Saturday, September 20, 2008

Maybe God is a Tampa Bay Ray fan.......

by Ben Chew

Well, not many people thought that this would happen. Honestly, how many of you had the Tampa Bay Rays penciled in for the playoffs? Much less the possibility they can win the AL East among four other teams that almost have a combined payroll of more than 300 million dollars.

With their victory over the Minnesota Twins on Saturday, The Rays have at least clinched a playoff berth for this October. Most of you are probably asking, “Who are these guys and how in the hay-ell did the Tampa Bay Rays go from a pumpkin to a stagecoach literally overnight?”

First off, for all you people who consider that hexes, curses, and just plain bad luck, you might point to the fact that the team dropped the “Devil Ray” moniker. They even brought in a priest to bless the new name and team. So it might be no surprise to you that since the “Devil” is dropped from the name, the team has gotten back in good graces with the karmic beings.

Everyone will also point to the influx of young talent of BJ Upton and Akinori Iwamura and an improved bullpen, specifically the acquisition of reliever Chad Bradford and former Angels closer Troy Percival.

However, there is one person who I want to point out: Tampa Bay Ray manager Joe Maddon who, ironically enough, was once thought to displace Terry Francona for the Boston Red Sox job back in 2004. Many sportscasters and writers comment that the team is distinctly reflected in their head coach, or manager, as the case may be, and Joe Maddon is one of those people.

Joe Maddon is a baseball lifer who spent over 31 years in the Angels organization and was there when they won the 2002 World Series. He was signed to the Rays in 2006 and has enjoyed the reaping of the rewards with the team. Maddon is ironically the least baseball-like manager if you were to pick him out of a line-up, he quotes Albert Camus and in his younger years was recruited by many Ivy League Universities to play baseball.

How can you not like this team? The young brash team with a few veterans, an older intellectual manager and a small-market franchise. Doesn’t this remind of a past World Series Champion? (For those who don’t know: see 2003 Florida Marlins).

In the end, the slogan that they have grown accustomed to might be the most simple of all. The slogan“9=8” is essentially that all nine players play nine innings and that team will be one of those eight teams into the playoffs. In a year that has been so unpredictable in baseball, maybe the only thing predictable is the Rays are winning the right way.

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