As it turns out, I got home in plenty of time to watch the Rays-Phillies matchup on Saturday evening. And it turned out to be a bit of a slugfest at a breezy Bright House Field in Clearwater. Mitch Talbot – one of the outsiders for the rotation’s fifth spot – was starting for the Rays, and suffered a rough first inning. He gave up five runs and three homeruns before getting out of it. Still, he came back and pitched a scoreless second and third, so it wasn’t a total disaster for him…
I rushed home from work last night to catch the first televised Rays game of the spring – against the Yankees in Tampa. Missed the top of the first (which is fairly usual for weekday afternoon games), but caught the rest of what turned out to be the Rays’ second straight loss to start the spring…
Hmm. So, I was going to write something trying to justify not putting up a single post for over two months. I even started typing it. But let’s face it. There is no possible justification for taking such a holiday right after your team wins a ridiculously improbable American League championship.
The dark months of winter have passed (well, February in Scotland is still firmly winter, but you know what I mean…), the American football season is over, and the (proper) football season in England is reaching its climax.
And yes, baseball is back.
In an odd way, I’m not quite excited yet as I normally am by the time Spring Training kicks into gear. I have a feeling its partly due to the fact that last year I was still watching baseball deep into October – a full month later than I’ve normally closed the book on the season. Then of course, there is the nagging fear – if that’s the right word – of expectations. For possibly the first time ever as a Rays fan, I actually have some. I’m not really sure what to do with that. Frankly, while I know that I have some real expectations for the team this year, I’m not entirely sure what they are. A repeat AL title? Another win in the East? Just getting to the playoffs again? Being happy with challenging the hyper-spending Yankees and Red Sox? I don’t know yet what I’d be happy with.
Anyway, as ever in baseball its been all-change over the winter in St Pete. For a start, the Rays aren’t in St Pete at the moment – they’re at their new spring home in Charlotte. Then there are the player comings and goings. In: Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Gabe Kapler, Brian Shouse, Joe Nelson. Out: Edwin Jackson, Eric Hinske, Cliff Floyd, Rocco Baldelli, Trever Miller, Jonny Gomes (sad face 😦 ). Plus a few others in both columns. At some point I’ll probably give my thoughts on the new faces, but here is a rather important one for starters – I really don’t know that I’m comfortable having two outfielders called Gabe.
And since the last time I posted, Dewayne Staats has a new partner for the TV broadcasts. Not exactly a major news story in the grand scheme of things, but for someone who is limited to watching games on TV, it is important. I’ve already posted on the hard job that replacing Joe Magrane will be, and the man taking on the challenge is Kevin Kennedy. I’ve only read good things about him so far, so fingers crossed.
I haven’t seen yet when the first Rays spring training game will be shown on MLB.tv – will have to check on that. Actually, just typing this has made me a bit more excited about seeing them in action again.
Excellent. Rays baseball 2009 is go.
Possibly the best thing about watching sports live is the connection you feel to the players. You can almost feel like you’re part of the team. My current seats at Southampton football games (for when I am actually back down south) are no more than 10 yards from the edge of the pitch. When I shout, the players (and the referee/linesmen!) can hear. I mean sure, I know that they’re not going to take any notice of me, but they can hear. And when you’re that close, watching them all season long, you get to know them. Not in a personal, go and have a chat way, but you get a feel for their personality, their style – basically of who they are.
Its something you just don’t get from watching on TV. And thats what I find sometimes about the Rays. As much as I love watching them, and as badly as I want them to do well, I don’t have that connection to the team that comes with seeing them live.
The wonderful thing though about watching baseball on TV is that you can get a connection. Not to the players or the manager, but, thanks to local TV stations showing virtually every game, to the broadcasters. And for me – and no doubt many other Rays fans – that link has always been Todd Kalas, Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane.
To me, they are as big a part of Rays baseball as anyone who puts on their glove and takes the field.
And as far as I’m concerned, not only are they Rays institutions, they’re among the very best in the business.
Which is why I’m doubly saddened with the news announced earlier this week that in 2009, for the first time ever, Joe Magrane will not be calling the Rays.
Its sadness on an entirely selfish level of course – Joe has been hired by MLB network, a fantastic opportunity for him to put his outstanding analytical and personable skills to use in front of a far larger audience (potentially) than he has for Rays games. I’m sure he will do fantastically – he is a brilliant broadcaster – and I do of course wish him the best of luck.
But, at the risk of sounding incredibly cliched, it does make me want to cry out, “say it ain’t so, Joe?”
I know from experience, from the time (a few months? It seems more) before MLB.tv offered both the home and away feed, that not all broadcasters are created equal. Some can be patronising, some can be ignorant and ill-informed, and some can be just downright annoying. But Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane are none of those things. They are entertaining, informative and – something that is too easily overlooked – talk to the viewers, and not at them. I’m piling up the cliches at a rapid rate now, but watching the Rays with them is honestly like inviting a couple of friends into your house.
Now, as far as I know, the legend that is Dewayne Staats is staying on. As is “the strapping young lad” Todd Kalas. And no doubt a new man will come in, and in his own way be entertaining and informative. And we’ll still have Staats’ to guide us through the action.
But Rays baseball without Dewayne and Joe in the booth – well, for me at least, its never going to be the same again.
You know, the longer this season went on, the more I thought that I wasn’t going to have to write this post. I thought that this was our year. I suppose, in many ways, it still has been our year.
But take nothing away from the Phillies. They played better than the Rays all through the World Series, and they are fully deserving of their championship. Well done Philadelphia. Perhaps we’ll make it to a rematch next year.
To be honest, right from game one I wasn’t quite as sure of a Rays win as I had been going in to it.
(And before you draw any conclusions, no that’s not why I wasn’t blogging – I’ve had a ridiculously busy couple of weeks. And that combined with staying up all through the night has meant that I probably couldn’t have written a coherent sentence even if I did have time to… Truth be told I probably still won’t get back to something like normal service for another week or so yet, and then you can expect a proper set of season reviews, as well as the much anticipated (by me at least!) RAPAs – the Rays from Across the Pond Awards).
As for the series – well, we didn’t perform. We were out of form in pretty much every area, starting pitching, relief pitching, hitting and defense. And though we kept it close even through all that, you can’t expect to win against a quality side like the Phillies if you’re not playing at your best.
And it’s true, that after the amazing first 173 games of this season, not ending the year as World Champions is a disappointment.
But I just want to think about that statement for a second. We can actually have a sense of disappointment that the Rays are not the Champions. The Tampa Bay Rays. A team that’s highpoint in its whole existance before this season was winning 70 games.
What a year it has been.
And every single player that has pulled on a Rays uniform is a hero. What they have achieved, even having fallen short of the biggest prize, will not be forgotten quickly by anyone in Rays-world. By anyone in the baseball world come to that.
And even before I have the time to write a proper tribute to them all, I just wanted to take the opportunity to say that. These Rays have nothing to be disappointed about. They should feel only pride at what they have achieved. They have done the impossible. They have dispatched the Yankees and the Red Sox. They have won games that they never should have won, and won series that they never should have had a chance in. They have gone from nobodies to household names.
And more than any of that – they have put Tampa Bay on the baseball map.
Don’t get me wrong, I would have liked the big one. But come February when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, the 2009 season will start and the defending American League Champions will have the word RAYS emblazoned on their chests.
I’ll settle for that.
Say it slowly.
Say it again.
The 2008 American League Champions are the Tampa Bay Rays.
Playing for the 2008 World Series title will be the Tampa Bay Rays.
Seven outs away, and coasting to a five-game win, to a game 7 decider against the defending World Champion Red Sox. I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was last night. As it turns out, I was far more nervous than anyone wearing a Rays uniform…
I just don’t know how we are doing this. I mean, I know this Rays team is good – very, very good – but still, this is the first ever postseason for most of them, and they’re playing at Fenway against the been there, done that, got the t-shirt Red Sox. The defending World Champion Red Sox.
But man, are we playing some good baseball. And while the Sox are most definitely not out of it yet – their ALCS comebacks of recent years are still fresh in the memory – if we can carry on pitching, hitting and fielding like we have in the last few games, then there is no reason why the first pitch of the World Series couldn’t be thrown at Tropicana Field. We need one win in the next three games to get there. That is a scary thought.
Now I am stupidly tired this morning (game finished at 4.18AM, I went to bed and set my alarm for 8AM…), but I don’t care. Last night’s game was totally worth it. Three hours and seven minutes of pure Rays-world joy…