"They're not doing this with smoke and mirrors.  This is a talented ball club."

            –Mike Lowell (Boston Red Sox) on the Rays

In 2004 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays set a record that still stands today.  They won seventy games.  For those of you not in the know, each baseball team typically plays 162 games in a season.  Which means that winning seventy games sucks.  It also means that the Devil Rays had about the worst ten years of any team in major league baseball.  Attendance at the games languished in the 10,000 per game area (being friendly) and some casual fans, like my brother Jay, had no idea that I lived in a city with a major league baseball team.

As of today, that same team (which renamed itself the Tampa Bay Rays in an effort to appease God) is two wins away from tying that record with 48 games left to play.  If anyone outside of Tampa Bay gave a crap, this would be the biggest story in baseball.  Quite frankly, I'm still a little stunned. 

So, for all of you who may be miles away from this Cinderella story, let me break it down for you by using the trite question and answer format.  I ask the questions and then I answer them.  You may find this surprising, but even when I answer my own questions, I am often wrong. 

What happened?  Why are these guys so good now?

Key additions, management that gives a shit (took over the team in 2006) and a strong farm system bellied by good scouts and years and years of first round picks due to their inevitable suckitude have allowed The Rays a chance to compete in (and possibly win) what is often considered to be the most difficult division in baseball (AL East).  Their rotation is young and talented, some of the members of their bullpen don't suck, and their manager may have a shit clue.  Personnel matters.  And that's mainly why the Rays are winning this year.  Oh, and the lineup's actually pretty fierce when everyone is healthy.  That helps too.

Did taking the Devil out of their name help them win?

No, that is stupid superstition.  Please don't bring this up again.

Are you sure, because changing their name was immediately followed by success?

That's a logical fallacy.  Please stop bringing this up. 

Okay, but it's a pretty cool story, don't you think?

Yes I do.  But so is the Loch Ness Monster.  Now shut up. 

How are the folks in Tampa Bay responding?

Before I begin here, please understand that the demographic in Tampa consists of many people who are not from Florida, and their fan allegiances typically reflect that.  Furthermore, unlike a lot of baseball cities, there's just too much to do in a given weekend down here (miles of beaches, festivals, concerts galore) and there just aren't enough people to support all the partying that goes on, so the folks in Tampa have a lot more to do than just go to baseball games.  That being said, attendance is up over a hundred percent from last year and the team has responded by going 16-1 in games when there are more than 30,000 fans in attendance.  It's not a sellout scene as tickets are almost always available, but it sure is nice to see people at the games.  Hell, it sure is nice to watch decent players at Tropicana Field (which should be called Tropicana Dome in my opinion but whatever). 

A couple more notes on the fans:

While driving to the gym a few weeks back, I saw a Jeep with a bumper sticker on the back left corner that read: "Yankees Suck."  I thought, well that must be a Boston fan.  Then I noticed that on the other side of the bumper, the Jeep had a "Red Sox Suck" bumper sticker.  Odd, I thought.  In the back window, the Jeep advertised the Tampa Bay Rays.  I have lived here every year that Tampa Bay has had a professional baseball team and I have never seen anything like that before. 

When it comes to being baseball fans, these guys are still learning.  I'm from St. Louis, where proper baseball fan behavior is actually taught in the public schools.  Rays fans are doing the wave in close games (inexcusable), they have no idea how to stop a game to force a curtain call (and some of them don't know when to even call for a curtain call) and they have no idea when to get loud and pick up their team.  (I've seen games where the Rays were winning by six in the eighth inning and the Jumbotron implored us to "GET LOUD.")  So yeah, this is a football town.  And the fine folks of Tampa Bay are learning how to be baseball fans.  Don't judge them.  Everyone has a learning curve when they start something new. 

Do you have any advice for Rays' media coverage?

Does a pope shit on a bear?  Hell yeah I do. 

First, national media, give these guys some coverage already.  A lot of the better players are locked in for a while.  I don't think this team's going anywhere soon.  So instead of calling them the surprising Rays or the Cinderella story or what have you, you may try actually breaking down the team by its players.  As Mike Lowell said, this is a good team.  You don't hold first place in the AL East by sucking.  No really, it's true.  Feel free to ask around. 

To all bloggers and print media guys: you know that thing you do where you write Devil Rays and then cross out the Devil?  Wasn't funny in March and it ain't funny now.  Please stop. 

To all bloggers and members of the media, citing the Rays success as one of the signs of the apocalypse is not funny anymore.  In fact, it may have never been funny.  Please adjust your coverage accordingly. 

And finally, to ESPN in general, eat a bag of shit.  I hate the way you guys have covered sports for the last four years.  You've become the sports news equivalent of MTV news.  You're bordering on irrelevant and Sports Center's already unwatchable.  What say you pass around the tray and actually dig for sports stories instead of, you know, hyping the same shit from week to week?  Just an idea and not really limited to Rays coverage but I had to mention it.

Do you have any advice for Rays' management?

Indeed I do, but first, let me praise Caesar. 

Rays management has done a hell of a job since the team was sold a couple of years ago.  They eliminated parking costs for cars with four or more, they allowed tailgating (Woooooo!)-which I think all baseball teams should encourage-and they've traded for and signed some top notch players at low premiums.  They also signed many of those top notch players to long term deals.  All of this, as they say, is the meat of the matter.  But I have some ideas about the sauce. 

First off, quit embarrassing your players.  You've got these guys participating in dumb cartoons and stupid gimmicks.  Every Saturday, Tropicana Dome hosts some kind of concert after the game.  When it was an eighties concert, pictures of Rays players as they came up to bat were doctored to make them look like famous pop singers from the eighties (just remembering this pisses me off).  And they do shit like that every Saturday.  This ain't a minor league club in Huntsville guys.  This is the majors.  Act like it. 

Second, could we maybe do something about the stadium?  I know you've been working on it and you've actually improved it a great deal, but it still looks like a glorified high school gymnasium in there.  The first three stadium issues that need to be addressed are as follows:

The catwalks.  This is the only team in baseball that has rules for what to do when a batted ball hits the catwalks across the dome ceiling.  This is, uh, fucking gay.  It is gay and wrong and anti-baseball and stupid.  Figure something out to get rid of them. 

Paint the ceiling.  It's white.  The baseball is white.  This seems like a slight problem, eh?  Try a soft aqua, or maybe even a conch shade of pink.  Do something, though.  Dudes can't see. 

Keep dollar hotdog night forever.  This is the coolest thing in baseball.  Two hot dogs and a beer for seven bucks every Friday?  Sign me the fuck up. 

And finally, quit pushing the city for an outdoor stadium.  July and August in Tampa make the third circle of hell feel like Toronto in June.  Could we maybe not push the idea that people will need to pass out from heat exhaustion just to see a game?  Look, I hate domes as much as the next baseball purist, which is one of the reasons I thought pro ball should never have gone south of St. Louis, but it has and we have to live with that.  So, if you're gonna build a new stadium, make it a dome.  AC is a godsend down here in the summer.  Hell, I think it's actually a right as decreed by county bylaws.  Let's all respect that.

(Sorry, but I almost forgot this one.  I know you probably shouldn't change a team slogan during the season, but "We Are One Team" has to be the dumbest team slogan in US history.) 

Are you becoming a Rays' fan?

Sadly, no.  I don't believe in sports bigamy.  My team is the St. Louis Cardinals.  However, I cannot recall having so much fun watching baseball live in this town before.  Going to the games this year has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of an otherwise miserable summer for me.  But I ain't buying anything more than tickets, beer and food.  I am not a fan of the team, just of well-played baseball.  Oh, and I should point out, when they're not playing the Cardinals (only happens once every three years anyway), I do root for the Rays, but that is not the same thing. 

Really, it's not. 

What's with all the Rays' brawls this year?

Tired of losing to the Sox and Yanks, the Rays have taken it personally and are throwing bean balls, punches and whatever else it takes to piss off and upset the baseball powerhouses in the AL East.  This is great for baseball because it makes me want to watch. 

Will they win it all this year?

Here's my prediction: the Rays will play the Cubs for the World Series.  I'm pretty sure the Cubs will beat them but you never know.  But here's the thing: I just don't see how it matters that much. 

A few years ago, the Devil Rays reached .500 in June or thereabouts and the front page of the Tampa Tribune sports section had ".500!" for a headline.  In twenty inch type.  This team has never had a winning record and it only needs to win 14 of its next 48 to get there.  In and of itself, that is something. 

Is there anything else we need to know about the Rays?

Unless you want to get on the internet and look at the individual player statistics, see how their pitching and hitting match up with the rest of the league or just generally learn who's on the team, that's pretty much all I got except to say that I am all for eliminating the Rays mascot, though I know this amounts to nothing more than personal hatred and that a lot of people love him, well. I mean, just look at him over there (right). 

I mean, what the hell is that?

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