Second Time was Just as Sweet!
You could feel the moment beginning to pulsate within the Teflon roof of Tropicana Field. It was the top of the ninth inning with Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano heading to the hill. With the sound of the sledgehammer hitting pure steel, your heartbeat synched solely with that one loud clang for several moments before someone shook you and you were forced back into this realm of reality.
Rays starter David Price had done his job for eight solid innings, and now the Rays All Time saves leader was not out there to collect another save, but to be one with a moment that will be in Rays fan’s minds for a long, long time. Soriano did not have to be inserted into the game with a 5-0 score and no chance of a save opportunity, but somehow, it just seemed right that the guy who anchored the backend of the Rays success this year should get a front row seat to the celebration carnage.
And even before Home Plate Umpire Joe West got a chance to throw a vocal note to the final pitch thrown by Soriano past Baltimore Orioles hitter Adam Jones, the Rays dugout and Bullpen were half way to the pitcher’s mound. Celebration was in full force in St. Petersburg that night with veterans like Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford taking special moments to collect all the sights and sounds of this cherished event.
With a scheduled Team meeting at the pitcher’s mound, the entire team collected and embraced, high-fives all around brought the evening to its ultimate climax, but there was a second act yet to be played out upon the turf of Tropicana Field. As the Rays employees were herded into their own special corral just to the west of Home Plate to be a part of the celebration, the first bottle of champagne was open by Rays First Base Coach George Hendricks who then made sure Rays Manager Joe Maddon, who was being interviewed in full view of the entire stadium at the time, got the first taste of the bubbly.
Sweet nectar of the God’s streamed down Maddon’s fresh new Rays playoff cap and upon his Carolina Blue plaid lettered T-shirt to commemorate the moment. Just as quickly, players began to filter out of the Rays clubhouse holding their own bottles of Domaine ste Michelle champagne looking to celebrate and salute a moment 161 games in the making. B J Upton and Crawford were the first to rise to the top of the Rays dugout and spray the home crowd while others looked for family members or friends to celebrate this historic Rays moment.
Then slowly, but surely, the team made its triumphant march down the First Base sidelines with bottles in hand spraying the crowd and offering a few swigs to those special fans and friends assembled to bring a final end to the first primary goal of this Rays team. I took my usual photo space down by the Rays Bullpen secondary clubhouse entrance and began to shoot the impending celebration stampede heading my way. I had to put down my camera as player after player came by and let me have a small slice of that moment with them.
Willy Aybar immediately doused me with champagne right after I congratulated Upton and Grant Balfour and then I saw the biggest smile on the faces of both Evan Longoria and David Price who earlier that day were going through some personal damage control after some unusual comments by the pair.
I yelled at Longoria that “this was the first of five celebrations” and he looked at me and said” I truly believe that.” Price then shook my hand and I told him I was proud of his actions today and every day he has been here.
Suddenly, the players sea seemed to part for a moment and one of my oldest baseball friends on the team presented me with a ¾ full bottle of champagne and quickly he disappeared in the exuberant posse. I quickly took a long and deep swig of that nectar and immediately passed it to a friend who took her own dose of delightful bubbly and I thrust the bottle to the air. A few players saw this and also cheered and pointed to me as I took in this second celebration, and immediately remembered just how far this team had come in 2010.
How only one National Media guru had predicted the Rays to be in the post season at all, and a shot at getting the divine prize of another American League East title was still sitting on the mantle waiting for the Rays to claim it for themselves. That celebration will have to wait until Kansas City, but tonight we were toasting to the success and the finalization of putting the Red Sox out of our rearview mirrors knowing that the New York Yankees were the only foe in our sights of another A L East crown.
And there was something soothing about this second time. Something that did not have me nervous or pacing like in 2008. Maybe it is the pure fact we have been here before. That we have scaled the mountain in recent times and could again hike it with the ultimate result this time…winning it all. Tonight was the symbolic starting point to that journey. A celebratory exclamation point to the 2010 season, but the Rays still have some walking to do along this dark path.
Tomorrow might be the last home game, but the team still has one more goal in mind, one giant moment yet to savor and enjoy…One more celebration before the season ends. But that is for us to ponder tomorrow, tonight is the time to celebrate, enjoy and totally let the pressures of the last few weeks pour down your body like the droplets of champagne.
Now is the time to show the emotions and the feelings that have been bottled up waiting for this glorious moment. I think it is time for me to finish this bottle of champagne and then look to the heavens knowing this is the first of five celebrations.