Monday, October 20, 2008

Insert "Ray" Pun Here

By Tony Mazur

Think about the worst teams in sports in the past decade. Teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies, (Cleveland Browns?), St. Louis Blues, etc. But most notoriously, the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays typically topped each list.

The city of Tampa attempted to field a baseball team years prior to the Devil Rays entrance into the American League in 1998. In 1992, there was even talk about moving the Giants from California's Bay Area to Florida's Bay Area. In the eleventh hour, the move was turned down, and the next year, the Giants sign Barry Bonds and the rest is history.

1998 brought two new franchises to Major League Baseball. The Arizona Diamondbacks set Phoenix on fire four seasons later with their first World Championship, behind the leadership of veteran pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling and outfielder Luis Gonzales. For Tampa, it took a little longer. The organization felt that they can repeat what the Florida Marlins did the previous year by signing veterans. But they weren't just any veterans; they were past their prime. The careers of Fred McGriff, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco, Greg Vaughn, and Vinny Castilla were on the steep decline, eventually leading to their respective retirements.

Tampa Bay did a 180. Instead of signing veterans, they'd give young up-and-comers a shot, usually ending each season in last place. That way, they can sign the first overall picks in the MLB Drafts. This strategy of losing almost on purpose drove Bay Area fans away from Tropicana Field.

Enough was enough.

The teams were in constant disarray and it seemed like the Devil Rays changed their uniforms each season. But team management decided to complete another wholesale change: a new name and a new look. The 'Devil' was dropped from the team name (most likely to appease the religious folk and to protect the children), and the colors were changed from an olive green to shades of blue.

The 2008 Tampa Bay Rays caught the eye of sports fans everywhere. Because America loves a good story, the Rays seemed perfect. A downtrodden team that finished in last place a year ago wins 97 games and their first division title. Led by youngsters such as Evan Longoria, Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, and B.J. Upton, the Rays blew past the aging Chicago White Sox en route to the ALCS, where they had to face the defending World Champion Boston Red Sox.

The Rays did not appear to be fazed by the blatant favoritism towards the Red Sox. If anything, it was all the motivation they would need as they defeated Boston 3-1 in Game 7 of the ALCS, in front of 40,473 [bandwagon] Rays fans at Tropicana Field.

On behalf of all of us at STC/STN, we would like to congratulate the Tampa Bay Rays for making it to their first World Series in franchise history. No matter the outcome, their 2008 season serves as a motivation to all players of all teams of all sports.

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