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Confident Tampa Bay Rays Enter New Season: Fan’s Look
On a day when the team formally opened its 2012 spring training, Charlotte Sports Park was filled with optimism for a new season of Tampa Bay Rays baseball.
38 pitchers and catchers arrived in Port Charlotte on Monday, February 20, to begin 6 weeks of preparation for opening day. While fans rejoice at the return of the boys of summer, the initial formal workout of camp would not commence for another day.
Nevertheless, the Rays' brain-trust began its own toils beneath a warm noon sun inside the franchise's spring home, just 80 miles south of Tropicana Field.
With groundskeepers still fine-tuning the playing surface, reigning American League Manager of the Year Joe Maddon and Rays' General Manager Andrew Friedman jointly held an opening day press conference on the boardwalk overlooking centerfield.
The 45 minute gathering marked the successful duo's initial appearance to the press during spring training. Before the notepads of two dozen reporters and the lenses of 8 television cameras, Tampa Bay firmly embraced heightened expectations for the new season.
"This team is good enough to get back to the World Series," declared a confident Joe Maddon. "I like the idea of expectations being raised. I'd rather be managing expectations than building them."
Andrew Friedman echoed this sentiment, confirming, "It is a great thing to have those expectations."
Such confidence certainly has merit. It was a satisfying off-season, which saw the young squad not only held together, but bolstered by the additions of veterans Carlos Pena, Luke Scott, and Jose Molina. Clearly the team that shocked baseball with a bold comeback to qualify for the 2011 post-season will surprise no more.
Further detailing faith in the assembled roster, Friedman asserted, "There aren't a lot of jobs to be won." The Rays, however, will still bring 59 players to camp. The pair expressed delight in the predicament of soon assigning major league talent to the AAA affiliated Durham Bulls.
Dealing with specifics, Madden did indicate competition was open at shortstop between Reid Brigniac and Sean Rodriguez. In a mild surprise, Friedman additionally refused to guarantee rookie sensation Matt Moore a place on the team.
The duo rejected this notion, as Maddon asserted, "We don't look at it as an over-abundance of pitching." He cited the club's tendency to use between 7 and 9 starting pitchers during a 162 game season.
Developing a regular batting order, continuing strong defensive play, embarking on an improved start, and blending new players into the fold were all expressed as defined goals for spring training.
Moving the tone of dialogue away from the field, the 35 year-old general manager made it a point to praise Tampa Bay supporters, saying, "Our fans are as knowledgeable and passionate as they come."
Sounding optimistic on the always sore subject of attendance, both men portrayed a belief that momentum generated during the thrilling final weeks of 2011 would carry into the new year.
Finally, no meeting with the 2 time Manager of the Year is compete without addressing his unique personality and humor. Teasing that he possessed "some ideas in mind" for new themed road trips, Maddon also described his current hair color as auburn.
The newly-resigned skipper professed that he was "temporarily committed to the color, but it may change over the next month."
A hearty chuckle ensued, as the conference ended to resume preparations for camp.
Thankfully, Monday's session had already confirmed the club's faith in its young players remains substantially less tenuous.
Joe Maddon & Andrew Friedman Press Conference of February 20, 2012
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Jeff Briscoe is a regular contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and a follower of the Tampa Bay Rays. He co-hosts The Sports Train radio show on 1580am WCCF in Southwest Florida.
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