Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Rays are at a Familiar Crossroads
Mike Ricigliano/Baltimore Sun (2009) I couldn’t believe my eyes last night. What I saw shocked me to my fan core and told me emphatically that this Tampa Bay Rays team needs to adjust and refocus immediately, or we will be left again in the dust. Sure you might say that one loss doesn’t constitute a paranoid rant, or even a wide-eyed response that the “end is coming” to the high heavens. But then again, when you have lost three out of five games to your divisional foes, you might hear a few alarm bells in your own mind.
And that is the problem right now. The Rays are not the same team we began to idolize, and realistically vaulted to a high platform as the “team to beat” in April and May. But they are also not a shell of their former selves….yet. But maybe that is what is bothering me right now today. That the team’s personality and offensive firepower has somehow taken a mid-Summer vacation at a really improbable moment. Maybe it is the pure fact that this squad has been a bit of a chameleon in 2010 since the end of May.
For some reason this Rays team has begun to become a bit more predictable, a bit more vale in their attempt to hide their objectives, a bit more boring. And I guess it all hit me like a ton of bricks last night watching that extra inning debacle where we finally saw the dyke break on the Rays Bullpen’s bandage to holding this team together with a few sticks and paste. The Rays Bullpen finally had a moment. They finally had a time where the offense needed to dig them out for a change….and there was only silence from the Rays line-up.
In April and May, the Bullpen might have gotten challenged, or even bested, but the Rays offense had the will and the energy to step back up and take the game back into their own hands and defeat a team like the Baltimore Orioles. In April or May of this season, we would not be talking about the Rays having to win the “rubber match” against the Orioles, because they would have won that second game. Maybe it is the final realization that this Rays team is actually pretty normal and actually average that shocks me the most here.
For awhile we were lead to believe that they were up to the challenge. That this Rays team was stocked for bear and going hunting for another American League East title and beyond. But maybe I also put the cart before the horse again, or was it a donkey? In hindsight, maybe I fell for the romantic option of this team stealing the region’s heart again and seeing massive “Rayhawks” being carved out in every barber orifice in Tampa Bay. Maybe I was thinking again about passing someone one on the street and having them say “Go Rays” as we past each other. Maybe I thought 2010 was different.
Marc Avery/AP Even with all the cosmetic changes the Rays have endured in 2010, this team somehow got weaker. Somehow got more vulnerable. Somehow became less super human and more like the 2009 model. Now this is not to suggest a pratfall is upcoming, or even that a implosion is amongst us. But the stark reality is that right now, this Rays team can not match up to even the American League East’s top tier with a boost up by an unknown source. Our enthusiasm and our confidence in this 2010 edition of the Rays has been shaken to the core here. It’s mysterious covering has been removed and we see this team for what it really is right now.
This is a team that is fighting among itself for respect. Fighting within its own foundation and borders to become that April-May Rays monster again. But unlike the Incredible Hulk, the angrier and more upset this teams gets, it will not help the transformation. No matter what is said within the walls of the Rays clubhouse, their actions will speak louder than words. No matter what transpires for the rest of 2010,maybe the Rays saw their horse race end when the calendar turned to June. A great team becoming average is not a great sight in the middle of a period where the deciding factor of the season will materialize to all of us.
You think Rays home attendance is bad now, wait and see what happens if the Rays become normal and predictable. The pre-2008 Tropicana Field crowds might evolve again. You might see people beginning to leave in the 8th inning trying to beat the traffic, even when the Seattle Mariners are in town. I do not want to go back to that Rays era. I do not want to relive those moments of realizing that the game got out of hand because we are average.
It is not too late for this Rays team to readjust, refocus and recharge their batteries again. And it doesn’t start with a pep talk or even a grand gesture by this team. It starts with a clarifying moment, a symbol that the fences are mended and that the past is just that…past. Maybe after Wednesday afternoon’s contest in Camden Yards the Rays can find that moment of clarity as their enter a new forum where Rays wins used to go to die. Maybe it is time to show the spirit and the confidence might have laid dormant for a bit, but is still hot and heated within their Rays loins. Maybe it is time for a Rays uprising in the “City by the Lake”.
A Rays great showing in Cleveland will come as a two-fold vision right now. Not only would it show as a moment of clarity as the team defeats a squad within the stadium that has dusted them time and time again in the past, but they can restore some order to their own house. People told us that the 2010 season was going to be special. That this season was going to be a epiphany we would not soon forget. That we were going to reclaim what was our…the AL East title quest. It is not too late to readjust, realign and remember the glory of 2008. Because without it, this might turn into another year, another lost chance, another typical Rays season.
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