Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, the 2008 World Series Champions. They finished strong and deserve to wear the crown (until spring training and everyone basically forgets who even played in the series). The surprise of the season, however, was Tampa Bay – a surprise because they had a winning record; a surprise that they would embarrass the Yankees and the Red Sox; a surprise that they would drop the word “Devil” from their team name and become just the “Rays” (and that it would matter all that much); a surprise that they would do something to spruce up that depressing ballpark; a surprise that they would finally put the right management and coaching team to together to become the turn around franchise of the year.
My family and I enjoy vacationing in the Tampa area and try to take in a Tampa Bay ballgame if they happen to be in town. Not too long ago, watching a Tampa Bay game was like watching some bored girl in your language arts class in middle school scratch her fingernails on the chalkboard. Tim and I went to see the Yankees take on Tampa Bay a few years ago (we thought it would be fun to see some great players like Derek Jeter play the game). We picked up our tickets at the Will Call window and went inside Tropicana Field (what a field would look like if Salvador Dali designed a ballpark) to find our seats. We sat next to some retired season ticket holders (a rarity at the time – season ticket holders – not retirees) and settled in for some boiled peanuts while we waited for the Yankee exhibition to begin. I couldn’t help but notice that the park was about seventy percent empty and mentioned to my Pinellas County native on my left, “Is it always this bad?” He cut his eyes at me and replied with a gruff voice, “Yes!”
Boy what a difference a year or two can make. We returned to the ballpark this past summer to find major changes in the stadium and major ticket price increases (I guess they can do that when a team starts winning). We enthusiastically watched the Rays route the Blue Jays (even with two of my favorite former Cards players on the Toronto roster). The other noticeable change – fans – thousands and thousands of them filling and rocking the ballpark like I’d never seen.
I’ll always be a Cards fan, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to have a favorite team from the American League as well. Watching the Rays transformational season reminds me of what people can do in life with the right attitude, a commitment to make some tough choices, and a willingness to work hard for what you want. Don’t tell anyone, but I might just buy myself a Tampa Bay Rays jersey or jacket for Christmas and wear it to Busch stadium next year to watch the Cards. You never know – it might just inspire them a bit. Congratulations Rays on a great season!