The Rays Wa
I think I might have finally found the seed that formed the Tampa Bay Rays serene sense of brotherhood. It always seemed to me to just be a bit out of focus or range, but I truly feel I might have figured out and maybe cracked Rays skipper Joe Maddon’s long held secret to his team cohesive unity….I might have finally dug up a simplified version of the orgin of the mystical “Rays Way”. But who knew I only had to remove the “Y” to find out it might actually be the “Rays Wa”.
Why did it take me so long to realize this simple concept was foreign to our shores and this great group element did not sprout from the American terra firm. This belief of wa is a complex little entity, yet its simplified and time honored value system that derives out of respect for authority, devotion to the group as a whole and instills a slice of the honor and pride of the Japanese Samurai tradition finally makes sense to it all. This mashing of the Far Eastern elements that have been instrumental in the Japanese adoption of our game make it unique, and before now, totally foreign to the style and type of baseball played in this country.
The concept of wa into baseball probably came from the impromptu baseball games in Japan during post World War II. As the Japanese culture and population began their love affair love for baseball, the game internal elements began evolving more in tune with the Japanese beliefs and traditional system. With that evolution came intricate changes and nuances that made it distinctively a Japanese version of the game we treasured. Maybe someone once gave Maddon a copy of Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa”, which goes into deeper this delicate team dynamic told through the thoughts of a American writer who witnessed first-hand this intricate ballet of team chemistry while living in the orient.
Both countries play the game with the same equipment, rulebooks and even the same bravado and lust for victory, but each have their own personalities and traits that make their style special, and wa is as important a part of the Japanese game as the bat or the ball. The US version of the game celebrates the individual achievements within the core team concept, while in Japan, the basis is more team-oriented and celebrated, on and off the field.
The more and more I researched on the concept of wa, the more Maddon and his implementation of this grand system made sense to instill into the patterns and routines of his young team, possibly building their unified team bond through the introduction of this time honored testament of team cohesion. Made total sense to me that Maddon, who is a great scavenger of past positive elements of baseball borrowed and re-configured parts of the “wa” culture and made them MLB-friendly evolving this aura of respect, honor and continuity into his early Rays foundation.
This transition started way before the Rays introduced Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui to the local media this Tuesday, way before former Ray Akinora Iwamura stepped into the Rays fold. Maddon might have been shaping this proven and team unifying element even before his hiring as the Rays Manager. Possibly this could have been a mantra in the works long before his name and the Rays combined into their now successful association.
We all thought this concept of group harmony was unique to Maddon, but we also knew he loved to bring back time honored traditions and elements of baseball’s past. This could be Maddon’s way of honoring the team concept by basing it on a time tested and honored tradition that started beyond even his former California shores.
This country immortalizes the individual effort more than the team concept. That sense of one person making a difference has been grounded into our psyche for as long as we have played sports. In Japan, “kojinshugi” the term for individualism is considered a bit of an obscenity. There is an old Japanese proverb that states, “ The nail that sticks up shall be nailed down”. What better way to illustrate the Japanese endeared concept of unity as opposed to individualism.
I might be wrong in finally having found the element that makes Maddon’s special way of bringing his team together and having them bond for that 180 day grind more believable. But to me, wa seems to be the founding element at the base of Maddon’s popular themed road trips that promote unity, imagination and form a cohesive shell of cooperation between Maddon and his troops as they embark on their travels. Even the way the Rays collectively go about their game of not showing intense emotion at random moments speaks highly towards the wa foundation of respect for the game and its officials as well as other players.
I have always wondered what the essence of Maddon truly was that took players once deemed as borderline MLB players and sometimes troublemakers and suddenly they become transitioned into model team leaders and enthusiastic players who stayed within the lines both on and off the field. Is it Maddon, or is wa more of a secret power than we ever realized People see the Rays clubhouse as a “Fraternity house” of different personalities, cultures and beliefs, but underneath could the floor of this exciting team be actually based on the concept of wa?
“The Rays Wa”, still has a great ring to it, maybe it will catch on in the stadium stands too.
Editor’s Note: I included photos of the Rays road trip themes as a show of this team unity. It might not go perfectly with the essence of the posting, but it shows the always evolving Maddon philosophy and his team’s eager thrusts towards fulfilling this “wa” venture.