History is madeSeptember 20, 2008 at 11:32 pm | Posted in Baseball, Rays | 4 Comments
After 10 losing seasons in the first 10 years of the franchise, finishing in last place in the American League East in 9 of those 10 seasons, the Tampa Bay Rays clinched a playoff spot tonight after a 7-2 win over the Minnesota Twins. Don’t adjust your monitor. You read that right. TAMPA BAY IS GOING TO THE PLAYOFFS!
No words can properly describe how unbelievable this is for Rays fans. I can’t say that I was a fan from Day 1 in 1998. I started following the team in 2001 when I attended my first Durham Bulls game and boldly predicted that Toby Hall and Brent Abernathy would lead the Devil Rays to greatness. I became an avid, die-hard (and my wife would say, obsessed) fan when Lou Piniella was named manager before the 2003 season. Since then, I’ve watched as many of their games on DirecTV as I could, listened to their games on my drive home from work on XM radio almost every day, and checked the box score when circumstances prevented me from watching or listening to it live. I’ve been to two games at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, I’ve seen them play three times in Baltimore, and one time in Boston.
Until this year, Devil Rays fans had to look to the future in the hope that one day we would have a winning team to cheer for. There were always good prospects coming up through the minor leagues. Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Dewon Brazelton, B.J. Upton, Joey Gathright, Delmon Young, Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend. Some developed and contributed to the Rays, but most did not.
Finally, after the 2005 season, Stuart Sternberg’s ownership group took control of the team and everything began to change. Evan Longoria was drafted in 2006. Trades were made for Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, and others. Players like Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, Cliff Floyd, and Troy Percival were signed. Upton, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel, Shawn Riggans, and Longoria were promoted from the minors.
Even after all of the positive changes since 2005, the team still finished with the worst record in the majors in both 2006 and 2007. Rays fans expected that the team would be better in 2008, but most of us thought that a .500 record was a reasonable goal. Maybe the Rays could think about contending for the playoffs by 2009. With the Red Sox and the Yankees in the same division, along with an underrated and improving Blue Jays team, it was hard to be too optimistic.
Everyone’s expectations have been surpassed. As the months have gone by this season, most fans and the media kept waiting for the Rays to collapse. Surely this young, inexperienced group of players, who were beset by a ton of injuries and didn’t have any major stars, would falter at some point. But it never happened.
It remains to be seen if the Rays can hold on and win the A.L. East. With a 2 1/2 game lead over Boston, and two series against Baltimore and Detroit remaining on the schedule after tomorrow’s series finale against Minnesota, I believe they will win it. That will be an even more amazing accomplishment, but for tonight I am savoring the unbelievable fact that my Rays will be competing in the playoffs in October.
In the words of Dr. Emmett Brown, anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
The Rays will be in the playoffs. Holy freakin’ cow!