Rays need a Chant Tradition
Some people within the Internet ranks have stated recently that the Tampa Bay Rays fan base has a extreme case of inferiority complex compared to the fans of the New York region. I have to admit, that definitely was true back before 2006 when New York Yankee fans used to refer to Tropicana Field as “Yankee Stadium South” because of the over flow of pinstripes and “Jeter” jerseys patrolling the hallways before a Rays versus Yankees contest. But that is not been true since 2008.
During 2005, a typical Yankee versus Rays game had more opposition crowd noise to almost make it sound like a home game for the Yankees. But slowly and surely the Rays hometown crowd has begun to get behind their team and even began to turn the crowd towards wearing Rays gear, with a smattering of Red Sox jerseys for color. And that is huge loyalty adjustment for this region based on its fickle transient ways. There is such a large geographic-based cultural divide in the Tampa Bay area that most of the Northern transplants hail from somewhere within the Northeast sections of the United States.
And with that number of transplants increasing yearly, this merry band of baseball fanatics have brought with them a clash of baseball traditions and team loyalties. I have no problems with a person who was born even within an hour or so of New York City wearing Yankee stripes. I also can totally honor and respect the idea of someone from Maine following the Red Sox even if they had never even been to Boston. That regional love fest is a gimme and totally acceptable in my book. Regional pride is a good thing.
Personally, I feel that this inferiority garbage is totally in the past. I am serious. if you have attended either a Red Sox or a Yankees series at Tropicana Field since the start of the 2007 season, you will have noticed a slow reversal of the crowd noise depicting a mostly Yankee/Red Sox vibe in the stands. I am not trying to evoke that Rays fans have started to outnumber their pinstripe or brethren with with the red “B” on their caps, but they have definitely gotten into the vocal chimes and crowd actions to silence the opposition in recent years.
And you have to also throw in that winning has brought out more people to exhibit Rays pride, and even some of the rival crowd has been converted. I know personally a few fans who used to flaunt their Northern colors, but now only do it when their home team is in town. The rest of the season they fly Rays colors to support the local team. And that reaction took years, not just two winning seasons for them to show loyalties to both teams.
I am not implying that there is a Rays revival meeting going on somewhere around the Trop. during every home game, but the passion for this team can be infectious sometimes. As the Rays also establish winning traditions on the field, the crowd will also develop and transform their own sense upon the game from the stands. But until that revolution happens, the Rays front office (Fan Experience) has given the Rays fans the perfect tool to irritate and bring some rival chants to a complete halt.
Most visiting fans throw the main culprit of this Rays noise revolution onto the innocent cowbell. Yes, that shiny metal object that that can produce a sound found so revolting to rival fans they sometimes cringe when people pull them out of their bags. This small musical weapon has been their instrument of choice to helping the Rays gain back their home stadium edge.
I know most people will insist that it is the large Latin Percussion cowbell ( I used to bang one prior to 2009) wielding fans have drown out most of the opposing noise, but 8,000 little cowbells still make a heck of a racket when they are used during games. And you would be surprised how fast the Rays Team Store sells out of any type of specially insignia cowbell. This one item has been instrumental in recent years of squashing noise and chants within the walls of the Trop.
And how many times have you heard a rival fan, MLB blogger, or even a network sports announcer curse and admonish the Rays fans because of those little noisemakers. The simple cowbell has become the weapon of choice for Rays fans who do not have the time honored traditions and ceremonial cheers established for decades by our rivals. Give the Rays fans time, and you know they will develop another set of cheers, then the mighty cowbells will slowly die down as the new Rays noise makers takes control of the stadium.
Last season, the Raysvision crew and the Rays Fan Experience department made a short animated video showing the Maddon’s Maniac symbol Screamer mouthing the words and rhythms to the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army”. This song has been a traditional crowd favorite used all throughout the U.S. and Europe during soccer games and seems to have caught on at Rays games in 2009.
Not to say this will translate into anything like the ”official” Rays chant, but it is a starting point beyond swinging metal cowbells for 9 innings. But I have to admit, hearing the Rays crowd do the “Seven Nations Army” chant does make a perfectly awesome sound when you get at least 4,000 people voicing it over and over again during the opposing pitching changes. Traditions take time to get a foundation and to get firmly implanted in our minds and routinely followed by a team’s faithful fans.
I totally respect the Yankee Bleacher Creatures for their “Roll Call” chants during Yankee home games. It is a way for the fans and the players to interact without interfering directly with the game action. And that custom was developed over time. Sure one guy or a group of fans started it the first time, but with time it has grown into an honored Yankee tradition. And the Rays need to establish their own signature chant or cheer. And with time, and trail and error, the Rays fans will find that perfect vocal response during games. And with that perfection will spawn more traditions.
Over the last few years the Rays have used a number of ways for the fans to react during games, and the one that seems to have gained some ground floor sentiment is the “Feel the Heat” campaign. During Rays big plays . the Raysvision crew has popped up the short and concise chant and Rays fans have adopted and even added a twist to it. People have begun to throw up the classic surfer “Hang 10″ sign and turned it horizontal to look like a ray swimming. Sure it might be a bit quirky, and some say “totally ripped off”, but it is an honest start to establishing a lasting Rays tradition.
So the Rays really do not have an inferiority complex, but a lack of a solid tradition and team personality that other teams have evolved and change for more than 100 years. This is not to say that within a year or maybe two the Rays will have an overpowering chant,cheer or even a stadium crowd event that will overwhelm rival teams fans. But the machine is in motion, and with the off season comes a chance to experiment and maybe redefine Rays traditions.
When Stuart Sternberg and his crew took over the team they changes the logo, uniform colors and the general feel of the franchise from the ground up. This quick transition in November 2007 might have also stunted the growth of solid traditions for the team, but the newly established Rays franchise was evoking winning and a change of attitude from within the organization outward to the fans. It has been a success so far, and the future looks bright to see more exciting changes with the Rays fan base.
The first person who ever did “The Wave” must have had the people in the seating section next to him thinking he was an escaped mental patient, but slowly the crowd action caught on and it is now an International crowd event. When was the last time you went to any sporting event and someone did not try and start a “Wave”?
Oh, and for those people in the northeast regions of this country who hate those pesky cowbells. How soon you forget that the tradition started in the state of New York at Brooklyn Dodger baseball games by a little old lady who sat in the outfield used to ring her cowbell to show support for her team. Some traditions fall, some traditions linger. But the best traditions are the ones that get people excited and eager to participate every time someone starts them.