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Why can’t 2009 be as easy for us as 2008? Why is it that this season we have seemed to struggle, grind and pull ourselves out of holes instead of just lounging out at the top of the division like last season? Why is it that we can not at least seem better than 2008? Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s slogan during Spring Training for the year was “9 > 8″, or have we all forgotten that “roll off your tongue” gem in this rumble towards the playoffs?
And why is it we do not see any of those classic ” 9 > 8 ” classic t-shirts in any store in Tampa Bay? I have been to Champs, Sports Authority and a few select pro-Rays stores that in 2008 went buckwild on anything Rays related, but this year the picking have been only classic Rays attire. Has this area remained that emotionally guarded in respect to the anticipation or rewards that could still come in 2009? Or are the store just being retail savvy in waiting for the Rays playoff explosion late in the season?
Retail sales of the Rays gear might not have died down to a whisper yet, but this area is so fickle when it comes to their sports teams that a single game loss can bring out the same old pessimistic lines and attitudes. Has this area not bought in to this next generation of Maddon’s slick slogans, or are the fans being overly cautious and taking a “wait and see” attitude because of the Yankees perch in the standing? And since when have the Rays ever let their local marketing targets get dictated by the Pinstripers?
Has the outside realm of the Rays marketing machine not been convinced about this team yet? Or do they need a 7-game winning streak to get on board and again crank out the celebration T-shirts and products. Last season even before the Rays had secured a playoff berth there were T-shirts already in the backrooms of stores ready to be put out on the sales floor celebrating a playoff run and an eventual title. Heck, even the minute after we secured that Game 7 ALCS win the Rays Team Store had bushels and Bushels or celebration T-shirts already on hanger ready for the Rays masses.
Is that same excitement brewing under the surface now, or is it business as usual until the Rays get even with either the Red Sox or Rangers in the American League Wild Cards race. Will there be T-shirts proclaiming the Rays are the “Aces in the Wild Card race”, or maybe “The Jokers on You!” T-shirts to celebrate a possible late season run on the Wild Card.
Creative marketing and promotion is so very important to a team, but the cottage “Rays” community outside of the team realm can also get rich fast with T-shirts and the selling of well-timed merchandise. Anything “Rays-related last seaon was selling like hotcakes from street side vendors to the Team Store. Everyone loves a winner, and the Rays produced that and more for the fans in 2008. But what is so different in this season that the same excitement and passion is missing right now.
I know of at least a group of 10,000 fans who come religiously to the games and stand tall behind the team, but some of the other 24,000+ seats at the Trop. can go unused some nights, and are vacant during critical series this season. And that same response flows down to the people who do the outside merchandising and purchasing of the teams wares. I do not see the posturing of the chain stores, or even the Independent silk screen shops going late into the night printing or designing an innovative Rays T-shirt or slogan-based product for this postseason run.
And is this a sign that the Rays fan-dom has not bought totally into the program yet? Or could this just be a sophomore lull in the excitement because our hearts have been broken before by the collections of other sports franchises in this area promising results and falling flat on their faces. Come on people,the only thing broken here is the stream of confidence and exciting expectations that this team is still in the hunt this season.
We had a playoff type atmosphere in Tropicana Field during the last home stand where the Rays took all three series by a 2-1 margin. The Trop. was not sold out on any of those nights, but the energy levels and the corwd noise swelled way above the 18,000+ fans who came to the games. And why is it that the Rays fans still did not flock to the ticket booths? We had extra inning games, unexpected pitcher’s duels and a concert post-game by one of the biggest duos in Country Music Big & Rich, and we got less than 30,000 fans in the seats?
This is our time to put up or shut up! Not the team, but the fans. This coming Tuesday through Thursday might be the best chance to thrust ourselves into the Wild Card with authority! The dreaded Red Sox come into the Trop, and they are looking to break some Rays fan’s hearts and cowbells. By letting the Red Sox fans again outnumber us in the stands and try to take control once again of our home sends a message to the team that the level of support is not there yet in Tampa Bay.
And I totally disagree with that statement. It is here, and it is time to shine bright and sound off loud and drown out the Boston chatter this next week. By transforming the Trop into that noisy combustive “Pit” as Maddon wants to call it, we show a solidarity of support, an aire of confidence and a level of team based commitment to the Rays drive for the postseason. Tampa Bay is home to two major sports World Championships.
Well actually closer to a dozen Championships if you count the NASL title won by the Rowdies both indoor and outdoors. and the multiple titles of the AFL’s Tampa Bay Storm. Heck, this area is a classic sports community, but sometimes acts more like a sleepy Florida town where they roll up the sidewalks at nightfall. And that is why this region doesn’t get the hype and the respect it deserves. By sitting on our hands and not being vocal or show community pride, the “talking heads” of the world can riddicule this region and get away with it.
Do you think our fan counterpar
ts in Boston and New York would give up until the last out of the last inning to believe their teams had a shot at a playoff berth? Could you see Fenway Park not bing sold out when a playoff contender comes to town to take on the Red Sox? Would their fan bae abandon them if they fell from grace, or even imploded in the next two weeks? The Boston faithful would still be there trying to push the team upward with their cheers and collective energy.
The Rays fans are beginning to get into that culture of fandom, but we are not there yet. Hence the dreaded cowbells. They were intorduced as a loud crowd alternative to the Red Sox/Yankees chants when the team was beginning to establish a solid fanbase. The cowbells will some day dim and fade away, but not before our fanbase can be just as loud and as proud as the teams from the Northeast, then the cowbells will slowly disappear. If anyone has noticed this season, I do not carry a large Latin Percussion cowbell and multiple drumstricks this season.
I have reduced my support to a smaller version bell because I can hear the tide turning in the stadium. No longer do we need to be so forcefully noisy with a over-sized cowbell to get our point across. Now the Rays fans cheer loud without the help of our metallic friend. And that is a huge change in this teams fan culture. Sure there are still legions of large cowbell worshipping Rays fans, and that is okay too. But the legions have become more refined and more secluded to small groups within the stadium.
The “10th Man” as Maddon calls him is alive and well within the confines of Tropicana Field. And do not believe that the wives’ homecooking is the reason the Rays have one of the best home records in the entire league. The teams feeds off the enrgy of the crowd, and vice versa.
For both to feel success they need each other for support. When the teams needs that extra energy, they turn their ears to the crowd for that extra push, that extra amount of strength, and that sudden burst of emotional solidarity that comes from knowing the crowd is behind you in your fight.
Visiting teams coming into the Trop. have been very adamant that they hate the noise level of this dome. Not just the cowbells, but the music and the extra theatrical events going on all the time around them bombard their senses. Even Zack Greinke, the ace of the Kansas City Royals went as far as to complain to USA Today on the noise factor of this place. Little did he know that it was Park & Recreation Day and even kid in attendance got a pair of Thunderstix to clap during the game.
The 18,000+ fans in attendance that day did feel more like 40,000 with those kids energy levels banging those air-filled drums constantly during Greinke’s outing. And that is the home field advantge we need. We have to make this place a miserable experience for every team to even come out of the visitor’s clubhouse to the field.
They have to know that when they enter this building their senses will be in constant combat with sounds and sights that will influence the game.
But if the Rays fans do not attend the upcoming games in numbers, the point is really moot. If during this upcoming Boston/Tampa Bay series the Red Sox faithful can again get off a loud and clear “Let’s Go Red Sox” chant, it effects everyone from the fans to the Rays players. To not counter it, or even ignore it is to give them strength, which could make the cheer louder the next time until it encircles the stadium bowl. And that is not an option anymore within Tropicana Field.
Starting this Tuesday, we need to get out to the Trop. and show this team we have all of their backs during this quest for another shot at a ring. The Rays faithful have to come out in numbers and in high vocal spirit to chant, sing and even dance if needed, to get some important wins during this home stand. It is now up to us in the Tampa Bay area to show the team and ourselves, we are firmly behind this team. If not, the Boston and Yankees fans will again take over the Trop., and that is something none of us want to happen again………Ever!