Rays Reminiscing…………..A Year Later
A little over 13 months ago we took on a new persona here in Tampa Bay. Everyone remembers the limp, win-challenged Tampa Bay Devilrays. Well, we were told to expect changes and get used to winning and maybe keeping a roll of antacids in our pockets for the 2008 season. But little did we know what was about to happen to effect our lives, stomachs and attitude towards our home team.
First there was the events st Straub Park that put the entire thing into motion for 2008. Kevin Costner and Modern West came to put on a free concert for the Tampa Bay Masses as we dropped the Devil from our moniker and became to Rays………free and clear. Along with those changes were vibrant logo with a highly accented “R” and the burst of light, which could of been a sunburst, a flashlight, or maybe even a quasar from the futre telling us about 2008.
The event brought alot of mixed emotions into the Tampa Bay area, but also brought about a sense of removing the past and being reborn to become what we should always have been…winners. Not only did the team have a new energy about it, but the player showed the emotion and the anticipation on stage that night to bring about total acceptance of the new look. I only had one problem with all of this change. I still thank that the road jersey should have the “Tampa Bay” naming on the chest instead of the Rays.
It might be something simple to most people, but I also have been on teams that accented the away jersey would have a regional flair, and the Rays became only one of a handful of teams that now held the same uniform both home and away. One small patch on the sleeve kept the flying “ray” alive, but for how long. I have a feeling we might see it gone in 2009, replaced by some sort of symbolic gesture of winning, or maybe a “burst” like in the center of the current logo.
After the effectiver launching of the new logo and advertising, the team went on a media blitz that saturated the Tampa Bay area with the new attitude and logo. Gone were the green and white shirts off the shelves, and on them now was the burst and the typically blue hats with the white “TB” on them. Also gone were the 5 or 6 variations of the caps during the initial launch. Tampa Bay wanted the entire area to re-unite under one cap scheme before re-launching variations and knock-offs.
The Champs Sporting Good store player appearance were extremely popular and some store even ran out of certain team apparel that night. The buzz was all over the Tampa Bay area about the recharged Rays and their plans for the future. So we got to relax for a short while before the team announced two huge trades of disgruntled or negatively-aligned players. One was a superstar in waiting, while the other may someday be a great powerhitter, but not with the Rays.
Delmon Young, who had been in the doghouse of Maddons’ since the last game of the season was jettisoned to the great white dome in Minnesota along with utility guy Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie. The deal at first looked like the Twins had fleeced the Rays for a potential All-Star and slick-hitter in Young. But the deal did not take a Tampa Bay turn into late in Spring Training when it looked like two of the players dealt to the Rays might be starters on the team.
Jason Bartlett came to the Rays as a much under used appreciated and mis used member of the Twin’s infield. He had good skills at the plate, but his strong point was his defense. The second member of the trade might have come with the most baggage to Tampa Bay. Matt Garza was a great pitcher, but he got into himself too much and might have done himself more damage than good in his time with the Twins. In the end, both guys became valuable members of the team and did not even look back as they moved forward with the Rays. The minute Spring Training started at the Namoli Complex, you could see both guys were relishing in their change of scenery. Bartlett quickly got into the team’s rhythm and poised to become a valuable member of the squad.
Garza tried to become a dominating pitcher early, but his mind got in the way of his pitching and sulking and frustration came to the top alot in the beginning. The truning point for this trade came on that faithful day in Texas where Garza could not longer hide the frustrations and outwardly exploded in the dugout. That day, Garza let it all out and began a transformation that made him into a stellar pitcher.
The second trade might not have made much sense at the time, but it was done more out of helping a player who did not think he needed the help at the moment. Elijah Dukes will someday be a trememdous hitter and outfielder, but the local enviorment for him was toxic and he needed to leave before it destroyed him. Duke was traded to the Washington Nationals and did not see a huge amount of action in 2008, but the positive did rear their heads for him during the year.
He played inspired ball and did not focus or dwell on the off the field problem he had in Tampa Bay. He showed the Nationals the raw ability and power he had, and made some amazing plays in the field before finally going down in a game against the New York Mets. In that game, Dukes sprinted for a ball near the base of the wall and hit it with such force it should have broken his leg.
He did come outy with a knee problem, but came back quickly and even made more heads turn before the end of the year. He stayed out of trouble and learned that the change of scenery made the trade a blessing in disguise. Tampa Bay might not have gotten alot in return for Dukes, but they did give him his life back, and he repaid them by doing it the right way.
After these two trades, the team went about signing two members of the 2008 team that made contributions in different ways. Troy Percival was chasing a top 10 spot in the All-Time save list when he signed a 2-year contract with the Rays. Because of his knowledge of Maddon’s gameplan, he was the perfect candidate for closing out Rays games. He came with veteran experience and postseason muscle, which could come in handy for the young Bullpen.
His work ethic and chats with the young guys could serve a dual purpose as having another pitching coach out there in the Bullpen to educate and relate to the other players. Percival came into the year wanting to secuire the back end of the Rays Bullpen and give them some stability in the position. Little did we know at the time what would happen, but in 2007, it was heralded as a major upgrade and a certain intimidation factor.
The second signing was for a former outfielder who had won a World Series ring just like Percival. Cliff Floyd came to the team with a dual mission. He came to the team to provide ammunition and experience to help educate and emotionally charge the young bench. Floyd came here with great credentials, but his on-field mobility was in question from the start. Gone were the legs who could produce a run from a single, but the power and the stroke were still there in force.
He became an instant leader in the clubhouse and lead by example. Always the professional, Floyd took young players like B J Upton and Carl Crawford under his wing and taught both of them the art of the game. That half the battle in this psort was fought between their ears and in their words and comments to others. You could see the change in both players’ early in the year, and it set the tone for the team.
So with these 4 episodes early in the off season for the Rays, the team set about a series of changes like never before in their history. They had a change of uniforms, attitude and a veteran experience level they had not witnessed in their short history. The sky was the limit for the young team before the Feb. reporting day, and from there they just kept making history.