Feeling Uncomfortably Numb

 


Jim Prisching / AP

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. 


RRCollections

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.


Elise Amendola / AP

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.

22 Comments

Cliff – all our teams go through periods of doubt where their confidence can wane. It is tough. There was so much pressure on the Rays this season to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke; that they were the real deal. It is very hard to live up to these lofty goals when you only have imperfect people who are charged with the task. Doubt creeps in. The young guys don’t know how to handle it. Even the veterans can seem lost and confused. I don’t know if the Rays can get it all together this season. While there is a lot of baseball left, time is quickly coming to an end. Repeating is VERY hard to do in this league. It is suppose to be. As hard as it is – KEEP THE FAITH CLIFF!!! Your team does not have a more dedicated, or invested, FAN!

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

It is true. There is just something lacking in the team spirit department. They have the ablilty and talent to win, but aren’t playing full out with the heart that last year’s squad did. I don’t want to see them finish this way. I hope they can find a rhythm that works and fast. I like your idea of a team activity away from the field. Hockey teams do that a lot. Maybe it would help. There must be a common interest among the players that Joe Maddon could use.
It is time to beat the Angels and come home and beat the Jays. Enough lollygagging, time to ball some serious ball.
Ginny
http://watercooler.mlblogs.com

Ginny,
Little did director Ron Shelton, who wrote “Bull Durham” how much usage towards the game of baseball the phrase “lollygagging” would have on the baseball culture.
Still my favorite movie.
But the Rays just seem s step or two behind each other at times, and that is bad going into a playoff run.
they have to collectively catch their breaths and readjust their mindset now…………or make October golf appointments.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Julia,
It is not about me here.
I guess as a former jock I get vested within the madness.
The real problem is I have seen this take root before and divide a clubhouse before it can be fixed.
I am beyond that ” a lot of baseball to play” mentality.
I do not want to be fighting in reality for our spot on October 3rd against the Yankees.
I loved we secured the spot before the end of the year series in 2008.
Team attitude can be as fundamental as a great lead-off or power hitter. Both can drive a team towards that final goal.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Fenway,
I am there every game, and have been for a long, long time.
I can tell you I will be there until the last out.
Not a fair weather fan, not a bandwagon fan, not a come as you go fan either.
This is my hometown and my team.
But you can understand that being a Bleacher Creature.
Just a bit upsetting when you see such a high ceiling of potential, then see them muck themselves up over dumb stuff.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

I really feel your frustration here. I wish you could sit down and talk with the team, even though you claim not to have a good solution, I think you would at least help with the wisdom you showed in this post.
I really think you should keep believing though, maybe it is a hard leak to fix this late, but it’s not yet unfixable. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too far away from you guys, keep up the push!
By the way, even though it’s pretty depressing, this is a really great post- you are an admirably dedicated fan and it shows.

http://the3rs.mlblogs.com/

Matthew,
4 times this week we have failed to gain ground when either team above us has faltered in the Wild Card.
It is better to be sitting 1 game behind than 4 where we are right now.
Just like I have stated before, a loss within our division takes two wins to correct it.
But this West Coast trip has been a horror ride with no end.
Even today’s game there have been signs of guys not performing to their levels, but that happens some days.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

The Rays may have some really bad losses over the two games at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. I don’t see this as an end to their season yet. As the Rays-Angels game is going on right now, I think the Rays have enough time to turn this around and go chase at least a wild card spot. A shot at the AL East title, that’s going to take a longshot, the Yankees are just playing too good to let their guard down. I hope the Rays can turn around their struggles at Anaheim.

Matthew Tang
http://matt7.mlblogs.com/

I don’t blame you for feeling the way do. The Rays right now remind me of the ’08 Cardinals around late August…. just ain’t got it in the tank. Nothing is going their way… lacking that FIRE. Still many games left to be played but they gotta kick it up a notch to keep WC hopes alive.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

Hang in there…still a ways to go! Hopefully, they can find their Mojo and put up a good fight :O)

Jenn
http://philliesphollowers.mlblogs.com/

Jeff,
That is the feeling in a nutshell.
You can feel the problem growing in the vibe the team is giving off, but you do not have a solution.
Last season I had a instinct, a vibe that something wild was going to happen.
This season I feel a bit numb compared to the inner fire I even had as a fan.
Not that my fire is snuffed out either, but there is a dullness to the whole thing right now that I can not comprehend yet.

Rays Renegade

http:/raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Jenn,
It is really not about me hanging in there, that is a gimme.
But the guys do not seem to have the gusto or drive right now, and that means teams will be able to come up and snatch a win or two from them without them noticing totally.
Take the last 4 days.
I did not expect to win all 6 games, but I also did not think we would lose 5 either.
The rollercoaster is getting higher and more severe with each loss.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Sorry about the Rays, they have been hot down the stretch before so don’t get your head down. The pitching and the bats need to work together not one day one is on and another day the other.
http://tribewithted.mlblogs.com/

Tribe,
Not worried as much as I am concerned actually.
5 games lost and with the Red Sox also going through a cycle of losses, and we did not make up a single game on them in the Wild Card.
Defending the division title will be tough with the Yankees continuing to stroll along with repeated wins.
Last week we could have gone in front of the Red Sox with some offense, but it never materialized as a continuous unit.
Could be worse, could lost all 6.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Let’s hope for a winning finish to this homestand. It may be our only chance to make a move in the standings. I really don’t want to see it go down to the last few games to earn that playoff spot. I rather secure that now.
Ginny

Ginny,
This home stand has 6 games against AL east foes, then 3 games against one of the team’s ahead of us in the AL Wild Card chase (Texas).
I think we need to win at least 7 out of the 9 to feel more secure.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Ginny,
I am not counting on anyone’s help getting losses right now.
New York get to go to Seattle and Oakland, and Boston will hit the road this weekend to play the Texas Ranger, and then head to Toronto for weekday series.
The Texas vs Red Sox series could be beneficial to the Rays because the loser of the series will fall closer to the Rays.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Yeah, and a few Red Sox and Yankees losses wouldn’t hurt either…
Ginny

It’s kind of funny how your expectations change once your team makes a deep run in the post-season. Had they not won the pennant last year, most Rays fans would probably consider this season a resounding success. I still wouldn’t consider the Rays out of the wild card race, yet. The Red Sox seem to be fading, and I’m not sure Texas has enough pitching depth to hang on the rest of the season.-Erinhttp://plunking-gomez.blogspot.com

Erin,
I guess it is just that I went to a major college program and we were taught to not expect anyone else to help us win, or get us conference titles.
So I expect the Rays to do the same. I do not want them hoping or wishing that Texas or Boston falls off the pace, I want them to get it out of their own sweat and blood.
Backing into the playoffs is still getting there, but it doesn’t have the same emotional or mental edge kicking butt can give a team.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

Cliff,
Hopefully the day off is just what the team needed and being back with their own fans. Here is to a great homestand!

This is for you:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FmPhJkdTwU
Emma
http://crzblue.mlblogs.com/

Emma,
Thin Lizzy was just what I needed to break a smile. Thanks
This is that part of the season my old football coach woulds tell me would seperate the “Haves” from the “Have Nots”.
For our first 10 years, we were the “Have Nots”.
Guess I am not ready to go back to a time where we could not anticiapte a October baseball game yet.

Rays Renegade

http://raysrenegade.mlblogs.com

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