The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?
1. Game 162: One of the problems with rooting for a team born in 1998 is the lack of history. After all, baseball is a sport built on a foundation of history. And despite a couple of recent playoff appearances, the Rays didn't have much of a history.
But then Game 162 happened.
In a span of just 21 days, the Rays went from an eight-game deficit to winners of the AL wild card. In Boston and most of baseball it is called "The Collapse." But in the Tampa-St. Pete area, we simply call it "Game 162," when a miracle happened not just in St. Pete, but also in Baltimore. All of a sudden, the Rays had more playoff appearances in the last four years (three) than the Red Sox (two). All of a sudden, the Rays had gained a history.
2. Joe Maddon: It's hard to believe, but JoeMa, two-time AL Manager of the Year, has become the manager with the fourth-longest tenure. And after signing an extension that will pay him ($2M per season) half of what Ozzie Guillen makes, he will be around for at least another four years.
The dude is awesome, whether it is taking none-too-veiled shots at Red Sox fans, arguing with umpires over a balk call by pretending like he is yelling at his own pitcher, putting his themed road trips together or doing postgame press conferences in a football helmet. Oh yeah, he also wins a lot of games.
3. Rays haikus:
Baseball Played Inside
Tampa Bay Rays Still Win Games
Thanks Red Sox Collapse!
4. Pitching and more pitching: You could make a case that the Rays have more major-league-ready starting pitchers (eight) than the Red Sox and Yankees have combined. Consider this: Matt Moore may start the year in the minors despite being the best pitching prospect in baseball — and arguably one of the best 10 lefties in the game once he makes his debut — and it won't have anything to do with service time.
That's because the Rays still have all five starting pitchers from last season, and all five are pretty good. At some point, though, Moore has to be called up. And at that point, the poor Rays will be forced to trade Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann and add more depth to one of the best farm systems in baseball.
5. WAGs: Both Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac are dating former Playboy centerfolds. And Ben Zobrist is married to singer Julianna Zobrist. Even with the loss of Michelle Damon, the Rays' wives and girlfriends section will be unchallenged this season.
6. Original Hooters: Speaking of WAGs ...we all love Hooters. But did you know that the original Hooters, the same jaunt my dad took me to when I was just a wee little tyke, is only a few minutes from Tropicana Field? The Rays may not have a lot of tradition, but is there a better way to warm up to baseball than some wings, and some beautiful, um, wings?
7. Plenty of good seats available: Hey, we know. Our attendance sucks. The problem though is not a lack of fans. The Rays, after all, had the fifth-best TV ratings in baseball in 2010.
Rather, the problem is two-fold: 1) the stadium is in a stupid location. Who builds a stadium on a peninsula, away from the majority of the fans? Just ask the Giants what a difference it made when they moved away from Candlestick, and 2) The Rays sell almost no corporate season tickets, something that boosts almost every other team's attendance figures. Moving to Tampa will fix both problems. If only the city of St. Pete would let the Rays move.
But hey, the Trop, despite being one of the oldest parks in baseball (seriously), is not as bad as people who have never been here think. There are no rainouts (speaking of which, why is it OK for NFL teams to play in domes, a sport that thrives in inclement weather, and The Trop is somehow a stain on the sport, a sport that shuts down when it sprinkles?). Your seat is not facing the outfield wall *cough Fenway cough*. And considering it is Florida and the Rays roster is made up of a bunch of young attractive bachelors, well, let's just say, if Major League Baseball only counted attractive women, the Rays wouldn't have an attendance problem.
8. Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman: I occasionally give these guys a hard time. But deep down I have a serious man-crush on the Rays front office. And while the stadium situation has the Rays owner using words like "vaporize," we're confident that the stadium situation will get resolved, and the fans can finally show the front office how much we love them. We just need a chance.
9. Mascots: Over its short existence, the Rays nickname has either referred to a devilish sea creature or a ray of sunlight. But it somehow still has a dog, a cat and a Zimmer for mascots. I can't make it up.
10. Evan Longoria: Oh, did we mention our Dirtbag (that's a term of affection around here)? Evan Longoria is awesome. Last year, despite having his car and his AK-47 stolen in separate incidents, missing a month of the season, and having a foot injury that required he take his shoe off between innings, he still hit 31 home runs. Now he's getting back to being healthy and dating a playmate. Should he be a favorite to win the AL MVP this season? You do the math.
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Previous "10 Best Things": Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants,Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, New York Mets