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.
On this day off of all things Tampa Bay Rays Baseball, I decided to do some scavenging of some of my older boxes filled with books on baseball or artifacts from the early years of the Rays. The first thing I come upon is a 1999 D-Rays Opening Day Program ( actually 5 of them) and a signed copy of the manuscript to my all time favorite comedy movie “Bull Durham“.
It was like I was opening my own time capsule hidden within this dank storage unit and finding treasure after treasure that I had long forgotten I even had. Piled into these red storage crates were years of bobblehead experiences both with names from now, and yesterday, including a unusual Drew Carey figurine I traded a Slider (The Indians mascot) bobblehead I gathered entering the stadium, while the young lad got a Carey bobble and seemed unimpressed by it. So to make someone besides myself smile that day, I anxiously traded with the young boy with both of us getting the deal of a lifetime in our own minds.
Pondering and squeezing into the tiny space of this unit I gazed upon a crate marked “books and paper memorabilia” that housed it own secrets and pleasant surprises. With this pile of dusty book covers and worn page ends I found something I had forgotten a long time ago existed in my collection. It was a copied article I wrote for MLB.com way back in September 17,2002 as a “Fan on Base” entitled “Thank you right back, MLB“.
It was my first published writing of any type on the Internet, and was the secondary seed to why I write even today. So, on this day of rest for the Rays lads while they await their Friday night contest in Toronto, I am going to reproduce this posting that was submitted way before the creation of MLBlogs.com, and you can judge for yourself just how far my writing has either advanced or is evolving every post.
Funny, I sit in my usual chair in the Rightfield section and it feels like the first game of the season.
Fans around me were whispering about the impending strike and about missing any or all of the games. I just sat there and watched a team maturing on the field. I am of the opinion that a true fan does not make posters, throw objects or harass the players or other teams’ fans. We are all lifetime members of a unique fraternity/sorority. We are baseball fans.
Baseball games are a creative and fun release for me from stress and the pressures of life. I know the players consider it a “job”, but I would consider it an honor and an extended childhood dream to play on that turf. Funny, I still get a thrill from fielding Batting Practice from the (Checkers) “café” at Tropicana Field.
The impending strike has no evil thoughts or effect on me. I would have missed the games, but I know that each side was trying toprotect the future generations. I knew whatever became of the meetings, the “kid” in all of the players’ and owners would emerge in the end.
Baseball is a business today, but you also saw the faces and comments with hidden meanings to suggest a positive end to the talks. As a true fan, I planned to be there for the first game after the settlement, cheering as loud as the first game in franchise history. I was thinking of walking down and shaking the hands of all of the (Rays) Bullpen guys. I would have missed them all. I waited 20 years for (MLB) baseball in my hometown, and if the strike would have had any negative turn, then I still would have been there on the “first day” after any stoppage.
I admit that I am a kid at the ballpark. I enjoy the banter with the players, and the photos, autographs and other things during, after and between the games. I am a former pro player, but of another “ball” sport, and I enjoy the present day ballplayer in Tampa Bay. They might be modern warriors, but they are also a prototype of the old-school players. Most do not play for millions, but for pride and team.
I have heard such recent comments as “Just glad to be here” and ” What is better than getting paid to play a game we used to play for free Pepsi from the coaches?” I really enjoy throwing jeers at the visiting players. Like the time the Yankees Paul O’Neil heard “cup check” from most of the people in Section 138 in Rightfield at the Trop. But the most memorable moment was at a recent game. The Indians’ Right fielder , Michael Tucker, was laughing and smirking under that serious veneer. We love the game, and are not afraid to yell at times.
Forget the notion that these guys are spoiled millionaires. The best baseball to me is played at the Trop. Not because of talent, money or even hustle. It is because these (Rays) players still have the hunger, the intense desire to play as they did when they were 10-year olds in the dust bowls of America. I have to end this story now–got a few neighborhood kids who need me to throw some pitches to them.
Unlike (former Ray) Jimmy Morris, I only throw 80-ish on a windy day. But I also sit on that mound dreaming and loving the thought that baseball is safe for these kids to watch for years to come.
It was good to see baseball go on. I would have missed the kid-like fans and friends I have met during America’s greatest game.
Got to admit, reading that brought back a flood of emotion and memories of the time with the Rays since Mar 31,1998, to last night’s contest. I still fancy it to any other sport out there, and finally have come to peace with the idea that even if baseball is a business, it is also a pure form of the stride of all of us to compete daily at a high level no matter what our skills are, or our opinions.
To me, baseball has become the great equalizer where a millionaire can sit next to a guy who dig ditches for the City and both will cheer, clap and high-five after a great play. No social nuances or speculations, just great kid-like fascination and wonder of seeing the game played at its highest level with more than few smiles beckoning from ear-to-ear.
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