Okay, just a forewarning, this isn’t directed to ALL Tampa Bay Rays fans. I know that the team has some legit ones, and i’m not making any generalizations at all, I just love this franchise and hate those who call themselves fans and don’t do anything that showcases it.
The Tampa Bay Rays baseball team has a weak fan base. Everyone in The United States knows this. People in Tampa Bay would argue: “Its not that we don’t support the team, just we don’t go to a lot of games” or “We love watching the Rays on TV, and we haven’t missed one yet!” Honestly, you’re only kidding yourselves. Being a true fan of a team means much more than wearing their merchandise and watching their games on T.V.
At this point you’re probably saying “But going to Rays games is so expensive! The drive down there, the parking is $20, the food is expensive…” etc. Honestly, The Tampa Bay Rays have been ranked top THREE in affordability in all of sports for the past five years (http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/rays/content/espn-rays-offer-most-bang-buck-among-mlb-teams-2nd-most-affordable). So don’t spew off all that the economy sucks and junk. Outfield tickets are $17 each. Concessions are expensive in ALL major sporting events and theme parks as well. As for parking, just go park somewhere else in Saint Pete. I’m pretty sure that they provide a shuttle service for some parking garages where parking is dirt cheap. The $20 fee for right next to the stadium isn’t the only one of its kind. I know for a fact that the Georgia Dome charges the exact amount for parking. “But we live in Tampa and the drive to Saint Pete is so long and miserable”. I hate hearing that. People in Saint Pete drive to Tampa to watch the Bolts, Bucs, Bulls, (and sometimes Storm) play. Get off your ass and drive to the ballpark.
This franchise is young. We’ve been losing for so long that we’ve never had a true solid group of fans. Everybody in town knew that if you were going to a D-Rays game it would be because the Sox or Yankees were in town. It’s tough to build a fan base when you have a losing record for almost ten seasons straight. It really is. The Diamondbacks got lucky and won a World Series within four seasons of play (But with Schilling and the Big Unit, it’s pretty believable). The Rays weren’t so lucky. Our best season as the Devil Rays was in ‘04. We had a 70-91 record.
2008 is when everything just turned around. New name, new color scheme, new team. The 2008 season was the birth of a fan base. However, it’ll take more than just a couple of years for it to fully be realized. So far, it’s been three years since we changed our ways. We’re 338-261 as of August 5th, 2011. We’re winning. That’s evident. But the biggest thing is that the older fans that started following the Rays in ‘08 had the bar set high. The first season we had a winning record, we go to the World Series. Ever since then, people have had the highest expectations for this club. Three straight seasons with winning records is enough for me. Yes, we should aim for the playoffs every year. Is it realistic to think we’ll make it every year? No, not yet. Of course the Sox and Yanks compete every year, they have the money to spend. They’re in big markets. Check this out: (http://www.stevetheump.com/Payrolls.htm) The Rays have been in the lower half of the payroll rankings forever. Our highest payroll was in 2010. A payroll of $71 million was good for 21st highest payroll in all of baseball. What happened? We won the division. 2011: We’re 29th in payroll out of 30 teams. we’re 58-52. 6 games over .500. Its just how the Rays run the organization. Sometimes we’re really good with what we have. Sometimes we’re mediocre. Yes, the 2011 season is looking to be ending soon for the Rays. Its not like we won’t be in contention anymore. We’re young. We’re talented. We’ve got all the pieces in place to be in contention for YEARS. 3-4 years we’ll see a beast pitching rotation that features David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. It just won’t be fair.
Anyways, back to this “fan” issue. I’ve been to a fair share of games this season. In fact, yesterday’s game against the Jays was just really nerve-racking for me. 12 innings, both teams exchanging blows. I look up in the crowd, bottom 12, 1 out, bases loaded. Elliot Johnson at bat (which i really really really was confused about why they pulled Rodriguez in the first place. But neither of them could bunt to save their lives, and it would have made total sense to go for the suicide.) The crowd wasn’t loud at all. Everyone was sitting. It’s really a mystery to me. That’s a stand up and cheer moment. For sure. Granted a good couple thousand of them were children, even still, that’s a moment where it just calls for everyone to support the team. This goes back to my mentioning of the fan base. It’s young. Literally. The first true group of Rays fans will emerge in around 5-10 years. It’s the children who will grow up watching the Rays that will be their biggest fans. The adults who watch them now probably grew up watching and supporting other teams. Who roots for a losing team? Their truest fans, who have been there since they can remember. The Tampa Bay Rays have a great philosophy as to how to run a baseball club in a small market. We can’t get sign big-name free agents. We produce them.
Which brings me to my next point. Don’t call Carl Crawford a traitor. It’s really not called for. I’m pretty sure the Rays didn’t even offer him a contract. He signed for $140+ million dollars. Would you pass that up? I doubt it. Yes, it sucks that he’s playing for the Red Sox. I’m not asking you to cheer for him. Just don’t call him a traitor. He did some great things in a Rays uniform. Seven stolen bases in one game. All Star MVP. Jaw dropping catches that Sam Fuld could only dream of. (on a side note, he’s wasting his talent in left field at Fenway because of that wall.) The man deserves his credit. He still holds a lot of the Rays season and career records.
In all, this season has been a rollercoaster. Honestly, who expected us to compete this year? No one gave us a chance. But a good portion of the season was spent in the race. Who knows, maybe the Rays can muster up some offense and the bullpen can gain some confidence in these last two months. Baseball is truly a game in which anything can happen.