Has it Really Been a Year Since the ManDam Days?
It still doesn’t feel like we have gone full circle. Doesn’t seem to compute to 365 days, but it was 1 year ago today (January 31, 2010) that the most anticipated and exciting Press junket took off like a rocket. The anticipation and excitement within the room had the walls sweating, and more than a few of the assembled media members jockeying for the perfect photo of this grand Tampa Bay Rays moment.
The signing of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to me personally meant we were taking a giant leap of both faith and ability to get to the next level. Both men came to the Rays with World Series rings, plus a lingering bromance between the two MLB stars that bordered on a love-fest.
After the two traded volleys of compliments and platitudes amongst themselves, it seemed like this duo could be the eventual key to the Rays getting past the American League Divisional Series again and not just contend, but have a legitimate shot at seeing this young squad finally thrust skyward that long anticipated golden chalice. You had the feeling leaving that junket that these two MLB vets were here to win another crown and keep the drama to a minimal.
I still remember watching Manny and his father walking up to the Rays clubhouse in Port Charlotte, Florida on the day Pitchers and Catchers reported excited as Manny looked in great shape and had come in early to camp to talk with the staff, players and I even found my hand in his at some point. But we all know how the duo turned out.
One provided a perfect example of an MLB veteran thing and proved night after night his spunk, drive and a determination that has been previously unseen by a veteran in a Rays uniform. The other found himself suddenly an MLB outsider again after partaking in an illegal substance that took him instantly from the sparkling light of the Trop and into his own personal demon field. I am still dumbfounded Manny did not take the penalty in stride, work to get back into a Rays uniform. Instead he packed-up, shipped out and seemed destined to fail for one of the first times in his career.
As Damon provided a jolt of energized inspiration by his feats on and off the field, Manny found trouble on his own Florida home front. I still want to somehow go back in time and shake Manny to and fro and wonder why he again slipped towards the dark side. Manny signed for a small penance compared to his past contracts, and seemed he had something to show the rest of the league heading into the season.
I still wonder what could have transpired when Manny found his groove and could have been a great asset and weapon to keep American League pitchers’ honest against Evan Longoria. Instead Longo found himself with limited protection in the 5th spot in the batting order. If Manny had only kept himself straight, I shudder to think what each could have accomplished in 2011.
Both are long gone now. Damon pitching his skills and wares outside of his native state of Florida. Hoping to catch on with the Orioles and keep his AL East dream alive. Many have checked in on Manny this Winter, but so far no one has put a possible contract in front of him for 2012. There are rumors the Oakland Athletics might take a chance, but Billy Beane might have a few special provisions in that performance bonus laden contract before Manny has a chance to sign it.
What a difference 365 days have made. Carlos Pena is back in the Rays fold, All 5 2011 starters are still penciled-in for the Spring, and B J Upton is still a Ray. It is a shame the Man-Dam traveling road show could not produce and make the Rays decision harder this off-season to keep or give-up the duo. One showed his class for 180 days, the other was gone even before the blink of an eye. Still, the madness and pretense of that first Man-Dam press conference was one for the ages…..Makes you realize sometimes things can be too good to be true….Sigh!