Get Ready for a Bumpy Ride
Man, here we go again. Not even two days before the beginning of the Tampa Bay Rays 14th thrill seeking journey through the 2011 season and I am already extremely tired from the massive jump and down stomach wrenching trip we took since the being shown the dirty end of the Game 5 finale of the 2010 ALDS in Tropicana Field.
Believe me, I do not mind the twisty gut checks, the sudden drops of talent or even the unsuspecting high steeping emotional road this team is going to have to endure to again be considered anything better than the “Show” (Third place) category. But I am still a bit wary of increasing stomach shifts upwards towards the Adam’s Apple with the vulnerability of this team set dead center for everyone to poke a stick at right now.
Sure I am expecting more than a single intense emotional drop in 2011 that not only takes your breathe away, but does something to overall mode of team confidence and inner soul that can not be repaired by just a few spotty wins. That is where the images and actions of guys like Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon will make their first precision-point impact on this young squad. Anything else would be a step in the wrong direction and could send mix signals to the young team in Carolina Blue. Already there are plenty of those brooding dark D-Rays souls who are beginning to hark the warnings towards people like me about the possible enduring 2011 side effects of believing in the whole hype and propaganda machine’s message before there is a formidable concrete foundation under this team to amply support it through thick and thin. Believe me when I tell you here, there is no “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey anywhere hidden upon and around the clutches of my I-Pod music mix.
I am reminded again and again in the recesses of my optimistic mind that these same dark dwelling remnants of D-Rays carnage of losing possibly have not even attended a single Rays Spring Training game since the Rays took their gloves and bats from downtown St. Petersburg to the woodsy fauna of Port Charlotte, Florida back in March 2008. Could this disheartening band doom and gloom still be stuck emotionally and visually in the muck and mire of their season-ending Rays emotions pertaining to a pre-2008 celebratory season.
I would be setting myself up for a serious case of heartbreak if I had not seen this club on their first day with my own eyes. Seen the desire and the passion set deep within their eyes and know the character of these Rays souls. Sure there was a mass exodus that rivals rats from a sinking ship, but still the Rays schooner is afloat and steaming for another MLB season. But still those with dark clouds just seem to haunt my existence right now. Or could they be the eventual realists and I am the dream with my head in the clouds?
Not sure anymore. Not sure of much expect this team has heart, soul and maybe a little extra that people are discounting right now. Possibly this team has that scent of fate and destiny within their DNA, or could it be another spiraling season like 2009 where you are not sure where the Rays would land, or if they would again set themselves on a solid surface. My emotions are not generally shipwrecked on an isolated island, but the image keep popping into my mind that I might be the optimistic one. I am might be the one to call this team to arms, I might be just a little too pumped up for the ride.
But that is the fun about a season you can not script. A team that has unlimited potential and possibilities that could explode or implode within a matter of minutes or games. Sure there will more than a few heart-wrenching losses or close defeats, but will that define this team as “lonesome losers” or possibly hexed? Or will the stark reality hit me around mid-season that this team is reloading, not competitive enough to thrash their way to the top. I am not betting again this crew, not for a second.
Even though youth will command the stage from the rotation to the bench, this team has the tools to fight the good fight and come out on top. The Bullpen might be a huge question mark, but it was also at the end of the Spring of 2010…and they only became the best Bullpen in the American League. I am a total optimist. Always have been, always will be. My soul tells me this team has the vinegar and bravado to stand up to an opponent on paper who could crush their dreams.
But people forget this Rays squad has tasted the sweetness of the postseason, and are hungry again to take the next step. Collectively this is a redesigned and re-focused team that is eager to again to take that next step to reclaiming their spot in this league. On the horizon will be teams that on paper might have the firepower or pitching finesse to handcuff their pursuits, but if it was so easy, then the Yankees or Red Sox would be handed a playoff berth in April.
I do not predict seasons. There are too many variables that can go wrong with a single throw. But, I will enlighten you to one thing that constantly swirls around in my head about this 2011 Rays squad. They are going to take their lumps, dish out their own brand of punishment and eventually gain the respect they lost when their 2010 season came to a premature close. Statistically this Rays squad might not be pretty, might not have the multi-faceted weapons of their past, but they can take this ride with glee, glory and finish it with a unexpected rise to the top.
Remember, in 2010 the Rays were considered the third best team by most prognosticators from sea-to-shining sea. They might have cut their case a bit close by winning on the last day of the season, but that struggle made a lot of these young Rays hungry to take the ride again and again. People discount the last game heroics of the Rays. It not only handed them their second American League East title in three seasons, it gave them the best record in Major League Baseball.
Not bad for a team most people in baseball destined for a supporting role with no much chance of receiving the end prize. But there will be those unexpected twists, turns and gut-check moments that will define this Rays team. Set them either on a course for glory or early gold tee times. This rollercoaster ride is officially about to begin. Please store your keepsakes, sunglasses and valuables in a place that will not lose them to the carnage that will ensue. So buckle yourself in tight because this one is going to be a rough and tumble trip, but I truly feel deep in my gut it is going to be a ride to remember……trust me.