On my latest trip to St. Louis, I had the privilege of attending a Cardinals game.  They beat the Braves 18-3.  It was what baseball people call a laugher.  A laugher is a game in which the fans don't even really have to watch.  And, for the most part, my friends Ryan and Matt and I didn't watch.  We talked.  We told old stories and caught up.  We challenged each other to eat weird foods (we were in the box seats where standard baseball fare gives way to weird ass, onion covered burrito fish taco gimmicks that look like a wet mess but taste surprisingly good) and we spoke candidly with those around us. 

When one older gentleman learned I was from Tampa, he said, "You should be watching their games, son.  They need all the fans they can get."

After Ryan and Matt chimed in and ribbed me for not attending more than six Rays game this year, they then tried to shoot holes in my explanation that Tampa Bay just had too much fun stuff going on, that the stadium is horrible and that a lot of the people are just too old to go to baseball games.  They seemed generally upset with Tampa Bay's collective MLB apathy. 

A few days later, I got to thinking.  It doesn't really matter why the Rays don't come close to selling out despite offering one of the best stories (and records) this baseball season.  What really matters, when you get to the heart of what it means to be a baseball fan in the 21st century, is why anyone, really and truly, gives a shit what the people of Tampa do with their time.

I pondered this casually for a few more days until I overheard a woman from Los Angeles claiming that she loved rooting for the Rays because rooting against the Yankees (who are having a bad year) had become no fun and rooting against Boston had replaced Yankee-bashing as her new Haterade of choice. 

"That's why I'm so glad the Rays are here," she said.  "Rooting for the Yankees to beat the obnoxious Bostonians made me feel dirty. 

"But this feels right."

And then I understood. 

You see, here in the 21st century, we don't just root against teams and cities, we root against fan bases.  The smug and arrogant Yankee fans and the woe-is-me turned look-at-me Boston fans had become worthy of the hatred of the other fan bases.  They were, after all, the only two teams with any success in the AL East since the early nineties.  I was actually in high school the last time a post season didn't feature the Yankees or the Sox.  And I'm getting fucking old. 

(Side note:  A 22 year old girl I took home a few nights ago was quick to point out that I look great and am in great shape for my age.  And that she would have never guessed how old I was.  Shoot me now.  The downhill ride has begun.)

And so enter the Rays.  A team that makes less money than the left-side of the Yankees' infield; a team that offers free parking and five dollar tickets; a team that plays in a glorified gymnasium and a team whose average age is actually younger than I am (again, shoot me now). 

The baseball fan loves the Rays, not just because the baseball fan (not from the northeast) is sick of the Boston/New York dynamic, their fans and the favored media coverage, and not just because they love a good underdog story, but also because a Rays World Series victory would be representative of everything we love about what it means to fall in love for the first time. 

The Rays are that young, hot chick who just recently developed.  They make the younger fans skip with glee and the older fans pinch a cherubic cheek.  They make us want to believe that there is such a thing as hope springing eternal, that everyone, if given a chance, can become someone… They are, in short, what used to be the American Dream (hard work paying off was officially replaced by court settlements as the American dream in 1996-you can look it up).

"So," the collective voice of baseball fans not located in the Northeastern United States asks, "Why don't more people go to the games?"

And they don't ask because they care about the games or the team or even the fan base.  They ask because the Yankee fans and the Boston fans fill their collective hearts with animosity and they're sick of that feeling. 

They want to love the Rays.  And they don't understand why Tampa Bay doesn't seem to.  There's enough hate in the world of sports.  There really is.  And this story, if it is to help override the collective fan base hating in the AL East, will need more than a winning team. 

It will need an adoring fan base. 

We wish you good luck, Rays.  And we wish you good luck, Rays fans. 

But we do it because we're greedy.  We do it for the collective happiness of all of us.  We do it because, all in all, we need you to heal us just a little bit. 

And we don't think that's too much to ask. 

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