high 7-game losing streak,you saw guys talking and trying to figure it out. The last few games I have seen down faces on the bench,even when something great happens,there is not that collective “high” or excitement felt by everyone on the bench.
I guess with my emotional attachment to this team I want to have the answer to give to Rays Manager Joe Maddon,but I do not have that magic potion. I want to have that missing puzzle piece that has fallen off this team. That will again make them whole,but the piece is absent right now. I want to see this bench excited,ready to go,and willing lay down a drag bunt to get on base. No one has mailed in this season. No one has quit on their teammates,but the confidence flow seems clogged for some reason.
To paraphrase the Jack Nicholson Joker character, maybe this team needs an enema. Not a physical one,but a mental flushing of the doubts,mis-guided moments and flukes that can clog and push
doubts in people’s minds and team chemistry. Maybe they simply need to re-acquire the mindset of a kid playing the game. Sometimes a team can get so into their professional approach that the game gets bogged down in techniques, procedures and scripted plays that they forget to just enjoy playing the game. Oh,I wish it was that simple.
This last game against the Angels could be extremely important to this team’s mental psyche. Right now they have seen themselves fall off the pace for their goals. They have seen a several games slip through their fingers without grasping it hard and tight. That can mentally wear down your squad and make them begin second guess the team concept. Right now these guys just need to re-commit to themselves first. Re-institute the team challenge to right the ship and take it full steam ahead. Simply,they may need to manufacture their own 2009 “Kumbaya” moment. They might just need to vocally and collectively again show that they are all on board and re-unite this team with a dose of extreme high voltage energy.